Flint, MI—The Flint City Council is nearing a decision on a brownfield development project at 1809 James P. Cole Blvd, an industrial park that’s home to multiple businesses, including an online auction house and a truck driving school.
The plan has been before the City Council since Feb. 2021, but it has been postponed multiple times since a public hearing took place on June 14.
On Sept. 8, the council decided to postpone a vote on the plan, again at the request of the administration.
Khalfani Stephens, Flint’s economic development director, called in to explain there was a problem with a legal definition in the submitted plan. He said the applicant, James P. Cole Venture, LLC, had been made aware of the problem and he was waiting for them to turn in “the proper legal description.”
If approved, the brownfield plan calls for 110,000 sq. ft. of renovated industrial space and another 190,000 sq. ft. of new industrial space on the lot, improving the facilities for current tenants and making room for new industrial businesses to move to Flint. It also means continued cleanup of chemical contamination at the property, which was formerly a DuPont manufacturing facility.
“By the time we leave this property, with this brownfield credit, I’ll be able to grow tomatoes in that soil and feel comfortable eating that fruit,” said Bob Waun, a minority owner of James P. Cole Venture, LLC. “That’s my goal.”
The project is estimated to cost the developer around $14.25 million and would result in a little over $2.5 million in eligible reimbursable expenses under brownfield tax increment financing.
But concerns about the project remain for Councilman Allan Griggs of Ward 8.
Griggs said he needs to know who the property’s future tenants will be before offering his support to the development.
“This place does not have a plan,” Griggs said. “It reminds me of the Field of Dreams movie, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Griggs added that while he does hope industrial tenants will come to the property, he believes it’s bad business for the developer to ask for money before confirming its tenants.
Griggs said he’s also skeptical because Waun was previously part of C3 Ventures, the company which promised to bring jobs to the same site back in 2016, but ultimately did not follow through.
Waun said he understands Griggs’s concern, but that James P. Cole Ventures has a different business model than C3 Ventures. C3, Waun said, had planned to run the businesses in the industrial park themselves, but this plan has the developer leasing to manufacturing businesses instead of trying to run them directly.
“It’s a totally different business opportunity,” Waun said. “And it’s closer to what I know, which is real estate and banking.”
Waun is no longer part of C3 Ventures. He said that while he was disappointed C3 was unable to see through its promise of 300 new jobs in Flint, he felt that the company responsibly exited that deal.
“We were awarded $5.8 million (from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation). We took $2.5 million, and then we stopped taking any further money because we could see we weren’t going to create 300 jobs,” Waun said.
He added that while he could not name the potential new tenants for 1809 James P. Cole Blvd, he did confirm that the site’s current tenants would stay and the developers have been in talks with at least two new tenants.
Despite feeling like he’s been misrepresented in media and council discussions, Waun said he will keep pursuing the project.
“I didn’t want to give up on this property or on Flint. Because I think it’s too important,” he said.
“We can really do something amazing here … we could develop a first world industrial park that respects the environment and respects the river next door.”
The James P. Cole Blvd Brownfield Plan resolution will be back on Flint City Council’s legislative committee agenda on Sept. 22.
There are way too many vacant lands in Flint that need to be used for something else besides nothing and more unwanted greenspaces. Why aren’t all these vacant lands being used? Many things could go on them! Parks, swimming pools, new businesses, new homes, basketball courts, and lots of other things, Many vacant lands can be redeveloped if the city just cared enough to reuse them. It is a vacant land desert here and it needs to change for the best.
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