Fallen retiree takes on Wrigley Center development project in downtown Port Huron
Jones then thought he was changing his life, but a year-end trip to Orlando, Florida almost immediately took him down another path: a new career as a developer of buildings and lofts in Port Huron.
In Orlando, Jones met a Calgary, Alberta businessman named Brent Marsall, owner of World of Spas, a business with four retail stores selling hot tubs, spas, kiosks, tanning beds. and patio furniture in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“We became friends and created dreams over the next year,” Jones said.
The Great Recession was in full swing. The downtown Port Huron real estate market had suffered long before the recession, with posters for sale and for rent in ground-floor windows throughout downtown. The stores had been closed for a long time due to competition from nearby shopping centers. The recession elsewhere was a depression in the city.
“The city center was dead,” Jones said.
Jones believed older downtown buildings were thin bones, and the depressed prices that homeowners were willing to sell them for, combined with his background in construction, made it time to retire. “The prices were so low. I was like, ‘If I’m serious, I have to buy as many buildings as possible.’ I was like, “I’m not from the area. People here have to take me seriously,” and that’s what the purchase of several buildings did. “
The contrast between sky-high real estate prices in Calgary and fire selling prices in Port Huron helped Marsall decide to be his partner in buying and rehabilitating properties.
“Larry’s enthusiasm in the Port Huron community has certainly rubbed off on me,” said Marsall. “He invited me to come to Port Huron for a few days to get a feel for the community and look at some properties that were for sale. Larry arranged a meeting with the Blue Water Young Professionals, and the energy and enthusiasm of this group along with Larry’s enthusiasm made it easy for me to start investing in the city. I have always had an interest in old historic buildings, look and feel. All those beautiful old downtown buildings that sit empty had so much potential. “
“Port Huron suffered from shopping malls that sucked life out of our downtown. Our plan was to help create the energy that would bring businesses and people back to downtown as it had historically been, ”Jones said.
In 2009 and 2010, they bought a handful of buildings, including the old JC Penney, Winkelman’s and Arden’s.
A wave of development and new businesses followed. They first opened Everything Classic Antiques, an antique mall on Huron Avenue, with 17 student lofts on the second floor. “The easy part is buying buildings. Then you have to fix them,” Jones said.
His wife, Tracy, runs the antique mall, but has other talents as well, including running machinery during demolition if necessary. She runs, says her husband, a nasty scissor lift.
“Tracy is also a rock star,” said Jeff Bohm, chairman of the St. Clair County Commissioners Council, a resident of the area since 1972 and a board member for 17 years.
Today, the Joneses and Marsall own 12 buildings downtown. They have 12 lofts under construction in another building on Huron Avenue and when these and the Wrigley lofts are completed they will have a total of 93 lofts.
Retail businesses that take up space on the ground floor of their buildings include a Jimmy John’s sub-store, a Martina’s Grill restaurant, a shoe store, two women’s clothing stores, a candy store, a club fitness, juice bar and restaurant. Larry estimates that these companies employ 70 people or more.
“I was on some of the first tours with Larry. He had great visions even in the midst of the 2008 downturn. He was talking about what he was going to do. He was new to the area and he was going to do X, Y and Z . I thought to myself, ‘Is this guy real?’ “Said Bohm.” I doubted him 10 times, and he proved me wrong nine times, if not all 10.
“I told him I should get smarter and stop doubting him. He’s a ball of energy, an asskicker at everything he does. I was skeptical at first. But there is. no doubt about his abilities and his vision now. “
One of those lofts, on the second floor of the old Ballentine building at 208 Huron Avenue, is the Jones’ home, an eye-catcher of exposed brick and ductwork, a shiny pewter ceiling as if it were new and period pieces a piece of furniture. After moving in two years ago, every morning drinking coffee in his front room, he looked out the window and roof of the old Art Van building across the street.
“Every day I would sit here and look at this ugly building,” he said. Until the day he decided to unugly.
“I called Jeff and I said, ‘How much are you going to sell me for?’ Jeff said, ‘We’re going to tear it down and put it in a parking lot.’ I said, “Does Port Huron really need another parking lot?” “
At first he thought he and Tracy would make it a destination children’s museum, until he began to examine how much money the Ann Arbor and Lansing Children’s Museums were losing each year. “The Lansing Museum cost $ 1.7 million a year to operate and brought in $ 1 million in revenue. They had to go into the community and beg $ 700,000 every year,” he said. “It changed my plans. We’re going to put residents on the upper floors to make money, so we won’t have to charge downstairs retailers so much.”
“It’s funny. A good majority of the developers in our area are people who weren’t born and raised here. I can’t tell you how lucky we are to have people like Larry and Steve Fernandez here, people from elsewhere who believe in The community. A lot of the time we don’t believe in ourselves, ”said Bohm, mentioning Fernandez of a whole new grocery store story being built. downtown (See related story, page 8.)
“I mean, look at all the lofts. We’ve never had lofts in downtown Port Huron. And outside developers have come in and now we have 150-200. We have more needs than capacity.” , did he declare.
There is a boom across the county of new, finished and on-the-market housing, under construction or planned. According to the EDA, there are 15 lofts, condos, apartments or housing projects in various stages of development, with approximately 750 units in total, in Port Huron, Fort Gratiot, St. Clair, Marysville, Clay Township, Ira Township and Marine City. .