South Bend Tribune
NILES, Mich., – Even with some ambitious redevelopment efforts over the years, large sections of southwest Michigan remained in decline, dotted with empty warehouses and storefronts.
Clark Equipment once offered thousands of jobs in Buchanan. So did National Standard, Tyler Refrigeration, Simplicity Pattern and other companies in and around Niles.
But as those businesses started moving, closing or scaling back, the cities were left with abandoned and decaying buildings.
And eventually, stores in once-busy downtowns started closing too — thanks to evolving shopping preferences and the loss of residents who had to drive or move elsewhere for jobs.
Then the state moved to legalize marijuana.
Cannabis-industry investors were on the prowl for suitable locations for dispensaries, as well as grow and processing plants. They were greeted by officials in southwest Michigan who were willing to listen — and were highly motivated to entertain the business proposals.
City leaders say the cannabis industry has packed more than a decade’s worth of redevelopment into the span of a few years, and they’re looking at the prospect of even more projects in the coming year.
The total investment in buildings and equipment in Niles and Buchanan already exceeds $50 million in the past two years, and the cities say they’ve gained about 250 new jobs each.
Taxes collected by the state from the new marijuana businesses have resulted in tens of thousands of dollars for the individual communities, which also collect annual fees for the licenses.
So far, there are nine provisioning centers in Niles, Buchanan and Edwardsburg, with more on the way, including boutique shops called micro-businesses.
And at last count, there were more than 10 growing operations in Niles, Buchanan, Benton Harbor, Eau Claire and Galien Township – with, again, more coming.
“We don’t have a lake, a destination winery or some other attraction,” said Sanya Vitale, director of community investment for Niles. “But we have this, and we’re doing it very well.”
Besides the willingness of local officials to consider marijuana businesses, investors have been drawn to the area because of the availability of empty buildings — largely with the proper commercial and industrial zoning — that can be converted into dispensaries or facilities to grow, process and pack cannabis.
In Niles, cannabis growers and processors are moving into the old Simplicity plant on Wayne Street and additional buildings closer to Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport. In Buchanan, Redbud Roots already has filled a few buildings in the Post Road industrial corridor.
And while some have been looking for old industrial buildings, others have been drawn to the abandoned storefronts in Niles and Buchanan to convert them into medical and adult-use dispensaries, offering convenience for customers from Indiana and other locations.
Michigan 51, or South 11th Street, has become a go-to location for dispensaries in Niles, with Green Stem already open, Primitiv preparing to open just down the road and Regional Roots hoping to open a micro-business later this year.
ReLeaf Center for Compassionate Care, which has concentrated most of its Niles operations at an industrial park on the north side of the city, has settled on a location for a designated consumption area on the South 11th Street corridor.
Meanwhile in Buchanan, dispensaries have largely located in the downtown area along Front Street, revitalizing several buildings in the city’s core and creating hope among city leaders that more restaurants and amenities will follow.
“We have a big opportunity in front of us to benefit from this new market of people who are coming to Buchanan every day,” said Murphy. “We need to entice them to stay, shop, eat and patronize our local businesses.”
Though Edwardsburg, Three Oaks and other communities initially opted out of the marijuana business, some have subsequently changed course because of the threat or the reality of a citizens-driven ballot initiative requiring that they consider such ventures.
After Edwardsburg decided to allow two marijuana retail locations, Dr. A’s Re-Leaf Center opened last year in a dispensary in the former Lunker’s complex, at U.S. 12 and Michigan 62, in the center of the village. NoBo opened a short time later in a vacant building on Michigan 62, only two miles from the Indiana border.
“We were attracted by the traffic and the proximity to Indiana,” Stewart Ireland, an official with Alvarez Cultivation, said prior to the opening of Dr. A’s in Edwardsburg.
Those sentiments are echoed by other dispensary owners, who say they’re bringing in customers from states — such as Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky — where cannabis is illegal or restricted to medical use.
This article was made available through Hoosier State Press Association.