Project launched

MARQUETTE – An Upper Peninsula bank and an extended-stay hotel will serve as the major tenants in a $30 million development project along West Washington Street in Marquette.

The project is being developed by the Marquette-based Veridea Group, which is planning on constructing the 130,000-square-foot commercial and residential complex in three phases.

The site was used for years as a bakery, first Bunny Bread and later Sara Lee. Veridea purchased the dilapidated property in 2011.

“When Sara Lee left, they gutted the insides of the building. It could never serve as a bakery again,” Veridea Group President Bob Mahaney said. “The buildings were functionally obsolete and they were an eyesore.”

Still, he said his company saw tremendous potential on the site.

“We really felt that it could serve as a catalyst for community redevelopment, if we did it right,” Mahaney said.

Phase one is under construction and includes a 28,000-square-foot building on the northwest corner of the lot. The Manistique-based mBank will occupy the bottom two floors of that three-story structure, to be completed in October.

The upper floor of the building – which will be called the mBank Building – will also house offices for the Illinois-based Myefski Architects and for Veridea.

Kelly George, the president and CEO of mBank, said the company will consolidate its Marquette operations into the new, larger location. Both current branch buildings are owned by mBank and will be sold.

“We couldn’t hire any more staff. We’re at full capacity in those buildings,” he said. “We do want to grow up there in Marquette and we want to bring some more people up there and we don’t have anywhere for them to work.”

Mahaney said interest in the project was so high that Veridea will begin work on the second phase later this year, earlier than initially expected.

The second building will be 90,000 square feet, include a large atrium area and will span the south side of the site, facing the city bike path.

One of the main tenants – and the only one confirmed – for phase two will be Staybridge Suites, an extended-stay hotel that targets corporate travelers. Staybridge is part of the same hotel group as Holiday Inn.

Phase two will also include a $1 million renovation of the neighboring Veridea building at 925 W. Washington St.

Phase two should conclude in the summer of 2014 and the third phase will wrap up the following year.

During a public ceremony Tuesday, Mahaney also unveiled the umbrella name of the development – Liberty Way.

The development will be sited at the intersection of Washington and Lincoln streets – roads named after two of American’s most highly regarded men – and Mahaney said the name was selected to reflect the values of those men. Additionally, the location is near Park Cemetery and the Veterans Memorial Mall in Harlow Park.

“We see a common theme that courses through the names given these streets and landmarks surrounding this site – a theme of liberty,” Mahaney said. “Through the names of Washington and Lincoln, and through these memorials, our forefathers sought to pay tribute to this most precious gift. Liberty gave birth to this nation and has defined and guided it for 237 years.

“In our own small way, we seek to pay tribute to it again today and build something that will serve as a reminder for future generations of this precious gift.”

Mahaney said engraved quotes, many on the topic of liberty, will be placed throughout the public areas of Liberty Way.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.