Newsmaker Orchard Park

WALKER — The 240-acre Orchard Park development proposed for Walker’s northwest side would significantly alter the face of the city and bode well for further economic development, so it’s a natural fit as a Newsmaker of the Year Award finalist.

The Orchard Park property along I-96, Walker and Four Mile, is owned by Walker Orchard Land Partners and would be developed by Trademark Property Co. The development partners currently estimate it will take an investment of more than $300 million over five to eight years to build the project out completely.

According to James Bossenbroek of the Walker Orchard Land Partners group, the plan is to create a mixed-use, new urban style community with nearly 1.7 million square feet of retail, residential and office space. Phase I would begin in the fall of 2008 with construction of a 130,000-square-foot Cabela’s store, an adjacent 180- to 200-room hotel featuring a water park, and related “tourist-oriented retail.” Cabela’s is the nation’s largest specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and outdoor merchandise. Of Cabela’s 18 stores nationwide, the one in Dundee is reportedly the No. 1 tourist attraction in Michigan, with more than five million visitors a year.

According to Cabela’s, a Walker location would likely attract about 3.5 million visitors per year, generate $3.1 million in state sales tax annually, and support 118 full-time and 145 part-time employees with an estimated $6.58 million annual payroll. According to city estimates, the store would generate more than $600,000 in city income tax and about $254,000 in property taxes for Walker.

Phase II, which would launch in the fall of 2009, would involve construction of a 100-plus acre, mixed-use village center offering a total of 616,500 square feet of retail, office and residential space in a diverse mix of architectural styles. Phase III would get underway between 2008 and 2012 as demand for space necessitated, Bossenbroek indicated. The last leg of the project would see the construction of a hotel, plus retail, office, medical office and residential space, including senior housing.

The development group approached the city with the Orchard Park concept in the spring of 2004, noted City Planner Frank Wash. The Walker City Commission voted 6-1 last October to rezone the 240 acres, which advanced the project another step. However, commissioners have maintained that the project won’t go forward until they determine all issues have been adequately addressed and are assured the developer has the means to pay for the anticipated $20 million to $25 million in public infrastructure costs related to the development.

In December, Cabela’s asked the state for a $15 million tax incentive package for that purpose, a request the Michigan Economic Development Corp. denied. The MEDC did promise that it, along with The Right Place Inc., would work with the company and the city of Walker to make Cabela’s entry into this market as smooth as possible in regard to its site plan review and permit approvals. Former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, also has said he wants the state Legislature to help find a way to bring Cabela’s to Walker.

The city has a couple of tools that could be applicable, as well, namely the Local Development Finance Authority process, and the brownfield program, which could only be used if there is proof of environmental contamination on the site.

So the question remains whether an incentive package can be put together to keep Cabela’s from looking elsewhere.

“We’re not sure of what we’re going to be doing if Cabela’s doesn’t happen,” Bossenbroek said “We really don’t have an answer to that yet.”

The project is moving forward, but the ball is in the developer’s court, Wash said.

“The developer is working with the state of Michigan to try to work out some kind of a funding formula to help offset some of the costs,” Wash said. “We continue to work on refining all of the infrastructure items that will potentially form the final area site plan, which would be the construction plan.”    

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