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Gov. Whitmer announces new investments in Western Upper Peninsula

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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) – On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to announce three community revitalization projects that will bring economic growth, housing, and increased vibrancy to Iron Mountain and Calumet have received support from the Michigan Strategic Fund. The projects are expected to generate a total capital investment of $2.7 million.

“As governor, I am focused on working with anyone to grow our economy,” he said Governor Whitmer. “Today’s projects will help us make our communities more attractive places to live, work and play by transforming underutilized properties into productive spaces. They demonstrate our continued focus on supporting projects that bring vibrancy to communities in the Upper Peninsula and every region of Michigan to build a foundation for long-term economic opportunity. Let’s keep getting it done.”

Menominee Range Investments, LLC and Barossa, LLC plan to substantially renovate a currently vacant, single-story building on Stephenson Ave. in downtown Iron Mountain. When completed, the 4,200-square-foot space will host Oddfellows Drinkery, a startup restaurant and wine bar. The project is expected to generate a total capital investment of $832,847 and create 16 new jobs, supported by a $334,798 Michigan Community Revitalization Program performance-based grant.

The project will not only activate a blighted building in the heart of downtown Iron Mountain into a vibrant, attractive community asset, but it will also support other local businesses and drive additional economic activity in the area. The addition of a unique eatery to the downtown district will also help area employers like LP Sagola and JD Castings attract and retain talent in the community.

The city of Iron Mountain is contributing a $5,000 performance-based façade grant in support of the project. Iron Mountain is engaged with MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program.

“We are excited to see this new project add to our existing restaurant culture in downtown Iron Mountain,” he said Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Lois Ellis. “We appreciate the significant investment that Menominee Range Investments and the MEDC are making, which is creating additional interest and business activity that benefits the whole area.”

Fire Tower Property Group, LLC plans to redevelop a historic two-story building located at 104 Fifth Street in downtown Calumet. When completed, the building will house Fire Tower Engineered Timber, retaining five high-wage jobs. The project is expected to generate a total capital investment of $644,826, supported by a $307,176 MCRP performance-based grant.

104 Fifth Street is a historic building in downtown Calumet that has been vacant and underutilized as a result of fire in 2021. The building is a contributing resource to a National Register of Historic Places district and located in a local historic district. The project will repair deteriorated and damaged masonry on the building’s exterior, restoring its historic character. The future tenant of the building, Fire Tower Engineered Timber, is a structural engineering firm that specializes in the design and engineering of timber structures including historic structures.

The project is in the heart of downtown Calumet within walking distance of a variety of amenities, services, recreation, cultural and entertainment opportunities. The addition of employees at this site will also add to economic and pedestrian activity on a daily basis.

The village of Calumet is contributing a $10,000 grant for upgrading water service to the city. Calumet is engaged with MEDC’s RRC program.

“While our historic office building in downtown Calumet managed to survive a fire in 2021 that destroyed the rest of the city block, it suffered extensive smoke and water damage. After running the numbers, it was less expensive to build a new space outside of the downtown area, but the unanimous desire of our entire office staff was to remain downtown,” said Fire Tower Property Group Manager Joe Miller. “With the help of the MEDC’s Community Revitalization Program, a grant from the village, and support from a local bank, we were able to buy the fire-damaged building and begin historically sensitive renovations. Without the MEDC, another building contributing to the Keweenaw National Historic Park would have needed razed, but with the MEDC’s help, we are able to put a building back on the tax roll and keep professionals working in the downtown area.”

Also in Calumet, Vianis Realty, LLC is rehabilitating a historic two-story downtown building located at 201 Fifth Street into a mixed-use development. When completed, the project will include three residential units and two commercial spaces. The project is expected to generate a total capital investment of $1,212,181, supported by a $574,648 MCRP performance-based grant.

As area companies like Fire Tower Engineered Timber and Calumet Electronics continue to grow and add employees, the need for residential housing in Houghton County continues to increase. This project is in the heart of downtown Calumet within walking distance of a variety of amenities, services, recreation, cultural and entertainment opportunities. It will not only bring additional residential space to the downtown, but it will also restore a vacant, underutilized, historic property into a vibrant building and will help revitalize the downtown district.

“MEDC is making smart investments in our region that will eventually create a positive impact for local employers,” he said Calumet Electronics Chief Operating Officer Todd Brassard. “The current lack of workforce housing is the biggest obstacle for growing companies, like ours, to attract talent. Thanks to our economic development partners and the participation of many local businesses, the village and downtown Calumet have gained much momentum and heading in the right direction.”

Known as its original use as the Baer Brothers Meat Market, 201 Fifth Street is a historic building in downtown Calumet that has been vacant and underutilized due to its poor condition. The building is also a contributing resource to a National Register of Historic Places district and is located in a local historic district.

“The rehabilitation of the Baer Bros. Meat Market building by Vianis Realty, LLC is a testament to its owner’s passion for bringing back Calumet’s original historic building fabric,” said Jeff Ratcliffe, Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance executive director. “It was also a testament to the teamwork of the village of Calumet, Calumet Downtown Development Authority, KEDA, and the MEDC community development team that made financing this project possible. The effectiveness of this partnership has inspired at least three other rehab projects to move forward in downtown Calumet in the past year.”

Local support for the project includes a $5,000 Calumet DDA investment in improvements to the building, and the village is providing six parking spaces in a nearby public parking lot with a $7,200 value over 10 years.

“These development projects reflect our continued focus on regional impact and supporting innovative placemaking efforts that lay the foundation for long-term economic wins and greater opportunity for Michiganders,” said Quentin L. Messer, Jr., CEO of MEDC and President and Chair of the MSF Board. “We are grateful to the Governor and legislators for their continued support of the Michigan Community Revitalization Program among other revitalization and placemaking efforts. By working with local partners to focus on traditional downtowns and increase much-needed housing options, Team Michigan is building on our shared strong sense of place while supporting vibrant, unique places where current Michiganders and those we will attract can live, work, and play .”

In other Upper Peninsula news, this week the city of Hancock was awarded certification in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program. RRC certification status is a compelling indicator that a community has removed development barriers and streamlined processes to be more competitive and attractive to investors. By taking part in the RRC program, communities like Iron Mountain, Calumet, and Hancock are well-positioned to attract private investment like today’s projects and improve the quality of life for their residents.

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