Housing, office space, building trades training center proposed for church property

February 8, 2024

Conceptual drawing of MWH Investments’ proposal for the Congregational United Church property in Hart.

Housing, office space, building trades training center proposed for church property

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

HART — Housing, office space and a building trades training center were proposed to the Hart City TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority) Board to redevelop the former Congregational United Church property on State Street during a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 6.

City officials heard from three interested parties and reviewed their formal proposals, said Hart City Manager Rob Splane.

The property includes three buildings: the cathedral-ceiling church; a single-story building that was used for Sunday school; and a two-story house that once served as the parsonage.

The three proposals include: 

  1. Mark Hamersma of MWH Investments proposed renovating the church building into “Sanctuary Lofts,” which and would likely include three to five apartments or condos; tear down the Sunday school building to construct a driveway; and renovate the house, build a garage behind it, and put it up for sale. 
  2. Jason Rose of Vertical View Builders offered a plan of redeveloping the church for a faith-based training center for building trades and possibly using the other two buildings for daycare. He proposed incorporating a gym into the property as well, said Splane.
  3. Jake Tufts, local State Farm agent, has been looking for a new space for his office, said the city manager. Tufts proposes renovating the old parsonage into an office; using the Sunday school building for storage; and leasing or renting the church to another community group for use as a church or a similar organization. 

Splane said Tufts had interest in the Oceana Herald-Journal building on State Street and the old Flower Bin space on East Main Street, but those opportunities didn’t pan out. A distillery had some interest in buying the Herald-Journal building, but it was determined that renovation costs of the 94-year-old building would have been too expensive, he said.

According to the Coldwell Banker listing site, the Herald-Journal building sold for $72,500 on Jan. 16, 2023. A call to the Herald-Journal office indicated that the newspaper was still operating at that location. The realtor site stated that the “sale is contingent upon the seller finding a suitable space to rent.”

The Hart Area Public Library also had a representative at the TIFA meeting who said the library would like to use the Sunday school building as a “perpetual book sale.” Representatives from Radiant Church in Ludington have also expressed interest in the property, he said.

The TIFA board directed Hart Economic and Redevelopment Team (HEART) Director Nichole Kleiner to reach out to the three potential developers and ask for a minimum of a five-year business plan to include financial and organizational information, said Splane. TIFA plans to review those business proposals in April.

TIFA, which owns the church property, allocated two years of funds to maintain the building, snowplow the parking lot, maintain the landscape, etc. “They would like to (sell the property) as soon as possible while also knowing they have the better part of two years to make a decision. I would encourage anyone who has an interest to submit a letter of interest or a five-year business plan.” 

Although three formal proposals were presented, the city has received “about a dozen phone calls from people who have other ideas,” said the city manager.

“I think they’re going to find a good home for the church, and hopefully it provides a community benefit.”

Church officials cited declining membership led to the decision to close after serving the community for 155 years. 

Two other redevelopment projects are in the works in the city. One of which is the vacant Gale’s IGA building, which is contingent upon a $2.5 million grant. If the grant is not awarded, a local business owner who bought the vacant building is intending to do “some sort of community center with the property,” said Splane.

The third redevelopment site is the old farmers’ co-op property on East Main Street.

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