The Mill Street property on the southern border of the city of Ecorse has lain vacant for 15 years. But now, thanks to the efforts of a team of city and state partners, a development agreement has been established to make the property a catalytic force in revitalizing Ecorse.
In October, the city executed an agreement with Farmington Hills-based Friedman Real Estate and Southfield-based General Development Company (GDC) for the development of the 66-acre Mill Street site. The developers will now do environmental due diligence work on the property and market it for use as logistics/distribution and/or manufacturing facilities. They anticipate that the development will create 1,200 jobs, $57 million in total annual wages, $10 million in annual retail spending, and $900,000 in annual property tax revenue.
That's a major development for Ecorse, which has seen many struggles as heavy industry waned in the city. But city leaders have undertaken a number of ambitious revitalization strategies since Ecorse emerged from state receivership in 2017. The Mill Street site has been a cornerstone of those plans, given its prime location on the city's border with both Wyandotte and Lincoln Park, as well as its close proximity to Detroit and the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge.
"This is like an icon for the city, for this to be developed," says Ecorse City Manager Richard Marsh. "It generates a lot of community pride. And I think activity brings activity, so you'll find others interested in what's going on in Ecorse and it could lead to other opportunities for us."
Ecorse City Administrator Richard Marsh at the Mill Street Development Site, Ecorse. Photo by David Lewinski.
Marsh says reaching this milestone for the property required significant "vision" from city staff, as well as strong partnerships with state and regional agencies. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC); Downriver Community Conference; and Michigan Department of Treasury all partnered with Ecorse on the project.
"You have to reach out and demonstrate that you have a plan, you have a vision, and ask for assistance," Marsh says. "They bought into the vision and they brought resources to the table to make it happen."
MEDC played a particularly crucial role by providing a $100,000 Michigan Site Readiness grant in 2019 to help prepare the site for development, and an additional $75,000 grant in 2020 for environmental assessments and investigations. Nicole Whitehead, MEDC business operations director, says the Mill Street site became a priority when MEDC first established its Build Ready Sites program.
"It's really a great location where a national company wouldn't be intimidated by the Detroit Three because they're not right around the corner from them, but they do have a lot of access to talent, our engineers, and research facilities," she says. "It's just a prime location from which you can get to a lot of these hot spots in southeast Michigan really quickly."
Larry Steckelberg, the administrator of the Michigan Department of Treasury's community services division, says MEDC has done "yeoman's work" in marketing the site as well. For his part, Steckelberg helped the city draw up and market its request for qualifications for the property.
Mill Street Development Site, Ecorse. Photo by David Lewinski.
"It's possible a local community could do that on its own," Steckelberg says. "But building a larger team creates the ability to move quickly to adapt, to answer questions, to make sure the title's in place – all these things that could hold up a project."
All members of the Mill Street team are enthusiastic about the developers who will now carry the property forward. Friedman and GDC have previously partnered on numerous developments, involving millions of square feet, for some of the world's largest companies, including many major projects in Michigan.
"We knew they had the expertise to actually get this done," Whitehead says. "You can see them as the subject matter experts in helping the city gauge how they should promote it and what kind of companies they should target."
Given the site's industrial past, environmental work will be the first big step for Friedman and GDC before bringing the site to market.
"Friedman and GDC are well familiar with how to overcome those issues and what gets built into that," Steckelberg says. "I know of nothing on the site that's insurmountable. It's just that you cannot have a former industrial facility in Michigan, which was used for that industrial use for 100 years, without having to do some work in order to accommodate a new user."
Once the remediation work is complete, stakeholders are envisioning a swift path to development, given the site's prime location. Marsh says Friedman and GDC have already "had people interested in the site," and he anticipates having a development plan approved as soon as late fall this year or spring of 2022. Whitehead says that will be a "tremendous opportunity" for the city.
"Getting this site back on the tax rolls will bring in more workforce. It will increase the tax base. You'll start to see the housing there increase as well," she says. "It's just going to improve the quality of life."
Marsh also anticipates huge "spinoff effects" for the city.
"It's going to put Ecorse back on the path of sustainability," he says.