GRAND HAVEN — When Craig S. Adams saw a rendering of J. Arthur Miller’s vision for a “gateway to Grand Haven” in 2004, he wanted to be involved.
Two years later, the plans for Grand Landing, a $70 million residential, retail and resort development, are becoming reality, with construction underway and Phase 1 of the project, The Village, set to open in spring 2007.
But this is not the first time Adams, president of Grand Landing LLC, has undertaken a large project. At the age of 46, Adams has owned several companies, including his family’s plastics company, helped start a nonprofit, and dabbled in real estate development.
Born in Grand Rapids, Adams graduated from Forest Hills Central High School, then attended the University of South Florida where he played college-level golf. After graduating with an accounting degree, Adams came back to Michigan to work at his family’s company, R.L. Adams Plastics in Wyoming, which manufactures foam presentation boards, plates and building products.
After working at the company for a year, Adams’ father, Ronald L. Adams, died of a heart attack, leaving Adams as the head of the company at the age of 22.
“That was the scariest thing,” he said.
At the time of his father’s death, Adams Plastics was a $2 million company with 35 employees. After 15 years under the younger Adams’ tutelage, the company had grown to $20 million annually with nearly 100 employees. That was in 1996.
“I woke up one day, I was 37 years old, and I really didn’t have any energy for the plastics business,” he said.
One of the company’s board members told Adams that the career of a company leader is not measured by age, but by time and experience. While many people begin their tenure as president or CEO at the age of 45 or 50 and then retire in 15 years, Adams had gotten in his 15 years early.
To help infuse energy into the company and diminish his role, Adams promoted the vice president of manufacturing, keeping the title of CEO and remaining on the board of directors. He is still the majority stock holder.
Since 1997, the company has grown further to $40 million in sales.
Following his reduction in roles at the plastics company, Adams moved to Florida “to retire,” returning to Michigan in the summers.
During the four years of what he called his “retirement” in Florida, Adams started a fireplace distribution business, and when met with the challenge of finding knowledgeable people to install the gas lines for the fireplaces, he created Adams Energy, a gas piping company, to do it for him.
Adams said he sold that business in August 2001 and moved back to Michigan, where he found himself looking for something to fill his time.
While working on a project in Spring Lake, Adams met Miller, the planner for Spring Lake at the time and a noted architect. While he was in Miller’s office, he saw the rendering that Miller had designed as the “gateway to Grand Haven,” utilizing the abandoned space where Grand Landing is now under construction.
Miller told him about the project and said that it just needed some financing.
“One thing led to another; we started negotiating with the city of Grand Haven on the sale of the property and here we are,” Adams said.
Adams said they are close to finalizing a deal with the hotel and convention center tenants, which should be a good draw for the area.
“We should be able to bring a nice amount of regional trade show business and conferences,” he said.
Adams anticipates the hotel and conference center will attract groups from Chicago, Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Traverse City and other cities within a comfortable driving distance.
The site will also welcome wedding receptions, local events and graduations.
With the various aspects of the development, Adams said the biggest challenge has been having patience throughout the process.
“It’s always changing,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll never be burnt out on.”
Adams said the development will have a nice atmosphere, and he is looking forward to the completion of Phase 1.
“I think it will be even more fun when we can cut the ribbon and walk down Main Street, so to speak,” he said.
When that happens, Grand Haven will have 600 new jobs, an improved infrastructure, a bigger tax base and “an economic engine like few have seen out here,” he said.
Adams, who recently remarried, has seven children in his blended family, five boys and two girls who range in age from 12 to 20. His wife, Kelly, is the assistant general manager of the Magna Donnelly mirror plant, overseeing manufacturing.
Adams’ interests include golfing and coaching basketball at Saint Mary’s Middle School in Spring Lake. He is also involved with the American Cancer Society and National Kidney Foundation golf tournaments.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he helped run a nonprofit organization called People Helping People, which adopted families to help get them off welfare. The organization paid for families’ medical needs and any repair or emergency issues that came up if the head of the family was working at any job. The person then paid back their debt to the organization through community service, sometimes helping out other adopted families. Adams said at one time there were 140 families involved with the program.
People Helping People was eventually taken over by a similar organization, American Family Hope, Adams said.
“That was a pretty neat little experience, to be involved with something like that,” he said.
Adams said he is also interested in recycling and preserving the environment, and is impressed by the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store program, which sells recycled or leftover building supplies to benefit the program.
“There’s something that’s just right about doing that,” he said of recycling and being aware of the environment.
Adams has been involved with preserving the environment through the Wuskowhan Players Club, a private golf club in West Olive that he helped found. The club has been designated as the 13th Audubon Signature Sanctuary after a rigorous process of documenting the land, organisms and water on the property before the course was built. The club has made efforts to impact the surrounding environment as little as possible, Adams said, including testing the water before and after it leaves the property to determine pollution levels.
“It’s quite a complex program,” he said.
It was the golf course that helped convince the city of Grand Haven to work with Adams on Grand Landing, said Mayor Roger Bergman.
“When we saw the quality of the project that he did there, we knew he was certainly going after the best he could do for Grand Haven, as well,” Bergman said. “Craig has done a great job of talking to people and explaining where he’s going and what he’s doing. I think he’s a great guy to work with.”
With the notice that Grand Landing has received as a rehabilitated area, Adams said, he has had the opportunity to share his experience with brownfield redevelopment and working in a public/private partnership.
“The Grand Landing project is such a large and complex project,” he said. “I think people are looking and seeing when we are working with the state.”
Many different entities came together to make the development possible, Adams said.
Grand Haven was given $1 million in grants and a $1 million loan to clean up the property, as well as an $800,000 grant to acquire the property from the state. The city has also received a $12.4 million Michigan Economic Growth Authority grant to help redevelop the property.
As the project continues, Adams said he hopes it will become an example of cooperation that shows others what can be done.
“I’m very proud of the reputation we’ve developed in working with these agencies,” he said. “It’s been very amicable and in a lot of cases, win-win.”