GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a town ripe with new development but short on space, 201 Market Ave. has been a much-coveted site.

After years of development speculation, including the mid-2000s pie-in-the-sky debacle that became known as the “mystery project,” Grand Rapid leaders once again marketed the 16-acre city-owned property, home to the Streets and Sanitation Department and several other city agencies, as a development site.

In 2017, Indianapolis-based developer Flaherty and Collins Properties became a top contender for development at the site with a plan including residential, retail and hotel space, along with public access along the river.

But there was a problem: What to do with the heavy equipment, salt piles and personnel essential to city services at 201 Market?

“There’s always been kind of the yin and yang of development on this site,” Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said. “One is what goes on this site. The other is where do you relocate what is on the site currently?”

That basically put a hold on making the Market Street proposal a reality.

“It’s hard to speculate about redevelopment when you don’t know when you’re going to get possession of the property,” DeLong said.

The sale of another site along the river may solve that problem.

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved an option to look into buying the 15-acre Kent County Road Commission site on Scribner Avenue NW for $7.75 million.

“It’s an option. We have lots of due diligence to do. We’ve got to do proof of concept. We may find other uses for the property. It’s really a strategic property,” DeLong said.

The road commission headquarters would accommodate many of the operations now at Market Street. More than 1,000 feet of river frontage would allow the city close-in control of a hydraulic barrier planned as part of the river restoration project.

The Kent County Road Commission is moving to a new headquarters near 4 Mile Road in Walker.

DeLong declined to discuss where talks with the 201 Market developer stands.

“I really can’t comment about real estate matters. What this does do is provide kind of a template for moving forward on relocation,” DeLong said.

The city has until this time next year to decide whether to exercise the purchase option. It could close the deal with the county sometime in 2022.