By Ralph Echtinaw
County commissioners approved an $883,000 tax break Tuesday for the company that plans to spend $10 million on a hotel, two restaurants and gas station at the southeast corner of M46 and Alger Road.
The company in question is Hazel Inc., operated by Alma College alumnus Greg Hatcher, Class of 1983 and current Alma College trustee. He is the CEO of The Hatcher Agency, the largest health insurance agency in Arkansas.
Hazel Inc. bought the 8.86-acre property just north of Garr Tool for at least $635,000 last July.
The Brownfield designation that Pine River Township and the county commission have approved will reimburse Hazel Inc. for the cost of demolishing the existing structures. The money will come back to Hazel Inc. in the form of reduced property taxes over a period of years but only after old buildings have been replaced by new buildings.
Although the Brownfield designation was created to facilitate the development of polluted properties, it’s also used in cases like this where existing buildings are junk and must be razed for new development to take place. “This place has got obsolete written all over,” said Greater Gratiot Development Director Jim Wheeler. “It’s beyond obsolete.”
Redevelopment plans include the construction of an 80-room hotel with indoor pool and conference center, according to a report from Triterra, an environmental consulting firm with offices in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Alma.
The report also says two restaurants and a full-service gas station will be erected. However, “these additional developments are long-term plans” and won’t necessarily be built concurrently with the hotel.
The hotel alone is expected to create 25 full-time jobs and 30-40 temporary construction jobs.
“I think the developer’s still in the process of trying to decide exactly how it would be configured what would go in there,” Wheeler said.
Commissioner George Bailey asked how long Hazel Inc. has to demolish the existing structures.
Wheeler wouldn’t say. “We don’t have it yet in there,” he said. “But it’s a period of time, and it’s a fixed period of time.”
The Triterra report says the buildings were erected in 1963 and have been occupied by various hotels, restaurants and bars over the years. Some former occupants include Big Boy, Travel Inn, Highlander Bowling Lanes, and Woodbridge Inn and Suites.
The 2022 taxable value of the Property is $538,476. The estimated new taxable value is $2.5 million in 2026. The actual taxable value will be determined by the assessor after the project is complete.
Hatcher has also been a generous donor to Alma College, where he was a nine-time letter winner, one of the last athletes to play three varsity sports for four years and was named All-MIAA in wrestling for the 1982-83 season. He was a member of three Hall of Fame wrestling teams, a member of two Hall of Fame baseball teams and played on six MIAA Championship teams. Hatcher also participated in soccer for four years. He is a member of the Alma College Athletics Hall of Fame.
Hatcher announced a $10 million gift of an athletic complex to Alma College a week ago. Plans for the indoor facility include a track, turf infield, coaches’ offices, locker rooms, athletic training space and a weight room. Construction is expected to begin next year.
The Sentinel reached out to Hatcher (by email) for comment, but he has not yet responded.