By Jef Rietsma
Tearing the corner off a piece of notebook paper, Vicksburg Village President Bill Adams gave a visual example of how much work remains for redevelopment of the former Simpson Paper Co.
Adams, speaking prior to the council’s 7-0 approval of the $60 million planned-unit development Oct. 29, said the corner of the torn paper represents the amount of work already completed. The rest of the sheet, he said, signifies the work that lies ahead.
“We have voted on the small portion of the plan tonight,” Adams said, indicating he intended to present the two-piece puzzle to his wife as a means of explaining the current state of the project.
Village Manager Jim Mallery said in a perfect situation, village staff “would have been here with all the details. But working with the developer, we felt it best to proceed this way in order to receive the county- and state-level economic incentives, and then move forward.”
There’s plenty of work ahead, but for now, backers of the ambitious plan to redevelop the former mill will take a moment to celebrate the council’s milestone vote.
Buoyed by the unanimous decision, the crowd of more than 150 – most of them proponents – applauded as the meeting adjourned at Vicksburg High School’s Performing Arts Center.
Chris Moore, a Vicksburg native who is backing the Paper City Mill project, said there was good reason to celebrate a vote that has been several years in the making.
“We’re a lot closer to the start line now … it’s such a huge project, you have to think about the thing incrementally,” the 53-year-old Moore said. “So, there is the initial study, figuring out the brownfield issues, then the next step is to get the traffic plan, the sound plan, the parking plan and all that stuff put away. It’s all incremental and if you don’t think of it incrementally, your head will blow up.”
While behind-the-scenes work takes place over the winter, project manager Jackie Koney said visually, the public will see progress commence in the spring. She made a reference to the Transformational Brownfield Redevelopment plan under review by Michigan Department of Economic Development.
“We are waiting on it and if awarded, it truly (would be) transformational,” Koney said.
Supporters indicated the need for such a destination with the facilities the development will provide, while others noted it would help preserve a building and property that impacted thousands of area families over nearly a century before closing in 2001.
Vicksburg native Joe Krill, a Stryker employee, said Paper City has the potential to impact the county’s larger employers. He said large meeting spaces – which are included in Paper City’s plan – are needed in the area to enhance manufacturers’ recruitment and retention of prospective and current employees.
The village council’s vote followed the Vicksburg Planning Commission’s Oct. 17 unanimous recommendation for approval. The recommendation was sealed after commission members in last-minute negotiations won concessions from Moore reducing permissible sound levels and late-evening hours for entertainment at the site.
Vicksburg-area resident Don Wiertella was the first of eight people to address the council. He reminded the members that Mallery and the planning commission’s support spoke well of the project.
“I believe that the mill project will be successful and will allow Vicksburg to become a destination village and not a travel-through village,” said Wiertella, a former Michigan Department of Transportation engineer who oversaw traffic studies at locations such as the Pontiac Silverdome and Michigan International Speedway. “I believe that what is in the best interest of the village is a yes vote on this project.”
Jo Ramsdell, a Vicksburg resident, said the Village Council “is the equivalent of a watchdog whose job is to bark and alarm when something or someone suspicious approaches, to sniff out potential problems and to stand your ground to protect our interests. You have done your jobs well.”
“Chris Moore has offered Vicksburg an amazing opportunity,” Ramsdell said. “We, the residents and the voters, are the watchdog owners. We hear the barks and the growls, we step out from our doors with caution, but when we realize it is actually Santa walking toward us, delivering gifts, it is our responsibility as owners to tell our watchdogs to sit, stay, but don’t go away.
“We know that many gifts come with warnings and they need to be monitored when in use, but that does not mean the gift is no good, or even worse that it should be returned,” she added.