Fresh Palate owner eyes development that could expand district, inspire new projects

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The old Big Boy restaurant in Alpena sits vacant on Wednesday. The old business is expected to be torn down later this summer.

ALPENA — Fresh Palate owner Eric Peterson intends to have the former Big Boy restaurant at the corner of Chisholm Street and 14th Avenue torn down and is planning a development project that may, or may not, include a new Fresh Palate.

The Fresh Palate restaurant in downtown Alpena closed earlier this year.

Peterson would neither confirm nor deny if his new development project would include a new Fresh Palate, but he did say it may include a blend of housing, and retail space, and will offer a similar excitement and vibe as his former restaurant downtown.

Peterson, who owns the property on the shore of the Thunder Bay River, said he has a vision for the property after the old building is removed.

“The highest and best use for that property is not that building,” Peterson said. “I’m envisioning a grand new building that sits right at one of the main entrances to the city. I want to bring the excitement and vibrancy that we had downtown to this side of town. I’m going to take the vibrancy and move it down the road.”

To help pay for the removal of the structure, Peterson may receive a grant of about $230,000 from the newly established Alpena County Land Bank.

Lenny Avery, economic development coordinator for the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, said the local landbank received $500,000 late last year from the State Land Bank Authority to be used for blighted properties in Alpena County and the old Big Boy building was considered blight and a viable use of the state funds.

The proposed project is under review by the State Land Bank Authority because it must sign off on the project and the allocation of the funds.

Avery said when Peterson’s project is complete, he believes it will be a catalyst that will lead to more development in the U.S.-23 North corridor.

“I think there will be a Domino effect and other property owners and developers will invest in that area of Alpena,” Avery said. “This is a huge first step.”

Peterson’s property also lands just inside the newly expanded boundaries of the Alpena Downtown Development District. Earlier this year, the DDA, with approval from the Alpena Community College, Alpena County, and city government, pushed out its boundaries farther down Chisholm Street and 2nd Avenue.

Anne Gentry, DDA director, said the DDA will now be able to offer its services and support to projects, like Peterson’s, located a little farther out of the downtown.

“We’ll be able to provide assistance for writing grants, and entities like the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will be more likely to approve grant funding for a project like Peterson’s because it is a DDA district,” Gentry said. “There is a lot of support we can offer.”

Meanwhile, Karen Bennett, the owner of the Center Building, Gentry, and other local development leaders are trying to find a new tenant to replace Fresh Palate in downtown Alpena. Gentry said the DDA is going to be more hands-on in recruiting potential businesses and helping to make sure they are a good fit and can be sustained. She said there has been interest in the location in the Center Building including from developers who want to open a restaurant.

“We now have a larger role with tenant recruitment for downtown,” Gentry said. “There has been a lot of interest and right now we have had about six or seven people who have inquired about the space. All of these people want to open a restaurant.”

Gentry said it is unlikely a new restaurant will be able to open for the summer season, but she is hopeful that late this year or early next year will see a new business there.

“I think it’s safe to say we won’t have anything in there quickly,” Gentry said. “That’s negative, but also a positive because we want to get the right person and business in there. We don’t want someone to come in, spend a lot of money, and then fold in a year. We want a long-term tenant.”


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