Community revitalization project in Merrill wins national recognition at Mid-America Economic Development Council Competitive Conference

Kathleen Achtenberg

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

MAEDC award highlights impact of MEDC’s community revitalization initiatives in Michigan

Mid-America Economic Development Council Board President Horton Hobbs presents the Project of the Year (Small Division) award to MEDC Community Development Manager Joe Frost (right) at MAEDC’s 2023 Mid-America Competitiveness Conference


The Merrill High School Redevelopment Project in the village of Merrill has been recognized with a Project of the Year (Small Division) award by the Mid-America Economic Development Council (MAEDC) at the 2023 Mid-America Competitiveness Conference in Indianapolis.

“The Merrill High School Redevelopment Project is a perfect example of how vibrant attractions in our iconic communities like Merrill are vital to Michigan’s economic success and the well-being of our friends and neighbors. This project reflects Team Michigan’s continued work to ‘Make It In Michigan’ and attract more people, revitalize more places and compete for and win more projects,” said Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Sr. Vice President of Regional Prosperity Matt McCauley. “We’re proud to work with our partners at Gemini Capital Management, the Saginaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the village of Merrill, And Saginaw Future, Inc. to support innovative placemaking efforts like this one that address the needs of the communities and lay the foundation for long-term economic resiliency. We look forward to seeing this exciting new development further boost the local community and support Michigan’s reputation as a top destination to live, work, visit and play.”

“This is an incredibly rewarding project that repurposes a historic building and meets a specific need of the community,” said Saginaw Future Inc. President JoAnn Crary. “With the support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Saginaw County, the village of Merrill and others, Gemini Capital was able to make its spectacular vision a reality.”


The old Merrill High School is located in downtown Merrill, a small farming village in Saginaw County. For years, the building sat vacant and unusable. Built in 1937, the school served the community for over six decades. A few businesses came and went from the space until the building was left empty.

In 2022, the MEDC and the Michigan Strategic Fund provided support with a Michigan Community Revitalization Program award and a Brownfield Tax Increment Financing plan to not only preserve an important location in the community, but also place desperately needed housing units in the rural community while putting a former school building back on the tax rolls, positively affecting the local municipal budget.

The Merrill High School Redevelopment Project renovated the building to create a multi-story residential development in the heart of the village of Merrill, bringing new opportunities for economic growth and local vitality. This 17,449-square-foot project redevelopment is the first major rehabilitation in the community. The project saved the full brick façade of the prominent two-story that sits in the center of the business district. Seventeen residential units with 13,251 square feet of habitable space and 4,198 square feet of common area, a new garage with 10 covered sites and 10 additional parking spaces can now bring vibrancy back to the main street in Merrill.

There has been an immediate positive impact in the community, thanks to the 17 market-rate rental units now available in this small rural community with previously limited housing options. Within weeks of the ribbon cutting and open house, the entire project was fully rented.

“We are proud of the transformation of this once-vibrant high school into a new chapter of history – a collection of 17 meticulously crafted residential apartments,” said Gemini Capital Management Managing Member Ryan Smith. “The restoration of over 17,000 square feet is more than just bricks and mortar; it's a revitalization of memories, heritage and community spirit. With a $4,000,000+ investment, made possible through strategic partnerships with the MEDC and local incentives, we have not only preserved the past but also injected new life into the heart of our community. This project stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, dedication and the enduring value of preserving our shared history. These apartments are more than spaces; they are a bridge between the rich legacy of past high school days and the promise of a vibrant future for all who call this community home.”

Merrill’s win builds on recognition awarded to the community revitalization project in September at the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) 2023 annual conference in Dallas. IEDC’s Excellence in Economic Development Awards, which recognize the world’s best economic development programs and partnerships, awarded the Merrill High School project a silver Real Estate Redevelopment & Reuse award. This award recognizes innovative projects that create jobs, increase the community’s tax base and catalyze economic development.

“The village of Merrill is thrilled to have witnessed the incredible restoration of our 1930s-era brick high school building into 17 beautiful apartments,” said village of Merrill President Gary J. Siler. “Ryan Smith did an outstanding job with the entire project and did so without changing the historical appearance of the structure. It has provided a positive impact on our community, and we are so grateful to Ryan and Gemini Capital Management with this project. The awards he has received are further proof of his expertise and are well deserving. It has been our pleasure to be involved in this project.”

The MEDC is committed to supporting long-term economic development opportunities in communities like Merrill and throughout the East and East Central Michigan regions:

In December, MSF supported the Woodworth Investments project, which consisted of the rehabilitation of a historic, three-story building located on the corner of W. Exchange and N. Washington Streets in downtown Owosso into a mixed-use development. The Memorial Cup Legacy Project will bring a new gathering space to downtown Saginaw with support from MSF. The Memorial Cup Legacy Project plans to redesign and enhance a 300-foot section of Symphony Lane, a city-owned street near the Dow Event Center entertainment district. These projects build on additional investments in the region including the “Reimagine the Kantzler Memorial Arboretum” project in Bay City and the MSU College of Human Medicine Department of Public Health Expansion in Flint, all of which contribute to the region being an attractive place for both businesses and talent to grow and thrive.

Learn more about how the MEDC is impacting communities through its community development programs.



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