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Marine City officials ok public hearing on grant for 300 Broadway

Photo by Barb Pert Templeton for Blue Water Healthy Living The ‘old” Marine City hall at 300 Broadway Street is being focused on in pursuit of a Public Gathering Space Initiative grant from the Michigan Economic Development Cooperation.

Volunteers to seek up to $2 million in funding

By Barb Pert Templeton

A public hearing on a Public Gathering Space Initiative (PGS) grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has been set for Thursday, April 6 at 7 p.m. in Marine City. 

In a letter to the commission Marine City resident Laura Merchant described the grant project as something that could improve the useability, accessibility, and seasonality at 300 Broadway Street. A new public gathering space could also provide a place to “gather, relax, celebrate and commemorate,” she wrote.

The letter further stated that the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds are being offered to eligible communities who can apply for $750,000 to $2 million in grant dollars. There’s a minimum matching dollars clause that would require a 10% match to the grant amount awarded. It was also stated that to date, some $30,000 has been raised by people in the community.

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Merchant gave a presentation on the topic during the March 16 city commission meeting and a discussion that lasted nearly 60 minutes took place.

“We have this wonderful opportunity, it’s a grant, it’s a chance of a lifetime,” Merchant said. Many committees and people from the city are already in place willing to work and help with the application process. Merchant said she realizes the current city office staff is limited in time and resources but Deputy Clerk Michelle Goodrich has said she believes it can be done.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube
Marine City supporter Laura Merchant did a presentation to the city commission outlining a plan to seek a $2 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to refurbish old Marine City Hall at 300 Broadway Street.

“We know how important this building is to our community; we also know this building has been a point of contention, I’ve heard a lot stories over the years but I want to look forward, I don’t want to look back I want to keep going forward,” Merchant said. “This is our opportunity to make something in this building that can be available for everybody.”

Merchant said she was seeking the commission’s support and she wants them to know she has a group in place to work on the application to meet the April 28 deadline.

Not enough time

Commissioner Michael Hilferink said he understands some of the items on the application are done but wondered which specific ones were completed.

“I can’t give you exact specifics because a lot of writing needs to be done, we have a lot of information, we have a business plan, we take all of our information as we are doing these questions and we pull the information in,” Merchant said, noting that she’s personally familiar with grant applications and listed several she’s worked on in the past.

“It’s a think tank, you kind of take all this and funnel it in and make it work and answer all the questions that need to be answered,” she added.

“This does look like an awesome, awesome grant, it’s amazing, $2 million is no joke,” Hilferink said. “So yes, we could tick a lot of those boxes but it’s unfortunate that we didn’t hear about this in January when it was announced. Then we could maybe do this but personally for me I just don’t see getting everything done.”

Ross said he didn’t “announce” the grant opportunity in January because it wasn’t clear yet that the city would be eligible but as soon as he found that out, he’s brought it up at several meetings now and is very excited about the opportunity.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done quick but we’re ready,” Merchant added.

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube
Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick said there’s a long list of things that need to be completed prior to the filing the grant application on April 28 and she’s not sure it can all get done.

Commissioner Rita Roehrig said if so much of the information is done why doesn’t the commission have it in front of them already so they can make a decision.

Merchant said they are gathering it all from various people and it will be ready for the public hearing. 

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it doesn’t cost the city anything to just move forward,” Merchant said.

“It’ll cost $200,000,” Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Hendrick said, referring to the ten percent matching funds they’d need to have in the bank earmarked for the grant.

“I’m sorry it just doesn’t look like there’s enough time, I would vote for this if we didn’t have to submit any money,” Hilferink said. 

So many questions

Hendrick said she had a lot of questions about the plan. She started with Merchant’s letter claiming the Friends of City Hall had committed money to it but she got a call from someone on the committee saying they didn’t agree to donate the money.

Merchant said it was a small amount of money, $1,000, so without that they still have $29,000.

Hendrick then asked if the grant comes will it complete the entire interior of the building. Merchant said it will complete it enough for it to function as a public space. 

“The problem with that I believe is 15 years ago we said they needed $2 to $3 million to do it we’re here 15 years later and the costs have gone up exponentially so I don’t buy that you’re going to be able to do all that,” Hendrick said. 

She then asked what exactly the building will be used for and Merchant said as a public space and Hendrick said exactly what does that means?

“We can get with the public and see what they want, a lot of people wanted a place to go and play cards, other people wanted a place to use the internet or to just hang out,” Merchant said. “It would be something that we would determine and move forward with.”

Photo courtesy of CTV Community Television/YouTube
Commissioner Michael Hilferink called the $2 million grant opportunity amazing but was concerned about the number of boxes that needed to be checked to send the application out in late April.

Continuing on, Hendrick said the list of things that need to be completed is long. The fact that the plan created for the new interior has to be approved by the commission, finding out the future maintenance requirements of the building, approving site plans, photographs of the plan, marketing and promotion plans were on the list too.

“If you restored this entire building, how are you going to keep it open all the time so people can use it all the time?” Hendrick asked.

“Those are things we have to discuss, things our committees along with the commission can discuss,” Merchant said.

Hendrick replied that if you look at the full application this is something that had to be worked on long ago not something they should be racing to get put together in a few weeks.

As the discussion continued Hendrick stated that she knows and understand how badly Merchant wants to pursue the grant application but there are many problems.

“I’m sorry I cannot utilize Guy Center money for this, we have to come up with something else,” Hendrick said. “The people of this town want their Guy Center.”

Putting it to a vote

Mayor Jennifer Vandenbossche said she understands that Merchant is just asking to try for the grant and all’s she’s hearing is “it’s going to fail, it’s going to fail, you can’t, you won’t.”

“We have no skin in the game on this until we say okay submit that application that’s when we’re committing the city funds,” Vandenbossche said.

Merchant agreed and said what she’s heard out in the community is that the building has been neglected by the city over the years.

“Let’s take responsibility, lets try to get the money, let’s do something with this building and make it this historic amazing landmark in Marine City,” Merchant said. “If it’s an impossibility I will let you know, just let us try?”

The mayor said they have potential funds from the sale of 303 South Water Street and a healthy fund balance right now according to the city auditor so why not let the committees try for the grant.

Commissioner Jacob Bryson said he thought the grant application was a great idea, there’s no harm in trying and then made a motion to hold the public hearing stating they are seeking up to a $2 million dollar grant. He added that the commission will have a final say on whether the grant application is submitted.

The commission was unanimous in its vote in favor of the motion and set the public hearing date for Thursday, April 6, 2023 at 7 p.m.

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