By Scott Sullivan
Can an albatross once more take wing? That’s the hope as Douglas closed Friday on the 7.11-acre Haworth property at 200 Blue Star Hwy.
The city plans to raze the old 156,900-square-foot factory on it, clean up contamination left by past occupants and combine it with neighbor parcels into a 75-acre development including affordable family housing.
Douglas and Haworth struck a donation agreement whereby Douglas paid $100,000 and signed off on paperwork that allows the Holland-based furniture maker to apply for a tax write-off on the difference between that and the land’s assessed value, last gauged by the city at $200,000.
The parcel’s last listed $1.7 million asking price did not account for who did the cleanup.
The factory sits on land zoned commercial but has had grandfathered-in industrial use since the 1940s. Metal manufacturing operations there included plating, buffing, zinc dye casting, phosphatizing and painting metal parts.
Haworth announced plans in fall 2012 to close the facility, which then employed 110 workers and was Douglas’ largest taxpayer, phasing out operations to consolidate in a newer plant. Its last workers here departed in 2014.
Releases of trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent left in the ground by Chase Manufacturing, which occupied the plant from 1965 to 1971, have long caused environmental concerns there. These were compounded by discovery two years ago of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) also onsite.
The Michigan Brownfield Redevelopment Program, operated through the Department of Environmental Quality, targets properties complicated by the presence or perception of contamination. It provides grants, loans, tax increment financing and free site assessment to help revitalize such parcels.
Douglas has appointed mayor pro-tem Greg Harvath, city manager Bill LeFevere, former mayor Matt Balmer, former councilman Bob Sapita and resident Suzanne Dixon to a new Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which plans to apply by October for the next grant cycle.
The city has a memorandum of understanding with developer Dave Barker to pursue a public-private project on Barker’s 50.34-acre former Miro Golf Course land adjacent to the plant west of Ferry Street, and 16.84 adjacent southwest acres the city bought for $196,600 in 2013 from the the Joseph Migas Trust Fund.
“Douglas and the Saugatuck Public Schools have identified needs for diverse family housing,” said Barker. “We’re an aging community. Affordable housing for younger families can help maintain the local labor force, fill our schools and keep Douglas-Saugatuck vibrant and dynamic.
“I’m talking with environmental firms, land planners, cleanup and marketing specialists,” he went on. “Where government money is lacking I’m prepared to seek private capital.”
Barker foresees a scalable, 20-plus-year project involving shared public and private green spaces, recreational facilities; public water, roads and sewers; paved paths; a campus for active retirement, assisted living and medical care facilities; single and detached houses, many of them smaller; apartments; live/work units … what zoning and changing markets will allow.
“My goal is to work with as many local investors, builders, realtors and more as possible,” Barker continued.
“That’s a key part: investing in ourselves,” he said.
“As a place where our members live and play,” Haworth public relations manager Julie Smith said, “we support the community of Douglas and this effort to serve the community in a positive fashion.”
“Haworth has been great to work with,” LeFevere told The Commercial Record Monday. “Site cleanup will help parcels near it develop too and sets us on course for a remarkable series of future events in unfolding years.”