Saline City Council has a decision to make.
Monday night, at its work meeting, council heard presentations from two parties interested in developing vacant East Michigan Avenue property currently owned by the city.
Lot 20A is located between the soon-to-open Zippy Auto Wash and The Oaks Shopping Plaza. The 6.54-acre parcel has 221 feet of frontage on Michigan Avenue. The city is eager to sell the property, at $125,000 an acre, for one-time revenue and then collect tax revenue on the property when it is developed.
Council heard vastly different proposals for the property. One proposal promises the city substantially less cash – both in the near and long term – while delivering important medical services from a known entity. The other proposal promised much more money, both in sales and tax revenue, and nationally-known, name-brand restaurants and retailers – though the identity of those brands remained shrouded in mystery.
IHA’s proposal is to purchase just three acres for $125,000 per acre. The health care provider is interested in the property fronting Michigan Avenue, and not the “back lot” portion of the property. IHA suggested an unusual arrangement for the back lot. IHA promised to pay for the construction of a retention pond on that property. The pond would service IHA’s property and, perhaps, whatever else is developed on what’s left of the property.
Jason Harris, vice president of planning and development for IHA, spoke to city council Monday.
“We think the site has a lot of potential. The visibility is a big draw for us,” Harris told council.
Harris said the Ann Arbor-based physician group, owned by Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, has experienced considerable growth. Harris said IHA’s research shows Saline as a community with a shortage of primary care physicians. . IHA is proposing a single-story, 11,650-square foot building. It would house primary-care physicians, an urgent care facility as well as labs and x-rays and other services.
The second proposal comes from GBA Development, based in Farmington Hills. The company wants to buy all 6.5 cares for $817,500.
Matthew Attard is one of the managing members of GBA Development.
“We love Saline. We think it’s underserved. We want to buy the entire property and develop the whole thing,” Attard told council.
In its letter to council GBA said it planned 5,000-square-foot multi-tenant building that would be housed by three national fast-food service tenants. It also planned a 2,500-square-foot Culvers restaurant. It also proposed another 3,500-square-foot sit-down restaurant. Attard hinted at other potential clients at Monday’s meeting. He spoke of a Hollywood backed burger chain that’s only starting to make inroads in Michigan. He also spoke about attracting a Korean/Southwestern/fusion/farm-to-table restaurant. Attard said his development would attract a coffee house chain – saying Saline’s coffee drinkers were underserved. The back portion of the property could be developed to include a trampoline center, a swim school and small, national chain grocer that caters to foodies.
The property is being marketed by Tony Caprarese, of Swisher Commercial. Caprarese said he talked GBA and IHA about partnering on the property, with GBA along Michigan Avenue and IHA in back, but IHA was firm on maintaining Michigan Avenue frontage.
Councillors asked questions of both developers.
Councillor Linda TerHaar noted IHA was a subsidiary of a religious health care organization and asked if religion would limit the range of health care services offered. Harris’ answer was vague.
Councillor Dean Girbach noted IHA previously had a location in Saline but relocated. Harris said that the facility was operated by Saint Joseph. He said the location was challenging and the practice was not doing well financially.
Girbach also stated that since IHA/Trinity Health is a non-profit, it doesn’t pay property taxes.
Councillor Christen Mitchell appeared a little uncomfortable with the idea of splitting the property for IHA and then using the remainder of the property for a retention pond serving the IHA property.
“It raises questions. It seems like that would limit the development of the rest of the property,” Mitchell said.
GBA’s plans were a little more grandiose. And not all on council seemed gung-ho on bringing more national chains to Saline.
Mitchell said she expected more national chains along Michigan Avenue after Emagine Theatre opened. So when the developer talked about Saline’s coffee drinking crowd being underserved and the interest in bringing a national coffee chain to Saline, Mitchell talked about balancing residents’ desire for more dining options with preserving the unique independently-owned businesses in town. She said she and her family spend time at Carrigan Café in downtown Saline.
“I appreciate the small businesses in downtown Saline. My 14-year-old daughter walks to the café. They know her. She runs a tab and the staff there knows I always pay it that day or the next day,” Mitchell said. “I’ve heard from residents who say they want a Panera. It’s time to talk to city residents to see what they want.”
Mitchell also told the developer that the swim school he proposed would be in competition with the city owned Rec Center. Attard said GBA was flexible and willing to work with the city in attracting tenants.
Girbach asked Attard how the project would be phased. Attard indicated the Michigan Avenue frontage would be developed first.
Mayor Brian Marl said the matter will be added to the Sept. 10 agenda as a discussion item.
“At which time council will develop consensus on how to move forward,” Marl said.
Marl indicated some support for both proposals. He said the IHA development would provide a number of tangible benefits to the city. He also expressed some support for GBA’s concept.
“Attracting fast casual restaurants to the front portion of Lot 20A seems prudent to me. I like the strong emphasis on aesthetic and design,” Marl said.