Two massive construction projects will soon bring a breath of fresh air — and significant economic development — to Munising.
The millions of dollars in investment are transformational for this Alger County city, known as the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The projects will bring new commercial development, as well as much-needed housing downtown, as well as a host of employment services.
A rendering of the Munising Marketplace.
Renovare Development is building the Munising Marketplace, a mixed-use development that includes 39 rental housing units and 12,400 square feet of commercial and retail space. The Marketplace will also house a daycare center, an anchor restaurant and a workforce development center leased by MichiganWorks!.
The redevelopment company is also renovating the city’s old fire hall. A local construction company, Hall Contracting., will be doing the work on both projects.
Renovare is a woman-owned real estate development company based downstate. It focuses on transformational, mixed-use projects designed to meet pressing community needs.
The Munising Marketplace will occupy two vacant lots on the south side of Superior Avenue between Maple and Birch streets in downtown Munising. Renovare estimates the cost of the 45,258-square-foot project at nearly $21.5 million.
The 2,500-square-foot workforce development center
for Michigan Works! will be located on the ground floor. The center will provide a workforce training space for coaching and other services, including local apprenticeships, youth training programs, partnerships with schools and universities, job placement skills and training and employer-driven courses to facilitate employment with local employers. The center will support collaborations across industry stakeholders, community-based organizations, educational institutions and businesses.
The city's old fire hall will be redeveloped as a restaurant and retail space.
Renovare will also restore the old fire hall, a downtown landmark that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The unique historic building will house a sit-down restaurant/brewery, retail shops, event space, outdoor seating and programming. The restoration of the fire hall will cost approximately $3.6 million.
The iconic Art Deco structure, built by the federal Works Projects Administration in 1938, has been standing vacant since the city relocated the fire department in 2011. The site is located on M-28 in the heart of the city’s business district, within a block of the cruises to the national lakeshore. The site has been a redevelopment priority for the city.
Funding for the projects will come from a variety of sources, including Michigan State Housing Development Authority tax credits, new market tax credits, historic preservation tax credits, tax increment financing (TIF), community development block grant funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for blight elimination and job creation, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Remediation and Redevelopment Division and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority grants.
According to Michigan’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, brownfields are abandoned, idle or under-used industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is hindered by real or perceived environmental conditions.
Need for housing and commercial space
The lack of housing in Munising is critical, says Katherine Reynolds, CEO of the Munising Downtown Development Authority.
“It’s just not available,” she says. “We need convenient, walkable, affordable housing to attract workers. That kind of housing is also important for seniors wanting to downsize. Any time you have housing downtown, you generate economic activity, and that attracts new businesses. That is all good. The more you make downtown appealing, and the more you give people to do there, the more money they spend.”
The restoration of the fire hall is also important for downtown development, Reynolds says. “You don’t want abandoned buildings, blighted buildings. One improvement leads to another and another. It’s great to see investment in downtown.”
“The fire hall is one of our signature buildings downtown,” says former Munising Mayor Rod DesJardins, who first approached Renovare about the project. “Its location, its architectural style and its history make it a community landmark.”
Munising City Manager Devin Olson agrees.
“Redevelopment of the vacant historic fire hall is especially important for the city,” he says. “And the Munising Marketplace, a mixed-use development including more than 30 residential units, will have an immediate and massive impact in helping to alleviate our community’s demand for new housing opportunities. The project will fill in the last large, underutilized tract of property in our core downtown and will be a wonderful complement to our downtown.”
The Munising Marketplace and fire hall restoration projects were five years in the making, says Reynolds, who is also CEO of the Greater Munising Bay Partnership/Alger County Chamber of Commerce.
“Renovare knew Rod. They were looking for projects. Rod was looking for help,” she says.
The city worked with Renovare to develop the projects and find funding.
The redevelopment company expects the fire hall work to be completed in about 12 months. The Munising Marketplace will take approximately two years.
Munising Master Plan
Renovare’s mission to take on transformational projects that serve a deep community need aligns directly with the priorities of the city of Munising, says Jill Ferrari, managing partner of Renovare.
“The Munising projects support the vision of the city’s master plan by increasing density, providing missing middle-income workforce housing options, growing the tax base and enhancing the walkability of the downtown district, while utilizing constructive and innovative use of land,” she says.
Increasing the housing stock will have a huge economic impact on Munising, Ferrari adds.
“Building quality housing stock and new commercial amenities is a key way to revitalize the community, empower entrepreneurs, and retain and attract the talent needed to support Munising’s local business community,” she says.
A master plan provides guidance for the growth, development and physical improvements within a municipality. It reflects the community it serves, drawing on public input to define a united vision of the community’s future. Based on analysis of community data, the master plan offers recommendations and implementation steps that can be undertaken to achieve the city’s vision.
The goals of Munising’s master plan include stopping the population decline that the city has been experiencing by developing strategies that encourage young workers and families to move to Munising, as well as supporting local businesses and attracting new businesses to the city.
Although Munising is Alger County’s largest city, its population has been declining markedly since 2000.
The 2010 Census reported that Munising’s population was 2,355, a 7.25 percent decrease since the 2000 census. In 2017, the Census Bureau reported that Munising’s population was continuing to decline, estimating it at 2,307.
The redevelopment projects on the way for Munising promise to help turn that trend around and fulfill the city’s master plan goals.
Jennifer Donovan is a reporter with more than 40 years of experience on daily newspapers, magazines and university writing and editing. She is retired as director of news and media relations at Michigan Technological University and lives in Houghton.