JACKSON, MI — John Burtka believes in downtown Jackson, and frankly, he doesn’t see the sense in waiting around.
Burtka, the owner of Grand River Brewery and Cherry Creek Winery, recently announced plans for two development projects to fill glaring holes in downtown Jackson.
One is an urban-grocery store with three levels of apartments on a city-owned lot off of Louis Glick Highway, and the other a restaurant with two levels of apartments at 151 W. Michigan Ave.
“It’s better to be involved rather than sitting back and watching things happen,” he said. “I just saw an opportunity. Working on it for months, and we actually started both projects at the same time.
“I believe in downtown Jackson, and saw no sense in waiting around.”
Allan Hooper, Anchor Initiative executive director, estimated there currently are about 30 market-rate apartments downtown. Burtka’s plans include the addition of nearly 50 market-rate apartments.
Market-rate apartments are not restricted to income requirements in the way downtown’s Armory Arts Apartments are, for example. Hooper said the absence of market-rate apartments has been the biggest challenge for downtown Jackson.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s really tough to get an apartment downtown, so I think this will definitely address that lack of supply,” said Steve Trosin, community relations director at the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and curator of the Affinity Series. “We were downtown on Saturday, and a lot was going on which was great to see.
“Hopefully, more people will see the success that John and Denise Burtka are having at Grand River and will follow their lead investing in downtown Jackson.”
Burtka, with Kincaid Henry Building Group Inc., first announced plans for the four-story, 44,000-square-foot mixed-use urban-grocery store. For those confused by the term “urban grocery store,” Burtka likened it to a Trader Joe’s, Plum Market and “boutique-style” grocery store.
They aren’t looking to compete with Meijer, but to provide an option closer to home to Jackson shoppers who flock to Ann Arbor, Burtka said.
The grocery store is on the first floor, with 30 apartments — a mix of one- and two-bedroom options — on the upper floors. The site is the former Consumers Energy parking lot between Jackson and Blackstone streets. The city of Jackson acquired it after Consumers moved its headquarters.
Then, Burtka announced the acquisition of the former One Five One, Daryl’s Downtown and Otello’s Ristorante at 151 W. Michigan Ave.
These plans call for call for a main-floor restaurant with the two top floors consisting of six single-bedroom apartments each. Burtka said the plan is to restore the building to its original exterior appearance and to gut the interior.
Burtka wasn’t ready to disclose the specifics of the restaurant yet, but said it’s going to be something “different” for Jackson. Justin Dalenberg, a former executive chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, is involved with the project.
He added that once they hear back on grants and incentives, it will be full-speed ahead with a target start date of July for both projects.
The 131-year-old building has housed numerous tenants downtown and even narrowly avoided a date with a wrecking ball in 1989. It housed the McLellan’s dime store for 38 years, and most recently the One Five One and Daryl’s Downtown restaurants.
“Hopefully, this can spur the development of the Hayes Hotel,” Burtka said, when asked what he hopes these projects can do for downtown. “I would love to see all the storefronts rented with more entrepreneurs.
“I think we are really poised for some cool things downtown.”
As for the Hayes Hotel, a one-year option agreement on a project to develop the building fell through the cracks “due to forces outside of the city’s control” on Jan. 6, according to a statement from the city of Jackson.
The prospective buyers had the option to re-up and extend the agreement at the price of $1,000 for each additional six months, but did not.
“There’s definitely some increased optimism around the Hayes Hotel,” Will Forgrave, Jackson’s public information officer, said. “With the city and the Anchor Initiative both working toward redeveloping that building our hopes are higher than they’ve been in the past.”
In July, the city approved a $1.18 million contract with Bailey Excavating to repave the parking space north of the Hayes Hotel. Some of this money also went toward work along the Pearl Street block between Blackman and Jackson streets. This contract also included the repaving of the Jackson County lot to the north of the county building and a city parking lot adjacent to the Tower Building on Michigan Avenue.
The completion of the Michigan Avenue streetscaping and prospective new apartments near the structure have generated more interest in the Hayes than ever before, according to the city’s statement.
“We need to create a strong entertainment district, and we’re on our way with The Chase, Grand River Brewery, the new chicken place, Chilangos and now at 151 W. Michigan Ave.,” Burtka said. “Get all those elements together, and I think more retail and things like that will start to come to the area.
“Grand River was a pilot operation. Seeing that, Chase and Chilangos be successful here is just proving that the business climate is ripe.”