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Michigan invests $5M to turn 3 properties into 'build-ready' mega sites

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Michigan’s largest property marketed for large-scale development is a mega site located west of Marshall, in the central lower portion of the state. Shown here last winter, the lots that make up the property have multiple owners, most of whom use the land for farming. It also has Michigan Avenue frontage and rail access. (Bridge photo by Paula Gardner)
  • Three Michigan ‘mega sites’ near 1,000 acres or more are splitting $5 million to help ready them for new construction
  • Shortening the readiness timeline should boost Michigan’s odds of securing larger development deals 
  • Michigan seeks to reverse past disappointments from not having enough large property sites ready to go

Three property sites of 1,000 or more acres will share $5 million in state funding to prepare them for development with the goal of boosting Michigan’s competitiveness for the biggest industrial deals in the U.S.

Economic developers are assembling land in Genesee County and the Lansing region to join a 1,700-acre property in Marshall as so-called “mega sites,” according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

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Michigan’s lack of build-ready sites for developers shopping now for large industrial deals hurts the state’s ability to land projects like electric vehicle battery and chip factories that employ thousands, economic developers say.

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One potential deal shows the scope and size of companies looking at what is available in Michigan: The undisclosed project could create up to 5,641 jobs with a $50 billion investment, according to the MEDC.

“We have this very unique opportunity right now, if we move very quickly with site readiness,” Terri Fitzpatrick, MEDC executive vice president and chief real estate and global attraction officer, told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday.

“States who have had sites for a while (don’t have any left) … and the need is not decreasing,” she said, describing how existing mega sites around the country are going under contract for deals. “It's increasing.”

The Michigan Strategic Fund — the public funding arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which has a $77.8 million annual budget — on Tuesday approved $5 million for the site enhancement work.

The money will fund grants for the two new potential mega sites, both of which involve assembling properties among several owners and evaluating development potential, which might include environmental reviews, traffic studies and topographical mapping.

The undisclosed locations, both of which received initial $250,000 grants for early development preparations in March, include:

The funding will be shared with the mega site in Marshall, which has been the largest publicly disclosed development site in the state for several years, though none of the companies that have considered it elevated their interest into a proposal to the state.

The Marshall property, used for farming, now has 1,700 acres available, said Fitzpatrick of the MEDC. 

While Michigan has hundreds of industrial properties listed for sale, most are too small for the 1,000-plus acres needed for a battery plant or other large industrial site. They also lack permits or other pre-development work done for a company to consider them ready for new construction.

The largest “build-ready” property now advertised by the state are far smaller, including 500 acres in Van Buren County, followed by 487 acres in Oakland County’s New Hudson. 

Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP in Lansing, said the funding will support efforts to land significant projects.

“Many other states have spent decades preparing mega-type sites and are being rewarded now for their due diligence and continuity of economic development with major project announcements,” Trezise told Bridge Michigan in a statement.

Examples include electric vehicle battery factories that chose Indiana, Georgia, and, in the case of Ford Motor Co., Kentucky and Tennessee. Another example is the Intel chip factory that will be heading to Columbus, Ohio.

The Michigan Legislature authorized the state’s $1.5 billion SOAR legislation to provide $1 billion toward “transformative” projects in Michigan, including the $600 million awarded to General Motors in January for electric vehicle and battery production. GM also received $66 million for site development under the property development portion of SOAR. 

However, according to the MSF’s briefing memo on Tuesday’s funding move, the SOAR legislation “did not give immediate access to the MEDC for proactive site readiness activities.”

Proceeding with pre-development costs without an identified business that would use the property requires a full strategic timeline of what is needed to bring the property up to marketable conditions, along with cost estimates. 

The funding awarded on Tuesday will be transferred from the MEDC’s Business Development Program into the Michigan Build Ready Sites Program, which the MEDC said has been depleted for the year.

The money will make the sites more marketable and appealing to developers, Fitzpatrick said, by uncovering details on the properties. That trims the risk of surprises and delays extending a project’s timeline in an environment that, today, values quick decisions and construction.

“The further we are in site readiness, the more we know about the property, the more land control we have, that mitigates the risk,” she said. 

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Fitzpatrick said the Lansing-area site may be approved as a mega site by year-end, while early-stage work on the Genesee property could extend through 2023, though the timing remains fluid.

In addition, more funding requests to the state are likely after the new budget year begins on October 1, Fitzpatrick said. 

The initial $5 million, she said, won’t cover all of the work needed to be done, though estimates were not available. 

“It’s more of what is needed immediately,” she said. “We look forward to … a large amount of additional funding in the new fiscal year to further this beyond just studies and control (of purchase rights)  into starting to do some real site prep work that creates an investment-ready site.”

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