By Ryan Yuenger
DOWAGIAC — A building unoccupied for nearly a decade will finally see redevelopment.
The Dowagiac City Council approved a resolution on Monday to authorize an agreement with Cressy Commercial Real Estate and Pokagon Band investment arm Mno Bmadsen to begin the planning process in the redevelopment of the former Lincoln School, 407 E. Division St.
The development plan submitted to the city includes the transformation of the building into loft-style apartments, with potential commercial space on the first floor. While Cressy said in its proposal that the building will require extensive renovation, they intend on reusing the basic structure, including exterior walls, floors, some original ceilings and sewer main.
“There is a clear community desire to ‘bring downtown back’ and we feel strongly that the current momentum in downtown Dowagiac will be greatly enhanced by this project,” said Cressy, in its proposal. “Millennials and Boomers/empty nesters … are not looking for the half-acre lot and four-bedroom home, but rather a place with coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance. This project will be able to support those small businesses currently in the area and likely encourage more local entrepreneurs to bring additional establishments online.”
The former schoolhouse, which was built in the early 1950s and last used by the Encore Dance Company, has been unoccupied since 2013. In 2014, a developer was interested in transforming the building into an apartment complex, but the project eventually died.
The city purchased the property in April 2021, and began accepting proposals for redevelopment in February.
“The mayor and I have joked about how long and how hard you can work toward a project and it feels like it’s going nowhere, then all of a sudden it goes a hundred miles an hour,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson. “It’s been a long time coming. I think we have some really good developers, and we’re very pleased to see Mno Bmadsen involved in this.”
Mno Bmadsen is the investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. According to Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons, the company is looking to use this redevelopment project as the beginning of a long-term relationship with the city for future development projects.
“They said if this were a one and done, we wouldn’t do it,” Lyons said. “So, I thought, ‘There you go. That’s what we’re looking for, right?’”
The development agreement will address project timelines, design approval, relocation of park equipment, blight abatement, and grant applications. Anderson said the resolution passed essentially authorizes Cressy as the developer of record, and starts up a timeline of 90-120 days for them to work on the design and come to the city with their plan. The developers also have 90 days to contact the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and work through financial incentives and grants that could be available to them.
“In speaking with them today, they’ve already had architects and builders through, and they’ve got conceptual ideas in mind,” Anderson said. “From my perspective, it’s one of the most aggressive timelines I’ve ever seen. … it speaks to how ready they are to move forward and do their due diligence in a very timely manner.”