Former hale block sketch

A preliminary sketch of a mixed-use proposed development of the former Hale block on Center Street in downtown South Haven is shown. The block right now consists of a three-story historic building whose restoration is nearing completion. Next to it would be a four-story and five-story mixed-use complex for retail use and residential units.

With the $2.7 million restoration of the three-story former Hale building nearing completion, developer Randy Locker of South Haven is now turning his attention to an even more ambitious project — the creation of a large development that will not only provide more retail and residential units downtown, but additional public parking, green space and public restrooms.

Locker unveiled the proposed multi-million dollar development proposal to the community last week during two open houses at South Haven city hall that were attended by approximately 40 people.

Wayne Balser, owner of Johnny’s Lakeshore Jewelry at the corner of Center and Phoenix streets was one of them.

“We are the lakeshore community where people want to be,” he said. “We need something downtown that reflects that.”

Balser’s business is part of the former Hale block on the east side of Center Street between Quaker and Phoenix streets. Locker purchased the conglomeration of old, vacant buildings three years ago. He decided to restore the historic three-story building at the corner of Center and Quaker streets, but last year, tore down the remaining ones, with the exception of the one-story structure that houses Johnny’s Jewelry and Decadent Dogs that front Phoenix Street.

The now vacant property will be the center piece of a large mixed-use development that would contain a four-story building consisting of retail space on the first floor and 18 apartments on the upper floors. Next to it would be a five-story building with retail on the first floor and 12 condominiums on the upper four levels. Thirty-two parking spaces for residents would be located in the lower level of the two buildings.

The portion of the proposed development that can prove to be beneficial to the public will be accessed to the rear of the retail-residential buildings in what is now a former parking lot and vacant land sandwiched between the former three-story Hale building and the three-story Carpet Shop building on Quaker Street that is also owned by Locker.

In that area, Locker proposes to create green space, restrooms and a pedestrian alley that will lead from the city parking lot on Quaker Street to Center Street. He also proposes to work with the city to convert the Quaker Street parking lot to a two-level parking lot with the second level containing 60 spaces for vehicles.

The second level to the lot would be accessed from Quaker street where a ramp behind the Carpet Shop would lead to the upper parking lot.

“What we’re trying to do is give back to South Haven with some of the things they need on that side of town, like bathrooms and obviously, parking. Those are two big things,” Locker said. “We’re trying to come up with a way to work with the city for a second deck on the Quaker Street lot, which would be the perfect place to do that. If we do that, then we thought let’s do a walkway to Center Street to bring people from the parking area to downtown and a public restroom.”

City officials think Locker’s proposed development could be beneficial to the city.

“The former Hale’s property is a vital part of the downtown; therefore, city staff engaged the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s redevelopment services team for technical assistance,” said Assistant City Manager Griffin Graham. “Because the City of South Haven was certified as a Redevelopment Ready Community® by the MEDC in 2020, resources were made available to hire a team of consultants to help facilitate aspects of the project and provide input on topics such as parking, placemaking, etc. The goal of last week’s public open house was to introduce the proposed project and discuss how it could help to implement the community’s goals.”

Those goals include redevelopment of the former Hale block, more residential units downtown, more parking, public restrooms and green spaces.

The next step for the proposed development would include submittal of a site plan to the city’s planning commission for review, something Locker said he hopes will occur this fall.

“We’re hoping to have the support of the community and city by the first of October,” Locker said. “And then possibly we’ll have a fall start (for construction), but most likely a spring start.”

One problem planners may face is the number of stories being proposed for the two new mixed-use buildings. Most buildings downtown are two- and three-story buildings that were built in the late 1800s, a time when floor heights were considerably taller than they are now. The city’s zoning ordinance currently limits building heights to 45 feet in height. According to Locker’s development plans, the four-story building would actually be the same height as the existing historical three-story building whose height is 45 feet, while the five-story building would be 9 feet taller (54 feet high) than the existing three-story building.

It’s something that Balser said he can live with. If the proposed development gets the green light, however, he will have to pack up his store and temporarily move because he rents from Locker and his building site would become part of the five-story building. If the construction plans are approved, he anticipates moving to other retail space that Locker owns downtown, while the new building takes shape.

“He’s (Locker) trying to accommodate me,” Balser said. “I’m apprehensive, but excited,” he went on to say regarding Locker’s redevelopment along Center Street. “If we can survive through two street projects – the one that closed Phoenix Street for nearly two years and Center Street for about a year – we can survive this.”