Developer wants to raze Bil-Mar, build condos

Owner of restaurant on Grand Haven lakefront ready to sell and retire

Grand Haven, Bil-Mar Restaurant
Bil-Mar Restaurant sits on the beach in Grand Haven. (June 8, 2017)


GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — After 65 years, an iconic beachfront restaurant in Grand Haven is being eyed by a developer with big plans.

The Grand Rapids developer wants to tear down the old Bil-Mar Restaurant and build upscale condos, along with a new restaurant.

But some neighbors who live and own cottages up the hill from Bil-Mar are wary, fearing they could lose part of their view of Lake Michigan.

Bil-Mar is a classic lakefront restaurant with pictures of boats on the walls and flounder on the specials board. And, of course, there’s it’s amazing view.

Grand Haven, Bil-Mar Restaurant
Bil-Mar Restaurant sits on the beach in Grand Haven. (June 8, 2017)

“I think the general citizenry feels a little melancholy because the Bil-Mar’s been there as long as anyone can remember and it’s a treasured, old-timey Grand Haven building,” Grand Haven City Manager Patrick McGinnis said. “And of course what’s been proposed is anything but old-timey looking. It’s a very modern design.”

Bil-Mar was opened in the early 1950s by a man who named it after his kids — Bill and Margot. Howard Meyer’s dad bought it in 1969 and Meyer took it over two years later.

“It’s called retirement time,” Howard Meyer, a former Grand Haven mayor, said. “Time to retire, time to move on.”

A developer wants to demolish it and build up to nine upscale condos — in the $1 million-dollar range — along with a new restaurant.

Grand Haven, Bil-Mar Restaurant, development
A developer plans to tear down Bil-Mar Restaurant in Grand Haven and build upscale condominiums and a new restaurant. (Courtesy rendering)

On Monday, the Grand Haven City Council took the first steps toward approval.

“It is not a done deal,” McGinnis said, adding that it could take until October before a final decision is made.

The plan still needs approval from the Grand Haven Planning Commission, the City Council and the state Department of Environmental Quality, he said.

“There are public hearings along the way,” the city manager said.

Grand Haven, Bil-Mar Restaurant, development
A developer plans to tear down Bil-Mar Restaurant in Grand Haven and build upscale condominiums and a new restaurant. (Courtesy rendering)

The new building can’t stand more than 30 feet tall — about five feet taller than what stands there now.

The biggest potential hitch is the residents of the Highland Park Association, just up the hill. The association has fought previous attempts at development.

“We will keep an eye on it, and we obviously — we meaning the park at large — would want to work with whoever the developer is to get a good outcome for both sides,” said David Swain, whose family owns a cottage near the Bil-Mar.

Bil-Mar Restaurant, Lake Michigan, Grand Haven
A view of Bil-Mar Restaurant and Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. (June 8, 2017)

Swain said it’s about the view from his family’s cottage.

“I think that the new plans are decent architecturally and aesthetically, but I wouldn’t want to see the footprint, the size of it, increased,” Swain said. “If it’s by a couple of feet, not a big deal to me.”

For Bil-Mar’s owner, there are mixed emotions.

“I’m a little bit sad that this building will be demolished and it will be gone, but a restaurant will continue, and hopefully in some way or form people will remember it as the Bil-Mar Restaurant in Grand Haven,” Meyer said.