Marysville leaders excited about riverfront development plans

There's a buzz of excitement in the air over potential game-changing development plans in Marysville that city leaders hope will bring a hotel, marina, condos, offices, shopping and possibly a water park to its riverfront.
But the 30-acre site has sat vacant since DTE Energy demolished its coal-fired plant there in 2015. No one has purchased the site for redevelopment because the property's current owners are tied up in litigation, which could possibly delay the project a few more years.
While other potential developments in the surrounding area seem to be waiting for word on the DTE site, city leaders are doing all they can to move along the deal while also funding their own riverfront and park revitalization projects. The city's crown jewel is its beach and park, but it lacks a downtown shopping district. A mixed-use development at the former power plant would revitalize the area and bring more people to the heart of the city.
"We're a can-do community," says City Manager Randy Fernandez. "We find a way to say yes to problem solving … we can't make everyone happy all the time, but we take our citizen concerns greatly and we try to jump on things the best we can."
Fernandez says he wants to fly to St. Louis to meet in-person with representatives from Commercial Development Company, Inc, which owns the former DTE property and readied it for redevelopment. CDC is being sued by its subcontractors and can't complete any deals while it is tied up in federal court.
There's at least one or two buyers who'd probably write a check right now, but can't because of the lawsuit, Fernandez says. He's looking for other options to avoid having to wait up to two or three years before the lawsuit is resolved.
"That's unacceptable to the mayor and city administration and council. It's unacceptable," he says. "We're going to push the envelope."
Whoever does end up buying the property will have to go before the mayor and city council to gain approval before breaking ground because the city rezoned the property into a planned-unit development with specific requirements.
"We're a can-do community, we find a way to say yes to problem solving … we can't make everyone happy all the time, but we take our citizen concerns greatly and we try to jump on things the best we can."
-Randy Fernandez, Marysville City Manager

In the meantime, the city has focused on other aspects of the riverfront. It spent the last few years improving its waterfront on the St. Clair River by repairing the seawall and installing a new boardwalk, fishing pier, accessible restrooms, playground equipment, permanent picnic tables and an expanded boat launch. The projects, completed with the help of more than $7 million worth of grants and in-kind labor from the city, have proved to be "highly successful" from an economic development standpoint by attracting boaters, anglers and others to the water, according to Fernandez.
The city also is in the process of selling a 57,000-square-foot building on Busha Highway for $500,000. It had obtained the property as a donation and originally planned to move its city offices there before deciding it didn't make financial sense, Fernandez says. The city has spent about $90,000 on taxes, utilities and other costs and will use the sale's proceeds to fund a new roof and heating and cooling system for its public safety department. The new buyer will seek tenants for the space, which might include medical offices.
Market Square on Gratiot Boulevard has been attracting several new or relocated businesses, including a banquet center, furniture store, florist, boutique, auto repair shop, hair salon and others. Businessman Alex Miller purchased the vacant strip mall about two years ago. About one year ago he moved Alexander's Premiere Banquet Facility to the property from his old location across the street.
Miller has brought in seven new tenants and is looking to fill the remaining two-thirds of the spots. The plaza has office and retail space, doctor's offices and a restaurant equipped and ready for new tenants, Miller says.
Businesses are attracted to the spot for its parking, visibility and landlord, according to the Blue Water Chamber of Commerce.
"It's starting to become a vibrant location to bring a business," says chamber President and CEO Thelma Castillo.
Miller wants the momentum to continue. He says he hopes the former DTE site pans out with a hotel and marina.
"It'd be a great asset for the whole community of Marysville," Miller says.
Fernandez anticipates that properties along Gratiot leading to Busha Highway and the former DTE site will see a bump in activity and property values once the riverfront project takes off.
"The DTE site is the key," Fernandez says. "If the right development goes there, those extra jobs and tax dollars will benefit all our residents and keep all our employees employed."
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