South Haven eyes Center Street rebuild

Nine commercial storefronts that comprise the “Hale block” on Center Street are shown above. Running under the buildings is a very old sanitary sewer line – a situation the city hopes to rectify by replacing the line with one that runs under Center Street, once Center Street is reconstructed.

SOUTH HAVEN — Nearly a decade ago South Haven city officials ordered the reconstruction of Williams Street in the downtown. Several years later, it was Phoenix Street’s turn for a complete rebuild. Now city officials are turning their attention to upgrading another main link to the central business district – Center Street.

There’s no time frame set up yet for the $4.5 million project – which would include a complete overhaul of Center from Williams Street to Michigan Avenue – but that’s not stopping city officials from trying to line up funds to pay for it.

“This is one of those moments where some things are working well downtown,” City Manager Brian Dissette said, referring in part to the construction of a new $4 million three-story residential and retail establishment at Center and Huron streets, and a possible reconstruction of a conglomeration of retail establishments on the northern end of Center, known as the “Hale block.” The buildings along the block have been for sale for several years and it appears a buyer may purchase the block.

“There appears to be major progress toward the private sale of the Hale development, which is almost a block of Center Street (from Phoenix to Quaker streets),” Dissette said.

If the block is to be redeveloped it would most likely consist of a mix of retail and residential establishments, which is why the city wants to replace the aging sewer and water mains, some of which are situated underneath the Hale buildings.

“Some people ask, ‘Why rebuild Center Street?’ It’s simple,” Dissette said. “Our sanitary sewer main is not underneath the street, its underneath the Hale building. If we are to see the Hale development being redeveloped, we’re going to have to deal with that sanitary sewer. With redevelopment of any of the properties along Center, we need to ensure the city has proper access to sanitary sewers.”

Just how the sewer main wound up underneath the Hale buildings remains a mystery.

“It’s something I’ve scratched my head over for quite a few years,” Dissette said. “You’re talking about (early) 1900s construction.”

The sanitary sewer isn’t the only infrastructure that would be replaced along the five-block section of Center Street. So would the water and storm sewer mains.

“Storm sewer management is important downtown,” Dissette said. “Water runoff has impacted some of the properties along Center. Whatever (development) happens on Center Street, it will likely include multi-family development. Making sure they have good water pressure is important.”

Aside from infrastructure upgrades, the reconstruction project would include resurfacing of Center Street and sidewalk and landscaping improvements.

Luckily, the city has received a tentative commitment to receive up to $800,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Commission for infrastructure upgrades. The city also intends to apply for a $250,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation, and a $250,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s rural infrastructure program. City staff also anticipates seeking loans from the Michigan Revolving Loan Fund and the Michigan Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund to help finance the Center Street reconstruction project.

The start-up date for the reconstruction of Center Street will depend on funding, Dissette said.

“There’s a lot of balls in the air that have to be addressed first,” he said.