Marquette City Commission approves $44M Brownfield spending plan for former hospital site

Community members came out to speak for and against the plan at a meeting Tuesday.
Marquette City Commission meeting Tuesday to vote on approving a Brownfield spending plan for...
Marquette City Commission meeting Tuesday to vote on approving a Brownfield spending plan for the project on the former Marquette General Hospital site(WLUC)
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 11:10 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The Marquette City Commission voted unanimously to approve the Brownfield spending plan for the former general hospital project.

The Brownfield Plan states that $44 million will be used for environmental assessment activities, due care activities asbestos abatement, demolition, site preparation and infrastructure for the project.

The plan estimates that the Northern Michigan University Foundation and Veridea Group’s project will capture $44.6 million in tax revenue over the next 15 to 17 years. The plan also estimates that the property will be producing $4.4 million in tax revenue after this period ends.

The Marquette City Commission heard public comments from over ten people at a meeting Tuesday. Some supported the Brownfield Plan, while some were skeptical of the $44 million that the Northern Michigan University Foundation and Veridea Group are relying on for their proposed project to move forward.

Marquette Resident Aléx Cowles said Veridea Group’s other residential developments in Marquette, such as Founders Landing and the Residences at Harbor Vista, are unaffordable. Cowles added that they believe the developer’s project will build more unaffordable housing on the former hospital site.

“This problem has been steadily building over the span of a decade,” Cowles said. “Corporations like Veridea Group come in and build high-end luxury condos, catering to those outside of the area.”

Cowles said they believe affordable housing is the best option for developing this site, as it will benefit the working-class members of Marquette who are full-time residents.

“The people who make Marquette what it is are the people that live here full-time,” Cowles said. “The working-class people that live here full-time should be the highest priority. I’m calling on the city commission to make decisions that benefit the community and not line the pockets of those in power.”

Cowles was not the only one who spoke against the Brownfield Plan at Tuesday’s meeting. Former Marquette Resident and Current Ishpeming Resident Rob Taylor said rising housing prices pushed him out of Marquette after living in the city for almost ten years.

“My partner and I both came to Marquette to go to Northern Michigan University,” Taylor said. “After school, we decided to stay in the area. Thought we would make our living here, start our family here. We could not find anything in our price range and we both work full-time jobs. We eventually ended up having to look out of the area and moved to Ishpeming, which is the only place we could find a house that we could afford.”

Taylor added that he also knows many people who cannot find a place to live, which will render them homeless by Wednesday.

“I have several friends who are about to be homeless Wednesday because they cannot find a place to live,” Taylor said. “As great of a community that Marquette is, it is absolutely silly that it would reach this point.”

Marquette Resident Ryan Labinski said he was homeless for two months in 2021 because he could not find an affordable place to live.

“I offered a $1,000 cash reward for anyone who could find a place for me to live once I signed a lease,” Labinski said. “I went around taping notes to doors of empty-looking houses with my name and phone number on them. I did anything to find a place to live, it took three months. I contacted 150 people via text message and social media. I paid fees to apply for houses and did not hear back from the landlords.”

Labinski added that on top of this, he is also paying substantially more for rent than he was five years ago.

In the past five years, my rent has doubled and it is not sustainable,” Labinski said.

Marquette Resident Geraldine Nault was on the other side of the argument at Tuesday’s meeting. Nault said Veridea Group’s very early stage plan does include housing options and added that she likes what the developer has proposed.

“I sympathize with those people unable to find an affordable home in Marquette,” Nault said. “However, I do like a lot of the ideas that Veridea has put forth for the old hospital property. Their ideas do address many of the concerns for housing in Marquette.

Nault said that Veridea Group’s tentative plan does not necessarily address the affordable housing issue in Marquette, but added that is an issue communities across the U.S. are facing.

“Maybe this does not address the affordability issue itself,” Nault said. “But you have to realize that the affordability issue is not a Marquette, Mich. only issue. It is a national issue that goes from builders getting supplies to being able to put up a good quality home and sell it.’

Marquette Resident Cheryl Feldman added her support for the Brownfield Plan for the former hospital project. Feldman said that Veridea Group does not have to make housing that is unaffordable for local residents, especially if it wants to make money.

“I appreciate everything these young people have said, and they are not wrong,” Feldman said. “But from the developer’s perspective, you do not go into business to lose money, you go into business to make money.”

Feldman said there are other ways Marquette can add affordable housing instead of putting it in place of the former general hospital.

“Marquette is a blighted city,” Feldman said. “All you have to do is walk down any street and you are going to see empty stores. We have a construction class at Northern Michigan University, let’s utilize them. They can work with an established construction company, learn the ropes further and we can get rid of some of this blight. Let’s remove those empty stores, construct some apartments there and then charge some reasonable rates.”

As it stands, Veridea Group is set to demolish the former hospital property beginning in 2023. Construction is set to begin after demolition ends in 2024.

Veridea Group said it plans to host community input sessions before beginning construction on the property.

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