AP NEWS

Chicago company ditches Battle Creek tree farm project

April 11, 2019
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This Tuesday, April 9, 2019 shows the former Wilson Academy site along Spring and Orient streets in Battle Creek, Mich. A project to grow trees on the former Wilson Academy site has come to an end. Greenprint Partners, formerly known as Fresh Coast Capital, has returned the vacant two acres it leased from the city and Battle Creek Public Schools.(Kalea Hall/Battle Creek Enquirer via AP)

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — A project to turn empty southern Michigan land where a school once stood into a sprawling tree farm and flower garden has been abandoned.

Greenprint Partners recently returned the vacant 2 acres (0.8 hectares) in Battle Creek to the city and school district, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported. The Chicago-based environmental company planted roughly 1,000 poplar trees on the former Wilson Academy land before ending the project.

Battle Creek was grappling with an aging housing stock and blighted properties when the city approved the tree farm at the end of 2015. The school was among several buildings that the city tore down around that time.

Greenprint’s tree farms in other cities have been transitioned into forests as a way to absorb excess stormwater runoff that could overflow sewer systems. The company said it has moved away from that model since 2016.

Rose Jordan, the company’s spokeswoman, told the Associated Press that the original tree farm model wasn’t scalable because of a lack of private investment and the cost of upkeep.

The approach relied on private investors who would recoup their money from timber harvests, Jordan said in an email. But the company learned it would take at least two decades for investors to see any return.

The project also required frequent maintenance visits to ensure the tree farms didn’t become overgrown or littered, she said.

Battle Creek employees have decided they want to remove the trees, said Christine Zuzga, the city’s planning manager.

“We just don’t have the manpower to maintain (them),” Zuzga said.

She said there isn’t a plan for the portion of the site that the city owns.

“We own about 250 vacant properties ... and we are always looking to explore options for their reuse,” Zuzga said.

Battle Creek Public Schools Superintendent Kim Carter said the school district is still determining next steps for its portion of the property.

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Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com