Houghton County leaders provide updates on upcoming projects, issues at Wake Up Keweenaw panel

This included new information on Houghton's Darkstore lawsuit with Walmart, bidding for the teardown of the city's downtown parking deck and more.
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 8:23 PM EDT|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 10:10 AM EDT
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Houghton County leaders provided updates and news on upcoming events and current issues on Wednesday.

They spoke on these subjects at a panel for the Wake Up Keweenaw monthly breakfast series. Houghton City Manager Eric Waara touched on the Darkstore lawsuit situation with Walmart.

A Walmart representative has been in contact regarding a settlement, but nothing has been decided.

“We’ve made a settlement offer based on those conversations,” said Waara. “They asked for something, we offered something. That was concessions on the city’s part, but still looking at something that, when it was all said and done, we could still live with.”

However, according to Waara, no further details can be disclosed.

Waara also spoke on bids received for the teardown of the downtown parking deck. The lowest bid, just over $3 million, came from MJO Contracting and exceeded the city’s $2.5 million budget.

Waara says the city is working on adjusting the scope of the project in order to make it possible.

“And then looking internally at cash balances within our various funds,” continued Waara. “Like can our parking fund put some dollars towards this, can our DDA put some dollars towards this, and we’re looking towards closing that gap. Looks like we’ll be able to do it.”

Waara added that Meijer still owns land in the city but the retailer has not yet announced plans to begin construction on a store or sell the land. According to Waara, Meijer had gone through the site plan approval process for a store and had a store design ready before the pandemic. The pandemic resulted in a shift in the market experience and saw a rise in pick-up options from stores, and Waara believes Meijer is readjusting their business plan as a result.

He also adds that his last conversation with his contact at Meijer was a month and a half ago.

“Nothing imminent,” finished Waara. “But it’s not off the table.”

Meanwhile, Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock spoke on her city’s attempt to purchase Quincy Green from the receiver of Finlandia University’s properties. It had set up an agreement with the university to purchase the space in February, but Finlandia’s upcoming closure prevented its finalization.

No university properties have been sold yet, but some could become taxable, such as the Jutila Center and Hirvonen Hall.

“We have to look at this as an opportunity to what Hancock can become,” said Babcock. “And hopefully some of it will become taxable property.”

Finally, according to Calumet Village Manager Megan Haselden, the village wants to put Calumet’s name out through various projects in order to attract new business. The village is also working on making it easier for these businesses to set up by streamlining the process.

“Things like having kind of a welcome packet,” said Haselden. “But also a roadmap of ‘Hey, you want to come to Calumet and open a business.’ Well, where are you looking at? Is that in the historic district? If there is, there’s an entire historic district guidelines that you have to abide by.”

The final Wake Up Keweenaw entry for the season will be on May 10th staring at 7 a.m.