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Developer Scott Bosgraaf Turns Old Woodard Station Buildings Into Community Gem for City of Owosso
By Matt Bach
Location: Owosso, Mid-Michigan
Five years ago, the Owosso Casket Company and Woodard Station buildings were in shambles. Portions of ceilings and floors in the 100-plus-year-old factories were collapsed and the surrounding area was blighted—it contained the city’s last gravel road, some unsightly silos, a large barbed-wire fence, and a lot of weeds.
When developer Scott Bosgraaf found the buildings for sale on Ebay in 2005, he scheduled a visit and instantly loved the promise and character of the buildings—the high ceilings, brick facade, timber construction and heavy pine beams. He had tackled and redeveloped run-down factories before, but nothing as bad as this project. Where others saw an abandoned mess that should probably be demolished, Bosgraaf saw a hidden gem that would become a mixed-use facility where people would live, eat, exercise, socialize, swim, get their hair done, grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich—all under one roof.
Bosgraaf bought the buildings and stood firm when sharing his dream of a multi-use project during a news conference held prior to the start of the renovation work. He remembers the press event well. “We had a photo op and it was raining harder inside the building than outside the building,” Bosgraaf said. “I’m sure there were skeptics.”
“The key to the project’s success was a city and state that were able and willing to work with us, and a local community that had the belief and interest in seeing us succeed,” Bosgraaf said. “Without these components, none of this would ever happen.”
Bosgraaf said Owosso city leaders and building planners changed over the years, but the commitment to the project by the city never wavered. To make the project possible, assistance would come through a variety of economic incentives—a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone, a Corridor Improvement Authority, Michigan business tax credits, brownfield redevelopment, and historic district designation. Bosgraaf estimated that the various tools and tax incentives saved about $5 million on the $20 million project.
“It really is a partnership to do something like this because a city has to understand that it’s OK to give up some tax revenue for a period of time so that a developer can offset some of their expenses. But when the time expires on those tax incentives, then that’s all city revenue,” Bosgraaf said. “The city of Owosso has been fantastic. They’ve done a great job keeping talent here who understand the incentives and how they work. They’ve gone out of their way on everything from liquor licenses to zoning and the hundreds of other things we had to do.”
But the cooperation goes both ways, said Brent D. Morgan, director of economic development and neighborhood services for Owosso. “Taking all these tools and packaging them together so they can do the redevelopment is important, but you also need a proven developer like Scott Bosgraaf willing to take some risk. This project is the best display of mixed-use I’ve seen, especially in a trying economy,” Morgan said.
The project also incorporates the many environmentally friendly measures many are seeking, including energy-savers such as a white (instead of black) roof, motion-activated lighting, and the reuse of as many materials from the original buildings as possible. Throughout Woodard Station you’ll find the original timber pillars and brick from the factory days. They even turned the wooden carts from the factory into TV stands for the loft apartments. They took the old fire pipes and reused them as legs for the bathroom sink counters. “We clearly want to save as much of the character of the building as we can, but we also wanted to bring as little to the landfill as possible,” Bosgraaf said.
The project consists of two main buildings—the former Owosso Casket Company (now restored and housing Target Industries, a manufacturer of promotional materials), and Woodard Station. Woodard Station, once home to Woodard Wrought Iron Furniture, is now a multi-use facility with 48 loft apartments; 36 student housing units home to about 130 Baker College of Owosso students; Guido’s coffee shop; Hair Peace Salon and Spa, Maureen Hartson Photography; shared office space; a laundry and game room; and more. Soon it will have an optometrist’s office and a physical rehabilitation center being built for Memorial Healthcare of Owosso. The health facility will include a large fitness area and two therapeutic pools for use by the hospital during the day and open to students and other tenants of Woodard Station during non-business hours.
In all, the project has generated nearly 200 jobs and provided a facelift for a part of the community that desperately needed it. The unsightly gravel road that once bordered the buildings is now a nicely paved street with pedestrian-friendly lighting and sidewalks. Owners of properties around Woodard Station also have spruced up their areas. “It’s really amazing what they’ve done over there,” said Owosso City Manager Joseph Fivas. “This was an area of our community that had a significant amount of blight and this development completely changed that. It has created a place where people live and people from a three-county area come and enjoy. It has just turned into an active place.”
One anchor of the project is the highly successful Wrought Iron Grill restaurant, which opened about two years ago to rave reviews and constant crowds. The restaurant has become a destination point for visitors and a place for the residents of the many loft apartments and student housing to dine and hang out, Morgan said.
Morgan was so impressed with the project that he became among the first residents in the loft apartments shortly after he was hired as Owosso’s director of economic development in February of 2009.
Travis Yaklin was in Woodard Station a couple years ago getting his hair cut and was so inspired by what he saw that he and his wife decided to open a coffee shop and deli. Guido’s opened in November of 2008. “There’s nothing like this in Shiawassee County,” Yaklin said. “It reminds us of downtown Chicago—that big city atmosphere. I always dreamed of opening my own business and I told my wife, ‘If we’re going to do something we should do it here.’ ”
Having a big-city feel in a small town is exactly what developer Bosgraaf was aiming for. “I live in a mixed-used development (in Holland) and there’s a demand for it,” Bosgraaf said.
“People have gone back from the suburbs to mixed-use because there’s excitement there. You can go to the fitness center, have coffee or dinner, get your hair done—all without leaving the building. You’re kind of building your own community. That’s what Woodard Station is. It has become its own community.”
Matt Bach is director of communications for the League.
You may contact him at 734-669-6317 or firstname.lastname@example.org.