By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — When one year ends, it’s usually a good idea to reflect on the year that was and preview what’s to come in the future.
That was the premise of this year’s annual State of the Area presentations, hosted by the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The annual event gathers representatives from around the area to present on their current goings-on, to give updates to local stakeholders, businesses and the community.
This year, representatives from St. Joseph County, Centreville and Constantine gave presentations updating what’s going on in their respective municipalities.
Curiously, not making a presentation for the first time was anyone from the City of Three Rivers, who had made presentations every year at the event. When asked why no one from the city made a presentation at this year’s State of the Area, Mayor Tom Lowry explained that “something came up” in City Manager Joe Bippus’ schedule at the last minute that day, and by that point, it was “too late” to ask Lowry to present on behalf of the city.
Kicking off the event was Jessica Miller, St. Joseph County’s assistant to the county administrator, who mainly discussed some of the notable capital outlay projects the county is currently undertaking, calling it a “year of infrastructure upgrades.”
Miller started her presentation talking about the ongoing courthouse renovation projects in the county. In Three Rivers, she said the renovation of the old Three Rivers Public Library on West Michigan Avenue, which they purchased in 2022, was going well, and is expected to open in May 2024. The new 20,000-square foot courthouse would hold probate court, juvenile court and Friend of the Court staff and services, as well as a new courtroom, jury deliberation space and hearing rooms.
“We’re really excited for this. Be looking for that big move this year,” Miller said. “They’re at the point now of putting up drywall in the interior of the building.”
The second project Miller discussed was the upcoming 37,000-square foot renovation of the courts building in Centreville, which is slated to begin once the renovation in Three Rivers is completed. Miller said improvements to the 50-year-old building would focus on security, separation, accessibility and workflow, with a new layout for the courtrooms, offices and meeting rooms on the first and second floor of the building.
The final project Miller discussed was the upgrades to the St. Joseph County Jail, which are focusing on detention door and frame replacement and a remodeling of the jail’s control room. Improvements also include a new security system and reconfiguring an existing shower.
Miller then gave miscellaneous updates from the county, including how many of the local projects funded by the county’s $1 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) money have been completed, the county’s newly-designed website, a new parks and recreation plan, a new hazard mitigation plan being in the works, and that a taskforce was recently created to decide how best to spend opioid settlement funds the county will soon be receiving.
“Those [opioid settlement] funds will come in over the next 20 years to the tune of about $1.4 million,” Miller said.
Next on the docket was Centreville DDA Program Manager Pattie Bender giving an update on the goings-on in Centreville. She noted the village did plenty of road work with chip seal and repair projects, as well as work in the village’s parks in the past year, including new paint, refurbishment and seal coating basketball courts. She also mentioned that the village has “huge” bills from LifeCare ambulance because of runs to Fairview and the county jail, which led to the village coming up with a bit of a solution.
“We’ve joined a consortium of others who’ve contracted with LifeCare,” Bender said. “Nottawa Township have been gracious to give us half of the revenue from [their ambulance millage] due to all the runs in town.”
Bender noted that there were new owners for the village’s trailer park, who she noted were “not too thrilled” about a new master meter for the park which means they have to collect fees. She then said there were some issues with the village’s lagoons, and that six businesses who fix food failed testing – Bender said Royal Café fixed their issues, and that others are working on them.
Bender then said she has been contacted by someone who was interested in putting apartments in the old Denton’s building in the village, and that the village purchased the former Truckenmiller’s Hardware building in downtown and has paid for the removal of the “mess” behind the building. The village’s DDA has agreed to pay for the cost of fixing the building’s roof and that contractors are currently working on the interior of the building to “get it sellable.”
In terms of upcoming businesses, Bender said there is an Amoco gas station and a laundromat being planned on the west end of the village between the village limits and the former Finnerman’s building. Finally, she noted that a water line under M-86 has been completed, so a new apartment complex on the west side of the village can be occupied.
Mark Honeysett, the village manager of Constantine, then gave updates on his village. He started by mentioning the “healthy” business environment of Constantine, highlighting the upcoming plans for a fifth marijuana shop in the village, a new distillery for the Michigan Milk Producers Association and a new wastewater treatment plant for the village.
With the wastewater treatment plant, Honeysett noted that construction began in September on the $20.5 million facility, which is estimated to be completed in May of 2025.
“They hit the ground running, doing as much of the outdoor work as they could while the weather was still cooperating,” Honeysett said. “Primarily, during the winter, they’ll be working indoors to renovate the existing office and chemical building at the treatment plant.”
Honeysett noted the village had to borrow $20 million from the USDA for the plant, which he said has caused “a lot of consternation” among village residents, in no small part due to sewer rates, which he estimated have gone up “30 to 40 percent.”
Elsewhere in his presentation, Honeysett mentioned new housing developments, including eight new homes in the Falcon Cove housing development on Jeremy Lane and 15 homes completed in the Orchard Street area of the village.
“This is one of the more exciting happenings in Constantine,” Honeysett said. “Houses that are listed for sale in Constantine don’t seem to stay on the market very long, indicating that the housing market in Constantine is strong. We’re called frequently seeking houses and apartments to rent.”
Honeysett also highlighted that the village received $250,000 from the Michigan Department of Transportation for road improvements in the village, and that the village used $220,000 in ARP mainly to purchase fire trucks. He also noted the progress on getting a new fire station in the village, highlighting the voter-approved special assessment district passed last year and a loan the village is going for to help in that effort.
“Some of that revenue [from the millage] will likely be used toward the expense of a new fire station, so we’re hoping for a low-interest loan from USDA Rural Development,” Honeysett said.
Honeysett was asked at the end of his presentation whether there was any increase in traffic or crime due to marijuana shops in the area. He said there hasn’t been an uptick in crime “at all,” and that the village’s revenue from those shops have been “wonderful.”
Following Honeysett’s presentation, Chamber president Christy Trammell gave an update from her organization, mentioning the upcoming Icebreaker fundraiser and Leadership St. Joseph County program. Early Voting Coordinator Melissa Bliss then spoke to those in attendance about the new early voting procedures, which take place starting Saturday, Feb. 17 for the presidential primary. Manager John Lindsey from the St. Joseph County Road Commission then gave a brief update on his agency and the work recently completed on the Covered Bridge, followed by Undersheriff Jason Bingaman with an update on his department.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.