Two medical marijuana licenses awarded in Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 26, 2019

  The former Fairlanes Bowling Alley on Stephenson Highway will be demolished and replaced with a modern building where GS Ashley LLC will grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana.

The former Fairlanes Bowling Alley on Stephenson Highway will be demolished and replaced with a modern building where GS Ashley LLC will grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 The shuttered Madison Athletic Club on Ajax Drive will be the site of the second medical marijuana facility in Madison Heights, operated by Alternative Rx.

The shuttered Madison Athletic Club on Ajax Drive will be the site of the second medical marijuana facility in Madison Heights, operated by Alternative Rx.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Two applicants have been chosen to open the first medical marijuana facilities in Madison Heights. Each will feature growing, manufacturing and provisioning operations.

GS Ashley LLC will set up shop at the former Fairlanes Bowling Alley, located at 29600 Stephenson Highway. GS Ashley was the top pick in the city’s scoring process, pledging to invest $17 million to remove the condemned bowling alley — vacant since 2014 — and then remediate the site, building a 65,000-square-foot structure there.

“The building and grounds will feel like a modern art museum nestled in a lush forest of trees,” said Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell. “This applicant has other medical marijuana companies throughout the country and brings extensive knowledge of the business. They also have plenty of experience and resources to fully fund this project without financial assistance.”

GS Ashley also plans to create a community investment fund called Reaching New Heights, which will receive a percentage of the profits, donating it toward local organizations and city projects, as administered by an independent community board. The company will also sponsor the creation of a community garden called the Liberty Garden, and will fund tree plantings to accelerate the downtown district’s right-of-way tree replacement program.

Alternative Rx LLC was the second-highest-scoring applicant, pledging $8 million to renovate the Madison Athletic Club located at 2 Ajax Drive, which is industrial zoning. This location has been vacant since 2012. Alternative Rx is also planning future mixed-use development elsewhere in Madison Heights, including the construction of a multistory complex for dining, retail, office space and condominiums at the unoccupied corner of 11 Mile and John R roads.

“The site plans (for the medical marijuana facility) are being heralded as an industrial revolution for adaptive reuse,” Hartwell said. “The visual experience at the second site will be something out of a Disney theme park, as patients will get to witness the process of growing and producing their medicine through the glass windows of the former indoor racquetball courts.”

Alternative Rx has also offered to donate fitness equipment from the Madison Athletic Club to the Madison High School football program, and to donate $10,000 annually for helmet refurbishing, summer camp fees and summer camp equipment. Donations are also planned for local groups such as the Madison Athletic Boosters Club and the Madison Heights Community Coalition.

Alternative Rx has also pledged $75,000 annually to the Madison Heights Downtown Development Authority, nearly doubling the DDA’s budget. And to respond to a decade of deferred parks projects in the city, Alternative Rx is proposing a splash pad for the city’s children. The splash pad is expected to cost between $300,000 and $400,000 over the course of two years.  

“These two (medical marijuana businesses) will smash city records for private investment in the city of Madison Heights,” Hartwell said.


A new direction
The mayor said that the City Council took direction from the residents who voted.  

“The council approved medical marijuana after reviewing voter input on recreational marijuana last November,” Hartwell said. “The implication is that if Madison Heights voters approved of the recreational use of marijuana, they would also approve of the medical use of marijuana.”

This led to the council adopting an ordinance that permits two each of industrial-sized growing facilities, product manufacturing factories and patient provisioning centers. The ordinance also allows for four secure transporter businesses and four safety compliance facilities.

The mayor said the city anticipated that there would be many interested applicants, so an open and transparent scoring system was designed to aid with the selection process, one that prioritized safety and development. There were 23 applicants between May 21 and June 25.

Top points were awarded to companies with plans of rehabbing dangerous and shuttered industrial sites, Hartwell said. Additional points were awarded to those that would vertically integrate multiple operations under one roof. Such is the case with the top two applicants, both of which feature growing, manufacturing and provisioning at their locations.

Melissa Marsh, the city manager of Madison Heights, said that there is currently no firm date on when the two businesses will open. Neither of the businesses are receiving tax abatements or financial incentives of any kind.

Mark Bliss, the mayor pro tem, said that the selection process has worked well for the city.

“A key focus for me was getting significant investments at the sites of long-vacant properties, and I was thrilled to see that the two businesses that received licenses are both in locations that have long been vacant, immediately benefiting the city with their millions in upgrades to those sites, as well as the jobs being created there, which will have a positive effect on our local restaurants and retail stores,” Bliss said. “I’m also excited to see the thousands in community investment that these businesses are offering, which goes far beyond the typical benefits we’d see from increased tax revenue and impacts our residents directly with investments in our DDA, a privately funded public splash pad, trees being planted, and even substantial donations directly to our schools.”

He said he understands that the issue of marijuana is controversial for some, but the medical benefits are essential for others.

“We’ve been respectful of that on both sides,” Bliss said. “Many people spoke at our public meeting about their personal health challenges and how they depend on access to this medicine, as well as hearing from those who’ve experienced addiction and were worried about what changes this new industry can bring,” Bliss said. “That’s why no license could be in close proximity to a school or park. That’s also why our scoring heavily emphasized community outreach and investment, so that we could make sure that we find the right high-quality partners to receive these licenses.”

City Councilman Robert Corbett supported the ordinance change, but he remains skeptical about the long-term benefits.

“In casting my vote to allow medical marijuana licensees in Madison Heights, I took my lead from the residents and their votes on the marijuana ballot issues. My support for limited sales of medical marijuana was driven by what I believe is the community’s desire to be compassionate and supportive towards those fellow residents who are ill and can gain relief from marijuana,” he said. “However, I remain somewhat skeptical about the long-term benefits of wide-scale recreational marijuana dispensaries. … I expect over the next few years, radical changes in business models brought on by changes in federal law enforcement policies may leave the city with a handful of empty, unenforceable promises and commitments.

“Besides, is pot money really how we want to grow our community?” Corbett asked. “What kind of image would that project? And more to the point, what kind of message would that be sending to our children?”

Hartwell said that these things are the future.

“Medical marijuana is here. It’s coming to a neighboring city. Recreational marijuana will soon be common across the region. Our voters went on record twice — in 2008 and 2018 — stating that they approve. The City Council of Madison Heights did what few brave cities have done: listened to a majority of voters, drafted a world-class ordinance, and harnessed the development and charitable nature of this industry,” Hartwell said. “It was all timing and assertive leadership. I would hope Madison Heights voters pay attention to the City Council members who listened.”

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