A historic two-story building in downtown Allegan is restored, sparking further revitalization thanks to the decision of one commercial developer to take a chance on a city.
Aspiring developer, Michelle Miersma decided her next career move would be in commercial real estate. Armed with a background in accounting, sales and residential rehab along with a father who was a long-time developer in West Michigan, Miersma was ready to take on her first project.
As she searched for commercial spaces in 2016, Miersmacame across the former JCPenney’s building on 118 Locust Street in downtown Allegan. The building was a redevelopment ready community priority site in the city’s downtown historic district.
“When I drove through the city for the first time, I was shocked at how beautiful it was! Most of the building had maintained its historically significant architectural features even though it had been vacant for more than five years,” said Miersma. “Thecommunity support was tremendous as well. The people were genuine and helpful, they even told me about grants and programs availableto help make this project a reality. I fell in love with the quaint, small town feel.”
It was at that moment Miersma decided her first development project would be in Allegan. Her plan was to convert a blighted two-story structure into four commercial spaces on the main level and seven loft style market rate apartments on the second floor. Her desire was to develop this attention-grabbing feature that would pull up property values in the area and jumpstart further development downtown.
“A local business owner came up to me one time on the street and said, ‘when you walk down here, you are a ray of sunshine to us.’ When you start believing what canbe, it starts to catch on. The fact that I was an outsiderand I could see how much potential that town had was an encouragement topeople. People trusted I had the city’s best interest in mind,” said Miersma.
As with any new project, there weresome challenges. The building required a complete renovation, including but not limited to plumbing and sewer, drywall and insulation, storefront windows, brick cleaning, HVAC, finish carpentry, electrical and a new elevator. Financially, the costs to complete the project were prohibitive.
That’s where the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) came in. Miersma received a $811,960 Community Development Block Grant from the MEDC.
Miersma purchased the building in 2017 and completed the project in April 2019. The Shoppes at the Penney’s Block and Lumberman Lofts are fully occupied and Miersma has since purchased two additional buildings downtown.
This project has sparked interest from other investors — at the start of the project, there were 17 vacant buildings downtown, and now there are only two. According to Miersma, most of the additional renovations have occurred within the last 12-18 months. The project has also made a difference in the way people see their downtown — they are excited about what’s happening and want to be a part of it. Residents and visitors alike are taking part in the vibrancy of the city’s downtown including new restaurants, coffee shops, an event center and other entertainment options like summer concertson the river.
For more information, visit https://www.miplace.org/.