By Jim Bloch
A project to create a marina, restaurant, bar, and banquet facility on Port Huron’s south side has been give a boost from the city council, which approved a nine-year tax abatement for the developers.
The council took action at its regular meeting on Oct. 23.
Hale and Mark Walker are renovating a 135-year riverside building, which the city assessor has determined to be functionally obsolete. The building is on the St. Clair River.
The tax break was issued under Michigan Public Act 146 of 2000, the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act. The resolution approved by the council specifies that the renovation must be completed by April 30, 2025.
“It’s a tax break on the improvements made above the base tax for a period of nine years,” said David Haynes, the city’s director of planning and community development, in an email.
The city determined that the actual cash value of the building was $432,400 and pegged the taxable value at $198,870. The 2023 tax bill was $12,079. That becomes the tax baseline. The new value created through the renovations will not be taxed until the end of the nine years. Meanwhile, the Walkers will continue to pay the pre-improvement taxes throughout the project.
The “completion of the rehabilitated facility is calculated to, and will at the time of issuance of the certificate, have the reasonable likelihood to increase commercial activity and create employment in the City of Port Huron,” the resolution said.
In his application for the tax abatement, Mark Walker, a resident of Fort Gratiot Township, estimated the cost of the project at $2.75 million. He said it would create 50-75 jobs, not including the construction jobs.
The address of the building is 3592 Military Street.
According to city assessor Ryan Porte, the building was erected in 1868, shortly after the end of the Civil War.
“The original use is hard to verify,” Walker said in his addendum to his application for the tax break. “We were told it was built by the White Star Line for docking the Steamer Tashmoo. The last use of the building was to produce parts (sprockets) for Army tanks. That business was closed over 20 years ago. Most of the building is a single story except a portion of about 4,000 square feet. The building is 16,400 square feet total.”
The Walkers said the facility will be the only restaurant on the St. Clair River with safe docking for boaters.
“The intention is to create a building that will house a restaurant in a portion of the building that overlooks the St. Clair River and another restaurant and bar in the lower level,” Walker said. “The main portion of the building will be designed for weddings, conventions and other gatherings and seminars. The building will need a total renovation as it has sat dormant and vacant for decades.”
Porte said the building meets the criteria of functional obsolescence: “Mechanical and heating systems which are inadequate, lack of ADA compliance, existence of lead-based paint and/or asbestos-based building materials. Many of the walls, floors, and ceilings have holes and cracks, which are leaking water into the building. There is no permanent plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, or insulation anywhere in the building.”
A resident objected to the tax break during the public hearing on establishing the OPA district, as heard on a recording of the meeting made by council critic Kevin Lindke; the city’s recording contained no audio.
“A person should be able to pay his property taxes on that renovation otherwise why would he be doing it if he wasn’t going to make money?” said resident Alan Skinner.
Hale Walker, Mark’s brother and partner in the project, spoke during the second public hearing on the project, this one on the tax break itself. Walker said it would be a miracle if he and his brother made money on the project.
“Neither Mark nor I want to be a restaurateur,” said Hale Walker, of St. Clair. “What we want to do with this project is create that environment for somebody, whether that be someone local who is an aspiring restaurateur who can really create something unique because this property is so very unique … somebody who is a proven restaurateur from outside the area.”
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.