WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 12 years after General Motors closed its 36th Street stamping plant in Wyoming, the site has a new owner with an eye on redevelopment.
Franklin Partners LLC announced Thursday that it has bought the property now known as Site 36 after gaining approval from the Wyoming Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt said the site sold for $5.25 million.
“This day has been a long time coming, and we appreciate the confidence and faith Don (Shoemaker) and his team at Franklin Partners have shown in Wyoming, in manufacturing and in our greater West Michigan community,” Holt stated in a Thursday news release. “We have long recognized what a jewel this property is – and what tremendous potential it has to attract manufacturers looking for a place to expand or consolidate operations.
Franklin Partners plans to build several manufacturing facilities that are up to 1 million square feet on the 74-acre site at 300 36th St. SW between US-131 and Buchanan Avenue.
Franklin Partners co-founder Don Shoemaker said his team is already talking to manufacturers looking to grow in the area or move to Grand Rapids because of the area’s skilled worker base. Shoemaker says the interest comes from a variety of industries, from automotive to clean energy.
“It seems like almost every day we hear from somebody in the battery world,” he said.
Shoemaker says each facility will be built to suit after reaching an agreement with the future tenant. If all goes well, he expects to announce the first tenant in the next few months and break ground on the first facility in mid- to late summer.
Holt estimated there could be five or six facilities at the site.
“We’ve definitely had plastic injection molders and auto parts suppliers, and we’ve had food processors,” Holt said. “So we’ve had really the whole group of industries that you see in the metropolitan area express interest in this site.”
In the Thursday news release, Franklin Partners managing partner Ray Warner said the property is “second to none in the Midwest” at a time when industrial site vacancies are under 2% in West Michigan.
Holt said the city has worked with Franklin Partners before, so it knows the company has experience in redevelopment projects.
“The great for Wyoming is when we build buildings on (the site),” he told News 8 Thursday.
Holt said the city doesn’t think the new businesses on the site will replace the 2,000 jobs lost when the GM plant closed, though he did say that recent growth in other businesses has created more than that number of jobs.
The metal stamping plant was built on the site in 1936, according to the Grand Rapids Historical Commission. GM ended its operations at the site in 2009.
GM’s liquidation arm then passed the site off to commercial real estate firm Lormax Stern, which worked on remediation. When Lormax Stern didn’t have new operations up and running within 5 years, the site was sold to the city for $1. Part of that deal was that 50% of the eventual sale of the site would go back to Lormax Stern.
Wyoming’s master plan adds that the city worked with RACER Trust to clean up the industrial site in 2011, but left on-site utilities including power and railroad infrastructure.
The property has been a focus for the city’s economic development and planning team for more than a decade. Site 36 was mentioned more than two dozen times in Wyoming’s most recent master plan, which called for redeveloping the site into an industrial space or convention center, sports complex, office park, mixed use commercial site or urban forest.
“Regardless of use, participants underscored the large site should be redeveloped in a manner that attracts people to Wyoming and helps build up Division Ave S.,” the plan reads in part.
Libbie Drake has lived down the street for more than 20 years. Her uncles actually worked at the GM plant decades ago. When GM left, she said it was hard on the neighborhood.
“It was a little difficult, just a big open space that could have been used for something else,” Drake said. “The parking lot kind of got run down. Just nobody took care of the property.”
She was thrilled about Thursday’s news.
“As an educator myself, I think of partnerships with schools, maybe some trade things for our kids, so they have something in the neighborhood so they can stay around,” Drake said. “Maybe even after school jobs. Or get some training and some skills that they want to do.”
State Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, has owned nearby Brann’s Steakhouse and Grille on Division Avenue for 50 years.
“GM workers used to come in my place,” Brann said. “They packed the place Thursday night when they got paid.”
He can’t wait for employees to return to the area and to his restaurant.
“If I get 20 people … that’s gigantic for my little restaurant,” Brann said.
The city will keep ownership of a lot on the north side of 36th Street that used to be GM employee parking. Holt said the lot will become a community or farmers market; the city hopes to turn dirt on that this summer. The site will also be used for parking for Godwin Heights athletics.
Site 36 is not allowed to be redeveloped for residential use because it is a remediated brownfield site. However, the city is encouraging the “gradual redevelopment” of property between the site and S. Division Avenue into mixed use and affordable higher density housing.
The Right Place, Inc. economic development organization worked with the city of Wyoming to facilitate the sale.