Grand Haven looks to increase use of historic depot

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Haven is looking to renovate the former Grand Trunk Depot.

Established in 1870, it was a major transportation hub.

“It was a nexus between the water transportation and the rail transportation and passengers would get off and be transferred through this building,” city manager Patrick McGinnis explained to News 8 Wednesday.

“It was really was a bustling depot throughout its usage,” Tri-Cities Historical Museum executive director Julie Bunke said. “We’ve got some remarkable images of the usage that building has seen over the years.”

A historic photo of the Grand Trunk depot in Grand Haven. (Courtsey)

In more recent years, the building served as the home of the museum, which footed the bill for a $125,000 renovation to the interior.

In 2004, the museum bought a new spaced downtown. It continued using the depot to display artifacts specific to the building and transportation while moving most of its exhibits to 200 Washington St. near 2nd Street.

In 2017, the city decided to renovate the Waterfront Stadium directly behind the depot. That renovation, coupled with the cost to maintain the original building, prompted the museum to completely move out of the depot. The city bought the depot, built an addition containing bathrooms and finished renovating the stadium in 2018.

Today, the building mostly sits idle, but the city does want to use it.

“We have 2 million people who walk past here every year and we want them to see what the history was here,” McGinnis said. “If the public is going to own it, the public has got to use it. So we wanted to create an asset here that people do want to get inside and use.”

The goal is to integrate the back end of the depot into the Waterfront Stadium.

In a 3-2 vote Monday night, council decided to move forward with exploring renovation options like adding new doors, transforming windows and developing a portion of the space inside for commercial use.

In all, architects estimate the building needs more than $500,000 in upgrades.

  • grand trunk depot rendering
  • grand trunk depot rendering

Some local preservationists are concerned about maintaining the building’s historic integrity.

“It’s that really soft Chicago cream brick that we’re worried about. Once that’s removed, it’s very hard for one to get a match to replace it,” Bunke, the museum director, said. “Once the exterior is changed, there’s really no way to go back and change that.”

grand trunk depot historical marker
The Michigan Registered Historic Site marker for the Grand Trunk Depot in Grand Haven. (Oct. 9, 2019)

Bunke and the staff at Tri-Cities Historical Museum are not the only ones worried. The Historic Conservation District Commission released this statement Wednesday expressing disappointment about the council’s renovation plan:

“This is extremely disappointing that the council majority did not consider the unanimous recommendation of our committee which they appointed to safeguard the City’s historic landmarks. At a minimum, they should have paused and reconsidered the plan, per our request.

“‘Historic Conservation District Commission (HCDC). The purpose of this board is to safeguard the heritage of the City of Grand Haven by preserving landmarks and sites which reflect elements of the city’s cultural, social, economical, political or architectural history.‘”

The city council says it plans to work with preservationists and is confident it will be able to find a happy medium before any work begins.

“I think we can have our cake and eat it too. I think we can have a magnificent, very active building that respects our history and serves the future generations,” McGinnis said.

Depending on when the city can secure funding, the project could get underway as early as 2020. The city council has not finalized any design plans and will continue discussing options at upcoming meetings. 

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