HOLLAND — After a yearslong public feedback and planning process, the city of Holland is assessing the sole proposal it received after putting out a nationwide request to develop downtown waterfront property.
The first step in a two-stage request for qualifications and proposals to repurpose the 17-acre former James De Young power plant site on Lake Macatawa initially yielded interest from three developers. St. Joseph-based Edgewater Resources LLC, South Bend, Ind.-based Great Lakes Capital and Holland-based Geenen DeKock Properties Group LLC were all invited to submit more detailed proposals by Jan. 7. However, Geenen DeKock Properties (GDK) was the only firm to submit additional plans for the site.
The city and its consultants are now reviewing GDK’s proposal, which includes plans to acquire the former coal plant site and then execute a land swap with Verplank Dock Co., which operates just west along Lake Macatawa. Under the proposal, Verplank Dock’s operations would be relocated to the power plant site, and the current Verplank Dock site and adjacent city-owned land along the lake would be turned into a mixed-use development.
Conceptual plans call for the construction of four residential buildings with 108 units and covered ground-floor parking, a 50-room hotel, a marina with private and transient slips, restaurants, and a docking area for cruise ships. A pool, boardwalk and plaza for boat watching are also part of the plan.
GDK has a history of developing highly visible downtown projects, which include the Holland Civic Center Place and a significant portion of Eighth Street.
“We coined the phrase ‘march to the waterfront,’ and that’s what we think needs to be done to strengthen the community and downtown. This is finally the connection we’ve needed for a long time,” GDK co-owner Doug DeKock told MiBiz. “We feel like we’ve captured the essence of what the city and public were looking for. We’ve always been very supportive of the downtown community and we’ve got a significant amount of investment here.”
City staff — along with consultants the city has retained from Naperville, Ill.-based Hitchcock Design Group and Chicago-based SB Friedman Development Advisors — are now reviewing the proposal, which could take several months, said Holland City Manager Keith Van Beek. Results of this assessment will be reported to the Holland City Council. If the process proceeds with GDK, the city council would need to approve the development.
“We’ve had a good, very intentional process with a ton of public engagement and we’ve been encouraged by the response that we’ve gotten,” Van Beek said. “We think without a lot of detail at this point that the proposal appears to really speak to the vision and guiding principles of the project.”
The concept of adding more active uses along the downtown Holland waterfront dates back decades, but it became a more city-led, focused effort starting in 2017 after the retirement and decommissioning of the James De Young power plant.
Conceptual designs based on public feedback and consultants included housing, docking and restaurants, each of which are included in GDK’s proposal. The public feedback process also included grandiose design ideas such as building a bridge across Lake Macatawa, constructing greenhouses, building a rock climbing wall, sports fields, and developing the Window on the Waterfront and industrial area north of downtown.
Some local officials expressed disappointment that the RFP process turned up just one proposal.
“We had three different entities we had hoped we’d get proposals back from and we received one, so that kind of narrows the scope,” said Holland City Councilmember Dave Hoekstra. “I wish we could throw it out again and start over, but I doubt that will happen.”
Depending on the city’s assessment, moving forward with GDK’s plan is likely the best option, Hoekstra added.
“I don’t think we would lose anything by looking seriously at this proposal,” he said. “Some of the grander ideas might come to fruition in the future. In some ways, you have to deal with the cards you’re given.”
The city’s consultants are working to determine why the two developers started the process but never submitted a proposal, Van Beek said.
Meanwhile, a similar situation is playing out farther north along the lakeshore, where the city of Grand Haven received just one proposal to redevelop 3.4 acres of land known as Chinook Pier along the Grand River.
During an early February presentation, Grand Haven Community Development Director Jennifer Howland said the city’s plan was sent to more than 300 developers with additional help from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Howland believes a “few factors” may have contributed to the single bid.
“The seasonality of this part of our community and on the waterfront … might have been a concern,” Howland said. Grand Haven’s plan also differs slightly by maintaining some city-owned property, which may have caused leasing uncertainty among potential developers, she added.
“A really high demand on construction trades for more definite development opportunities,” was also a factor, Howland said, referring to a currently uncertain project construction timeline for Chinook Pier.
Holland City Councilmember Jay Peters echoed Hoekstra’s concern over the single proposal: He likes GDK’s plan, but he wishes there were more options.
“The land swap idea and grouping the industrial uses in an area makes a lot of sense to me,” Peters said. “This is the first step into a long term vision that has been worked on throughout the years. We can begin to figure out our downtown a little more and start putting the pieces together.”
In addition to city council approval, Holland’s city charter also requires the sale of the James De Young power plant, which is owned by the Holland Board of Public Works, to first get approval from city voters.
DeKock acknowledged “a lot of complicating factors” in developing the site.
“We’re just excited that we think we put together a plan that works and makes a direct connection to Eighth Street and Downtown,” DeKock said. “This has been a dream of many people in our community for decades. To see we’re now finally at a point where we believe it can happen, I’m hopeful everyone realizes that and we can all work together to make it happen. You just don’t always get a second chance at this.”
Senior Writer Mark Sanchez contributed to this story.