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A conceptual proposal for Chinook Pier in downtown Grand Haven submitted by Zeeland-based Geerlings Development Co. and Midwest Construction Group Inc. A conceptual proposal for Chinook Pier in downtown Grand Haven submitted by Zeeland-based Geerlings Development Co. and Midwest Construction Group Inc. COURTESY RENDERING

Grand Haven considers lone proposal for redeveloping Chinook Pier

BY Sunday, February 13, 2022 06:21pm

GRAND HAVEN — City leaders will have to decide whether to work with a single development team to refine conceptual plans for redeveloping an area along Grand Haven’s waterfront.

Geerlings Development Co. and Midwest Construction Group Inc. in Zeeland submitted the lone plan in response to the city’s request for proposals to redevelop 3.4 acres that encompass an area known as Chinook Pier along the Grand River. The prime real estate is along the northern end of the city’s mile-long walkway to Lake Michigan.

Working with Abonmarche Consulting Inc. and architectural firm Architektura PLC in Grand Haven, Geerlings Development and Midwest Construction Group crafted a conceptual proposal that envisions a 7,000-square-foot multi-use market that also could serve as a venue for events such as weddings and conferences. The enclosed space for the farmer’s market would feature large, overhead glass doors to open during good weather, plus a rooftop mezzanine overlooking the Grand River.

The multi-use market could include space for an incubator kitchen, a catering business, food trucks or a small restaurant, according to the proposal.

The developer also envisions building another 10,900 square feet of space nearby for retail shops and a year-round restaurant along the Grand River, across from the city’s Municipal Marina.

An area between the market and restaurant buildings would remain open as a public area.

Kirsten Runschke, owner and senior architect at Architektura, stressed that the proposal submitted to the city was conceptual. She described architectural renderings submitted with the developer’s proposal as “placeholders to really start this conversation with the community.”

“These are conceptual. By no means is anything concrete,” Runschke said during a virtual public presentation of the proposal. “What we hope to be able to do is work these through in the next few months, if this goes forward.”

The $2.2 million plan will next go to the Grand Haven City Council for guidance on whether to work with Geerlings Development and Midwest Construction Group to refine their concepts. 

Construction at Chinook Pier wouldn’t start until after 2022, City Manager Pat McGinnis said.

“We have a good deal of discussion that has to take place at the City Council level,” McGinnis said. “I think we’ll be spending this year working out the details and getting the project just right.”

The city wants a redevelopment project “that is something that is treasured for generations, not something that is a slap-dash, quick-buck kind of development,” McGinnis said.

“Right now we’re going through the ideation stage,” he said. “This would be something I would hope we put enough thought and effort into, that it blends well enough, and that we come up with something that’s really valuable for the community.”

Rare opportunity

The city opened the rare opportunity for redeveloping prime real estate along the Grand River after demolishing buildings that once housed several retail shops at Chinook Pier. The city razed the buildings in 2020 because of mold and water damage caused by high water levels.

A popular riverfront stretch that includes the city’s adjacent Municipal Marina and several charter fishing boats operators, Chinook Pier was first developed in the early 1980s as part of a major public reclamation and redevelopment of the riverfront after decades of industrial use.

The four firms behind the lone proposal based the conceptual plan on a public planning process in which residents favored redeveloping the site in a way that restores retail shops, adds a year-round restaurant and maintains open public spaces along the riverfront.

“It’s a reflection of the community engagement. The community wanted to see some activation of the waterfront and some thoughtful in-fill development,” said Jennifer Howland, the city’s community development director. “Overall, I think the consensus was that the community was looking for something sort of low impact that activated this space and provided some replacement for what was lost when Chinook Pier shops were brought down.”

If the City Council decides against working with the proposal, one option is to simply keep the space in its present state without new development. Maintaining open space and waterfront access were “at the top of list” in a broader waterfront master plan, Howland said.

“This is one iteration of what that space could look like,” she said. “One option, absolutely, is to keep it an open space.”

Under the proposal, Geerlings Development would lease land from the city to build the restaurant and retail space, President Scott Geerlings said.

The company would collaborate with the city on developing the multi-use market in the spot now used for a twice-weekly, spring-to-fall farmer’s market that’s located beneath a canopy and in the middle of a parking lot. The goal would be “just making it better for the farmer’s market as well as multiple uses that can hopefully make it an economically viable project for everybody,” Geerlings said. 

The developer has a restaurant operator “who is very familiar with the Grand Haven area” interested in becoming part of the project, Geerlings added. The operator would create a “family friendly atmosphere type of place,” he said.

If awarded a contract by the city to undertake the project, Geerlings Development would seek a community redevelopment grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to defray up to 20 percent of the cost, which Geerlings said “would substantially help.” 

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