Housing, retail discussed as new uses of old mill property

February 2, 2024

The former Ceres property on East Main Street.

Housing, retail discussed as new uses of old mill property

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

HART — The city council room was packed Thursday evening, Feb. 1, with business owners, local officials and community members interested in what the future holds for a prime piece of vacant property in the city.

The nearly 100-year-old feed mill on East Main Street, which is owned by the City of Hart’s TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority), is being eyed for redevelopment. It has been sitting vacant for over three years after Ceres Solutions — a farmer-owned cooperative based in Indiana — closed its operations there. 

SmithGroup architectural, engineering and planning firm was hired through a grant from the MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) to provide consulting and recruit development through marketing. SmithGroup, which just completed a site survey, facilitated the meeting to hear community members’ ideas.

SmithGroup Planner Kathleen Duffy

Hart City Manager Rob Splane opened the meeting, stating that an environmental study was performed on the property and found no issues of contamination. “There are no major environmental issues, and it should be easy to redevelop,” said Splane.

We’re excited about how much can happen out there,” said SmithGroup Planner Kathleen Duffy. “This is a gem of a spot. The site is perfectly aligned for redevelopment. We want to know what the community wants to see.”

The consulting firm is preparing a request for qualifications to solicit developers, said Duffy.

“There is a need for housing for low and moderate income — to help alleviate some of the pressure in the market,” she said. “We think housing is a huge opportunity here.

“The community has ownership of the land through the TIFA board. It’s an amazing opportunity that you have control of,” she said to the audience.

Historical preservation of the site was discussed with some audience members promoting demolishing the existing buildings, while others advocated preserving at least some of the structures, such as the mill itself.

“We want to make sure it fits the character of the community,” said Duffy.

SmithGroup Landscape Architect Bob Doyle said the site encompasses 2.5 to 3 acres.

Doyle and Duffy presented different possible site plans, including designs with townhomes and apartment flats and cottage-style homes with a central green area and a first-floor community center.

SmithGroup Landscape Architect Bob Doyle

Audience members offered redevelopment ideas including, a higher education facility; middle income housing; retail, such as a deli or bistro; a mixed use of housing and retail; or an event venue.

The consultants will fly a drone at the site this spring, said Duffy. “We will work with MEDC to help market developers for the site. It’s going to be a couple years before it materializes.”

The vacant Gale’s IGA building may also 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. At Thursday’s meeting, Kleiner said she’s still waiting to receive a final word about the grant, but is hopeful that the funding will go through.

A third property in the city could also be redeveloped — the Congregational United Church, which recently closed its doors after 155 years. A public meeting is set for Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 1 p.m. to hear from all interested parties in purchasing or acquiring the Hart TIFA-owned property. 

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