By Sue Moore
Local development projects dominated the agenda at the Vicksburg Village Council meeting in late February. Two projects that will have a large impact on the community were presented and given kudos from the audience and the council members.
Paper City representative Jackie Koney outlined the next steps in turning the abandoned paper mill into a viable entity. Following her exciting and futuristic presentation for development, Kelly and Dan Oswalt gave an overview of their ideas for renovating the former Krum Hallam Chevrolet dealership at 343 W. Prairie at a cost of more than $1 million. They are the owners of Oswalt Electric with offices they renovated in 2013 a block away from this new project.
Describing it as the “Gateway” to the village on the west side, they plan to completely renovate the 7,500-square foot building and lease space to at least four different companies. “The building is in dire need of repair. We want to welcome people here instead of their just driving by,” said Dan Oswalt. To make this happen successfully, they needed the village to sign off on a commercial rehabilitation abatement request. The Council did so willingly.
It would be difficult to justify a project of this kind without the abatement incentive tools, their attorney, Jared Belka, explained. “This is not a poster child project,” Belka said. “To make the numbers make sense they need the village’s help to reduce the taxes over a 10-year period of time.” This would amount to somewhere between $4,000 to $8,000 a year, village Manager Jim Mallery told trustees.
Although the mill project has been in front of the Council in the past, Koney wanted to update them on the progress of the development because not much of it can be seen from the road. “Our biggest effort over the next two years will be the stabilization of the building itself.” She showed a slide of all the pieces of brickwork that need to be patched or replaced, saying that a crew of 15 to 30 brick masons would be working on the building and living nearby.
She set out a timeline for the next big steps, with the expectation that if funding and zoning approvals go as planned, the first evidence of occupancy would take place in early 2020. In the meantime, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has approved a $1.35 million grant and loan package for environmental assessments and due care activities, including site clean-up on the property. Paper City is working on a proposal to the Kalamazoo County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation worth $9 million to the project. Many of the actions on the mill property depend upon zoning changes that the village Planning Commission and the Council will need to consider in the upcoming months. Koney cited a study by Tracy Cross Associates which predicted that when completed, the mill project would double or triple residential growth in Vicksburg and the downtown will prosper as a result.
“The ball is in Paper City’s hands to get the information available on the Planned Unit Development,” Mallery exclaimed. “We are at a tipping point with these multiple developments and investments in Vicksburg. It corresponds with our plans for infrastructure upgrades whether the developers proceed with their projects or not. The sewer system has not been improved since 1977. We are seeking federal government financing help and will be coming to the Council with some recommendations very soon.”
In other business, Mallery read an email from the new owner of MLC, Paul VanElden, about specialized equipment the company was trying to purchase to abate odors emanating from its building in the Leja Industrial Park. The deal fell through. But the firm hopes to find other equipment that will minimize the odor to satisfy the neighbors’ complaints,. It’s agreed not to process carrots, which seemed to be causing the most odor problems.