Townhouses coming to Founders Landing, by Matthew Williams

Townhouses coming to Founders Landing
The long and often frustrating path toward finding a developer for Marquette’s Founders Landing may have been worth it.
Last month, the City of Marquette sold a 3.1-acre parcel of prime real estate near the Lake Superior shoreline—the middle section of an area called Founders Landing—to a group of local businessmen for more money than expected. It got a revamped, potentially award-winning design in the process. Construction on the project could begin this year, and Marquette will see tax revenue from the sale next summer.
At a September 8 meeting, Marquette’s City Commission unanimously approved the sale of the property to the Landing Development Group, LLC. The sale price was $1,000,875, some $125,875 more than the appraised value. Immediately following the vote, Mayor Tom Tourville called for a brief meeting recess, asked whether anyone in the audience was a notary public and when a woman stepped forward with the right credentials, executed the sale along with City Clerk David Bleau and William Hetrick, a principal with the Landing Development Group.
Hetrick’s Marquette-area business partners Joe Constance, Barry Polzin and Ron Thorley also were on hand.
A week earlier, the City planning commission also unanimously recommended the project, saying the design for thirty-one residential homes—twenty townhouses and eleven flats—met all requirements of the City’s third request for developer proposals. The planning commission’s recommendation also stated that the development:
• has the potential to be an award-winning project;
• has the potential to set a precedent in the city with regard to green development techniques;
• incorporates architectural features and building materials similar to existing historic downtown buildings;
• goes beyond what was expected for the use of low-impact development techniques;
• protects the lakeshore view of residents and visitors through the use of topography;
• provides a nonmotorized connection through the project to the rest of the city.
“The planning commission’s (reasons) really nail it,” Tourville said. “I think this project is truly awesome.”
“I think this is a positive addition to the city,” said commissioner Beth Linna.
The city’s latest request for proposals went out in August, about a year after the parcel was sold for $875,000 to The Urban Project, a Minneapolis-based development group. That sales contract was terminated at the developer’s request in December with the company citing poor soil conditions as the reason for termination.
The Urban Project attempted to renegotiate the sales terms last winter. In May, the commission ended negotiations with The Urban Project and opened talks with the Landing Development Group. However, after a few months the commission could not reach the required unanimous decision to sell the property in accordance with the city’s real estate policy.
Poor soil conditions on this site are not a concern of The Landing Development Group, said Polzin, a Marquette-based architect. He told commissioners that his design called for sinking piers through the soil to bedrock to support the project’s foundation.
“The soil is not suitable to be built on, but bedrock is close to the surface,” he said.
Of the most recent proposals received by Marquette, only the Landing Development Group’s submission met all requirements, said city manager Judy Akkala. The Urban Project also submitted a proposal, but did not include the necessary proof it had the financial backing for the project and therefore was disqualified.
Polzin said his group did not rely on their original design, submitted last year during the second round of request for proposals (a first round of RFPs in 2005 resulted in no project being selected by the commission). Instead, the Landing Development Group completely rethought their design.
“We really started over,” Polzin said. “The planning commission set out the criteria and this design was in response to that.”
A major change is the focus on using what are called “green” technologies, considered to be more energy efficient and to have less impact on the environment, both in terms of aesthetics and use of resources. One example of meeting this is the new design’s flat roofs topped with gardens.
Also, the planning commission requested all designs have at least seventy percent of the project’s facade—the building face—close to the street, creating a more urban look and matching the historic downtown look.
Polzin said his group’s design took into account the popular lakeshore views seen at the city’s southern entrance along US-41 and Front Street, and also the water view of residents along Fisher Street immediately west of the proposed project. Those vistas will remain because of the single-story homes proposed on the site’s south end and a gap between the proposed buildings across from Fisher Street.
“We felt those were important views to maintain,” he said.
The design calls for a public stairway from Front Street at the above mentioned gap leading down to Lakeshore Boulevard and allowing public access to the bike path.
The Landing Development Group, which had earlier offered $875,000 for the property, also raised their purchase price offer.
“There was no way we were going to lose this,” Polzin said. “We weren’t leaving anything to chance, so we redesigned and upped the price. We just wanted to make sure we got it.”
Should the project move forward as expected, the Landing Development Group will invest $14 million to $18 million, and Marquette will soon see revenue to offset the $22,000 per month payments on bonds sold to help purchase and develop the Founders Landing area.
Since 2000, the City of Marquette has invested $11 million in the Founders Landing area, including the property’s purchase price, site clean-up and infrastructure such as storm and sewer lines, water and power lines.
Eventually, the city hopes to sell the four-acre parcel on the north end, once known as the tank farm and the 7.6-acre site on the south end near the intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and US-41. The end result could be upwards of $35 million in private investment and a net increase in tax revenue to Marquette of about $200,000 a year said assistant city manager Karl Zueger.
The Landing Development Group also is interested in developing the northernmost site, assuming the request for proposals follows the city’s master plan, Polzin said. He’s not sure if they’d pursue the southernmost site at this time.
No matter what future development looks like, city officials say the lakeshore, Gaines Rock, the bike path and other park-like areas adjacent to Lake Superior will remain open to the public.
Community support for the Landing Development Group’s plan was evident at the September 8 meeting.
“Please move forward on Founder’s Landing,” said Marquette resident James Clark, who identified himself as the great-great-grandson of a Marquette founder, Amos Harlow. “You have a very reputable group here.”
Said resident Buzz Tiseo: “It’s time to move on this. You’re bringing in some quality people. I really feel it’s time to move forward.”
—Matthew Williams


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