Which Way to Paradise: Developer plans affordable, historic homes in Thompsonville

Nov 19, 2015

Bryce Gibbs is developing 30 acres on the south end of Thompsonville.
Credit David Cassleman

Throughout this series, we’ve heard from a number of listeners concerned about the cost of housing in northwest lower Michigan.


Almost nothing is happening that would improve the situation for people struggling to find an affordable place to live.


Builders and developers are building new homes in the region. But they’re more expensive homes, and they’re being built in or near Traverse City, where land is the most costly.

But a developer named Bryce Gibbs has a new house on the market for $89,000, and his future plans include building historic replica homes that are affordable.

‘Looks nice, doesn’t it?’

Credit David Cassleman


This house is a stick-built, single family home in Benzie County. It’s two bedrooms, one bath, with an attached garage, for a price that you can’t find practically anywhere –  let alone on a new home.


It’s in a subdivision on 30 acres of land on the sound end of Thompsonville, which Bryce Gibbs calls ‘Crystal View Cottages.’ Right now the lots are mostly full of sandy soil and pine trees.


Gibbs says this is a good area to develop.


“It’s real close to Crystal Mountain, with good roads and good sandy soil and no water problems at all here,” Gibbs says.


Historic replicas

Gibbs has plans next to build something special in the subdivision: a historic replica of Glenn Miller’s boyhood home.

Miller, if you’ve forgotten, was a big band leader in the 1930s and 40s, who joined the U.S. Army to entertain troops during World War II. His plane disappeared over the English Channel in 1944.

Gibbs calls him a hero.


“His birthplace home, which is in Iowa, is a beautiful little three bedroom home, and we want to build a replica of that on that first lot,” Gibbs says.

He envisions pricing this home between $130,00 and $140,000. It’s not $89,000, but it’s still an affordable price in a market without many new homes.

‘The demand is … close to town’

Rural areas like Benzie County are seeing slower growth in the new homebuilding market.

Ted Lockwood, a realtor and developer in Traverse City, says building homes in rural areas is risky, especially when you don’t already have a buyer.

“When I put subdivisions together, I look at the demographic and look to see specifically where the demand is,” Lockwood says.

Lockwood says right now the demand is in and around Traverse City. And that’s where there’s money to be made.

“The demand is between $300,000 and $600,000, close to town, brand new,” Lockwood says. “And the people that are buying those are the 50- to 70 year olds that are empty-nesters, most of them are cash buyers, and they want to be close to all the cool stuff going on in Traverse City.”

Lockwood says building around Traverse City has skyrocketed.

The number of building permits issued for new homes in Grand Traverse County has more than doubled in five years. There were 274 permits issued in 2014, and only 121 in 2010.


Benzie County, the home of Bryce Gibbs’ development, is still in the hole carved out by the recession. Ten years ago, the county issued 172 building permits. In 2014, it gave out 41.


But there are more new homes on the horizon for Gibbs.

Tunnels? Tunnels.


Credit David Cassleman

There are 20 more lots that Bryce Gibbs could build on at Crystal View Cottages, and there’s room for even more after that.

But Gibbs says building and developing is a young man’s game, and he’s 82. Still, he does have plans to build at least two more homes, including the replica of Glenn Miller’s home.

He expects the Glenn Miller house to be bought quickly, and not just because of its historic significance. Bryce plans to put a special feature in it.

A tunnel.

He plans to build a concrete tunnel from the basement to the detached garage.

“So that you can still go from the house to the garage without going outdoors,” Gibbs says.

He’s already built two historic homes with tunnels before, and they both sold easily. Gibbs says the tunnel will make the home irresistible to buyers.

“I’m two out of two,” Gibbs says. “If you’re a gambler, you’re on a roll, aren’t ya?”

One of those homes was a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. Gibbs built it in Marquette, and lived in it briefly before selling. The other historic home was a replica of Bishop Baraga’s place in Sault Ste. Marie.

Gibbs says people like to live in historic homes, but they are fascinated by the tunnels.

“It’s different,” Gibbs says.

He has plans to build another replica home, too: the boyhood home of John Wayne.

And yes – that’ll also have a tunnel.