BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — An iconic tower in downtown Battle Creek may have been at the point of no return until a new owner stepped in to salvage it. 

The Heritage Tower in downtown Battle Creek has sat empty for several years. Time and neglect have taken their toll. 

“(It’s) a building full of mold,” said Mark Harmsen, who owns MDH Development. “Up to a year ago, you had to walk in with a Hazmat suit and a respirator to even go in the building.”

It wasn’t always that way. The building — which is still Battle Creek’s tallest — opened in 1931. The tower’s escalators were a leading city attraction, and it boasted some of the best art deco in the Midwest.  

Now Harmsen is busy renovating the building. He says this is the last, best shot to save Heritage Tower.

“If we can’t pull it off this time  — which we know we can — my concern would be that that building would deteriorate to the point of no return,” he said.

Work started last year. The once thriving bank will now feature office and retail space, as well as market-rate apartments, ranging from micro units to a two-bedroom penthouse.

“You don’t see a space like that in a building like this with the kind of architectural detail… in markets other than Detroit, Chicago,” Harmsen explained. “It’s very, very unusual for that kind of high-quality building to be in Battle Creek. That’s just a huge gift right there.”

Harmsen says Heritage Tower is the most difficult project he’s worked on in his 40 years as a real estate developer. 

“I think it is just because of the damage that’s been done to that building,” he said. “All in, that’s about a $32 million project. When it’s complete, we think it will be worth $12 million.”

Harmsen is looking into possible grants or loans to help him recover some of the cost. Despite the potential debt, he sees the project as the cornerstone of revitalizing downtown Battle Creek.

“We’re sending a message that downtown Battle Creek is going to be redeveloped,” he said. “This is the first project. It’s the big project, and it’s going to kick off redevelopment for the rest of downtown.”

The first apartments will be available spring 2019. Commercial tenants will move in later that year.