Former Gale’s IGA building may reopen as community center

January 12, 2024

The former Gale’s IGA building on State Street in Hart.

Former Gale’s IGA building may reopen as community center

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

HART — The vacant Gale’s IGA building may be breathing new life soon after it was recently purchased, and a $2.5 million grant is being pursued, said HEART (Hart Economic and Redevelopment Team) Director Nichole Kleiner.

West Shore Community College applied for the grant with the Michigan Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). There are no matching funds required for the grant, and officials could hear back as soon as the end of January if the grant will be awarded. “We’re still waiting to hear back from LEO for up to $2.5 million for a community center,” said Kleiner.

The grocery store closed its doors in 2018 after 76 years of business. It then operated briefly as Hart Village Market in 2022. It was recently purchased with plans for development if the community center grant is not awarded. 

“Our thought was that the former IGA would be a perfect location — in the center of the county on a main corridor — for a college extension campus to fill the educational piece that’s missing in Oceana County,” said Kleiner. “We don’t have access to higher education. Our kids have to commute if they want to dually enroll, study the trades or take college courses.

Developing a community/learning center has been an ongoing discussion throughout the county. West Shore Community College (near Scottville) expressed an interest in an extension campus in Oceana County back in 2020.” The COVID-19 pandemic stalled those talks, but when the grant opportunity arose, the conversations intensified. “We had 10 days to submit it — thanks to WSCC we were able to get architectural drawings and a contractor to meet the grant criteria.”

Muskegon Community College officials have also expressed interest in sharing classroom space, said Kleiner. The initial plan was for WSCC to own the property, but in the meantime, someone else recently bought it. However, the buyer agreed that if the grant is awarded, the property would be sold back so that the community center could go forward.

The former Ceres property on East Main Street.

“Under the West Shore model, similar to its Manistee campus, there would be a large conference room/community center, shared classroom space and a learning lab for Michigan Works. Michigan Works will occupy the building and manage the reception area where the public would enter, and behind it would be offices for other non-profit organizations, like United Way and True North — wrap-around services for folks, so when they need assistance, they’re not exposed to one organization — but able to access several resources.”

The facility would also offer a daycare center, said Kleiner. “We have a commitment from Hart Public Schools to support a daycare center there.” The daycare facility would have a separate entrance, a playground, kitchen and classroom space.

The $2.5 million — if the grant is awarded — would be used to partially fund “a new build-out” of the 25,000-square-foot facility, she said. 

“The $2.5 million only covers half the cost of the build-out. There would have to be significant investment by West Shore, in addition to local funding support, if the grant is awarded.

“Industries could really benefit from this. They need training for their workforce. Access to education is also a criteria for companies looking to expand — that’s where people want to live. And if it’s not available, that could be the reason they choose another place to develop or purchase a home.”

If the grant falls through, there is a second opportunity to apply next year. If the property acquisition falls through, another vacant site could be used. One possibility is the vacant Ceres agriculture property on East Main Street, which is owned by the City of Hart’s TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority).

The former Hart Congregational United Church on State Street.

A grant was secured from the MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) to cover the cost of a consultant from the Smith Group to recruit development through marketing of the Ceres property, said Kleiner. “They’re doing a site survey right now, and then they’re going to facilitate a public hearing, Feb. 1, at 5:30 p.m. in the Hart City Hall Community Center where the public can come and share their ideas of what they think that property should be used for.” 

A third property in the city could also be redeveloped — the Congregational United Church, which recently closed its doors after 155 years. Any party interested in purchasing or acquiring the Hart TIFA-owned property is encouraged to submit a letter of interest to: Hart TIFA, 407 S. State St., Hart, MI 49420 or email no later than Feb. 1, 2024. A public meeting is set for Feb. 6, 2024 at 1 p.m. to hear from all interested parties. Church officials cited declining membership led to the decision to close.  

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