Emmet County: $50 million building project doesn't exist
Officials rebut national reports about a cultural center being built at taxpayer-owned park
Emmet County officials are denying reports by a Harbor Springs-company that a $35-50 million project has been awarded at the Headlands Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City. The taxpayer owned, 600-acre park Beach House is seen in this image from earlier this month. (Brandon Hubbard/News-Review / June 21, 2012)
Responding to several media reports -- including a national spot in USA Today -- that Buchanan & Co., Harbor Springs, had been awarded a contract to building five-story, 180,000-square-foot art and science center at the Headlands, Emmet County published a statement on the home page of its website Wednesday denying a relationship with the company and saying the project doesn't exist. According to media reports, the alleged project would cost between $35 and $50 million.
"There are currently no plans to develop such a facility; there are no contracts with any organization, construction manager or architect; and there is no project planned at this point," the Emmet County statement says.
The county also says it has no relationship with a nonprofit Headlands Science and Arts Center, which was established by the company.
So, why the confusion?
Emmet County has been actively considering how to develop and engage the park, since it was named one of less than a dozen International Dark Sky Parks in the world last year. Among ideas floated by county staff has been the possibility of creating a conference center or large multiuse structure for programing.
Recently, after being approached about the creation of an art and science center at the park, Emmet County controller Lyn Johnson, parks director Laurie Gaetano, Dark Sky Park program director Mary Stewart Adams and Little Traverse Conservancy director Tom Bailey toured the property with a representative from Buchanan & Co.
Sometime not long afterward, the erroneous news came out.
The Engineering News-Record, a building trade publication, broke the story June 4 in a regional roundup. A representative from the ENR.org said the information was emailed to the publication from Buchanan & Co.
Ever since, the story has been circulating in online publications and causing local contractors to contact the county to find out when the bidding process will begin.
"We just want people to know we are not building a $35 million building, at least at this point, that we don't have any contact or contract or association with the group that is saying it is building it for us," Johnson said.
Johnson said any building project is likely years away, but said the county is "looking into what the options are" regarding building a conference or research center.
"Nothing is even close to being finalized," Johnson said.
The Emmet County Board of Commissioners has yet to discuss the options or vote on any such construction plans.
"We are rather protective of the Headlands," Johnson said. "A 180,000-square-foot, five-story building ... I don't think we would ever build a five-story building anyway -- let alone (one of that size)."
The controller said the county is talking about a 250-300 person conference center "maybe."
"A 180,000-square-feet is about six times the size of the Pellston airport terminal," he said.
A message left for Buchanan & Co. was not immediately returned at deadline for this story.
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