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From Cheboygan plant's ashes, a 'reinvented gateway?'

The Tissue Depot in Cheboygan, Michigan on June 11, 2024.
Michael Livingston
/
IPR News
The Tissue Depot in Cheboygan, Michigan on June 11, 2024.

Ever since an enormous fire and roof collapse in September, the Cheboygan Tissue Depot site has sat in disrepair. Now, there are new plans for the site.

What’s left of the facility is pretty rough — large concrete slabs, rusted metal, and lots of overgrown grass.

But the building has history. What started as a sawmill in the late 1800s went through multiple successful owners including the Charmin Paper Co. and Procter & Gamble.

Before P&G left town in 1990, the facility employed more than 300 people. But the new owners since then had trouble capturing the same success.

This week, a developer announced he is looking to nix the old mill and completely redesign the area into housing, businesses and more.

Rubble leftover from Sept. 2023 fire at the Tissue Depot in Cheboygan, Michigan.
Michael Livingston
/
IPR News
Rubble leftover from Sept. 2023 fire at the Tissue Depot in Cheboygan, Michigan.

What’s in store

A team of developers led by Bob Pulte has entered into an agreement with the current owners of the Tissue Depot.

Bob Pulte is the son of William Pulte who was the founder and chairman of PulteGroup, one of the largest home construction companies in the United States.

This project is separate, under Bob Pulte's own company, R.P. Investments.

Pulte said the vision is to create “Cheboygan Commons," converting the site into a 14-acre waterway complex.

“Housing, some new retail, a hotel, a special event center. It's a multi-use development,” Pulte said. “We're hoping to bring jobs and housing to Cheboygan.”

Pulte said he’s hoping the project will be, quote, “a point of pride as a reinvented gateway to the Cheboygan community.”

According to a press release, the development will blend workforce rental housing with for-sale duplexes and riverfront condos, and include a small hotel with special event center, waterfront dining, and other commercial space.

Pulte said the project is a huge commitment that will take years to complete.

“Long before I bought the property, I would come out here, walk it and see everything in my mind,” he said Tuesday while standing in front of the facility. “My father taught us to see things in the finish, so I don't look at this as a metal building. I already see in my mind's eye what I want to do on this property.”

Pulte intends to buy the property from Thomas Homco, a former NFL player who now represents Hom Thermo Warehouse XIII LLC. He’s owned the Main Street site since February, 2023.

“I think that the building structure is at a point where the amount of capital that someone would have to infuse would make it very challenging,” Homco said. “Then I looked at the community as a whole and there's no reason, in my mind, that it can't be more attractive aesthetically.”

The purchasing agreement may be completed in the coming days, according to Pulte, but the sale of the property won’t be official until after more planning.

But the proposed $50 million development is still in its early stages.

Bob Pulte
Daniel Zivian | UpNorthLive Newsroom
Bob Pulte

Upcoming hurdles

The “Cheboygan Commons” project is still years out from reality.

Even after Pulte and Homco finalize a purchase agreement, the plant will need to be approved for demolition.

The design will need approval from local governments and planning commissions. The developers will pursue grants for the design and construction.

But some of the site’s biggest hurdles will be environmental.

In addition to being labeled a brownfield site, the property includes a hydroelectric power generator that’s attached to the nearby Cheboygan Dam.

The hydro-facility was owned and operated by Patriot Advanced Environmental Technologies, which ran the Tissue Depot. But following the September fire and an unrelated lawsuit, the company shut its doors.

Earlier this month, state environmental regulators said the plant's closure may affect water levels on Mullet Lake and surrounding water bodies this summer.

According to Cheboygan County Economic Development Coordinator Sharen Lange, a hydro team has conducted an analysis of the unit. Plans to fully repair, upgrade, and operate the dam are in the works.

“The hydro facility is a fixture of the property,” Lange said. “Mr. Pulte’s due diligence will be to continue to communicate with the DNR, with EGLE, and with our emergency management team.”

Some parts of the facility are more than a century old and Lange suspects there will be soil contamination to deal with.

The bright side is the state recently expanded incentives to develop on these kinds of sites with an amendment to the Brownfield Redevelopment Financing Act. The amendment makes housing an eligible activity for brownfield funding.

Under the new law, a property no longer has to be considered blighted, contaminated, functionally obsolete, historically designated or owned by a land bank to qualify as a brownfield.

Meaning, new opportunities for grant funding have opened up to incentivize developers to turn brownfields into housing projects.

“This is going to be an extremely arduous and expensive demolition and remediation,” Lange said. "We're hopeful that state leadership understands and can help support the project with some blight and demolition funds.”
Copyright 2024 Interlochen Public Radio

Michael Livingston reports for IPR from the tip-of-the-mitt – mainly covering Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.
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