Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Ionia City Council creates Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to oversee redevelopment of former prisons

Ionia City Councilman Gordon Kelly voted against amending the terms of sale of the old Orchard View Industrial Park property to Enwork on Tuesday because he believed the buyer should have foreseen arsenic contamination at the site due to its former use as an apple orchard. — DN Photo | Tim McAllister

IONIA — The Ionia City Council on Tuesday voted to create a Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Board to oversee the redevelopment of the city’s former prisons.

Tuesday’s meeting lasted one hour and four minutes, was attended by seven individuals and there was no public comment (Councilman Richard Starr II was absent).

The council voted to create a five-member Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Board that will make key decisions regarding the redevelopment of 164 acres at the former Riverside and Deerfield correctional facilities. Until now, the Ionia Downtown Development Authority has been in charge of brownfield-related issues.

“It’s a complex redevelopment project (because) there’s obsolete properties, there’s blight (and) there’s contamination,” City Manager Precia Garland explained. “I expect that will be utilizing our Brownfield Redevelopment Authority much more than we have in the past to help us with redevelopment of this site. Therefore, it seems appropriate at this time to create a board that would be separate from the DDA so that they can be more broadly composed, in terms of membership, and really focus on this particular area and its redevelopment.”

In Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Building Michigan Together” plan earlier this year, $1.1 million was allocated for demolition and redevelopment of the old Deerfield prison at 1755 Harwood Road in Ionia, which has sat vacant since 2009.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Ionia City Manager Precia Garland said Enwork was forced to spend more on environmental investigations because of the arsenic contamination, and that failing to do so would increase the company’s liability. — DN Photo | Tim McAllister

Immigration Centers of America (ICA) previously proposed installing a detention center at the old Deerfield facility to house detainees on the 46.3-acre site; however, Whitmer in February 2019 blocked the sale of the Michigan Land Bank-owned property, saying that building more detention facilities won’t solve the nation’s immigration crisis.

Ionia’s Michigan State Police detachment previously operated out of the old Riverside prison at 779 W. Riverside Drive for more than a decade before moving out in May 2019, relocating three miles north to 545 Apple Tree Drive, which also houses Ionia County Central Dispatch.

Another Ionia prison, the Michigan Reformatory, will cease operations in November due to the state’s declining prisoner population.


Also on Tuesday, the council voted 7-1 to approve an amendment to the terms of sale of the Orchard View Industrial Park property to the Lowell-based Enwork corporation.

The amendment would allow 50% reimbursement for all environmental investigation completed on the site, up to $6,000. The original agreement only included reimbursement during “Phase I” of the project. The amendment would extend the reimbursement to all phases of the project while retaining the $6,000 limit.

The reason for the change was because Enwork already spent $10,380 on extensive environmental investigations during “Phase I,” with each party paying $5,190 according to the 50-50 split. A more extensive investigation was necessary because of the site’s former use as an apple orchard and the related arsenic contamination.

Ionia’s Michigan State Police detachment previously operated out of the old Riverside prison facility at 779 W. Riverside Drive for more than a decade before moving out in May 2019. — DN file photo

Councilman Gordon Kelley was the sole dissenting vote, although he supported the motion.

“We knew beforehand there was industrial, we knew beforehand it was an orchard, and we didn’t say ‘whatever expenses,’” Kelley said. “We’re talking (about) a very minor amount of money, but it just doesn’t set well with me to amend a purchase agreement for something that we could have foreseen or he could have foreseen at that point when we were negotiating the terms. Because of that, it is not something I’m going to support.”

“What he’s doing is protecting himself from any environmental liability,” Garland replied. “So it’s totally appropriate, what he’s done, under the circumstances.”

Enwork was established in 2004 by CEO and owner David Powell, a 1984 graduate of Ionia High School who still lives in the area. The company’s annual revenue exceeds $75 million, and their clients have included Amazon, Pfizer, Tesla, Lyft, SpacEx and the White House.

Enwork currently plans $150,000 in renovations to the existing building — formerly Volcor — and to invest between $1.5 million and $ million in new equipment. Enwork employs 130 people in Lowell, and the Ionia addition would create between 15 and 25 new jobs paying between $18 and $22 per hour, plus three salaried management positions.

The site in question already contains a 22,704 square foot building and comprises three lots with a total of nine acres. Enwork plans to complete the sale and have the renovations finished in time to move in and get to work by Nov. 15.


After months of discussion and debate, the council quickly and unanimously on Tuesday approved the “general provisions and definitions” relating to food trucks. People who want to set up a food truck in the city of Ionia must now obtain a permit. It will cost $25 for a one truck/one day permit, $25 per truck for a special event permit, $100 for a 15 day or less permit and $300 for a seasonal permit.

The council also voted to spend a total of $178,308 on a new dump/salt truck for the Department of Public Works. The new truck is a $92,100 2024 Freightliner 108SD with a truck dump box and plow uplift by Truck and Trailer Specialties that adds $86,208 to the total cost. The old truck was a 2003 Sterling ST-4 dump truck with 41,727 miles, it will be auctioned off at rangerbid.com soon.

The council also voted to approve amendments to the 2022-2023 budget. Revenues increased by $67,000, primarily thanks to $50,000 from higher than expected state revenue sharing, $30,000 from higher than expected property taxes and $14,000 less to reflect reduced public safety services in contracted areas.

Expenditures increased by $54,500, most notably because of $15,000 for street light replacements, $14,000 to replace the roof of the Public Safety building, $12,500 for K-9 unit acquisition and training and $10,000 in increased legal fees associated with Michigan Tax Tribunal cases.

City Clerk Mary Patrick said there will be a public accuracy test of all election equipment in the lower level conference room at city hall at 1 p.m. on Oct. 27. Anyone may attend.

The next Ionia City Council meeting will take place at Ionia City Hall at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1.

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