Construction on city commission’s agenda again


Construction projects filled the Grand Rapids City Commission agenda last week, as commissioners scheduled four public hearings and extended the completion date for a development in the city’s Renaissance Zone.

Hearings to amend a pair of brownfield projects will be held next week. One has Rockford Construction putting up four new multi-story residential buildings at the corner of Douglas Street and Seward Avenue on the city’s west side. The firm will invest $2.4 million into the project that will result in 18 apartments.

The property at 600 Douglas St. NW is a Part 201 facility, meaning it is contaminated beyond the general criteria used for cleaning up residential sites. Plus, there are several dilapidated buildings on the parcel that have to be razed. Rockford Construction has listed the remediation costs at $604,320, an amount that is reimbursable through tax-increment financing after the work is done.

“They’re certainly my good neighbor, so I’m really excited,” said Commissioner Walt Gutowski, who owns the Swift Printing Co. on Bridge Street NW, a few blocks east of Rockford’s latest project.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said Rockford plans to begin construction this summer and finish by early next year.

Commissioners also will hold a brownfield hearing next week for G.A. Haan Development. The Harbor Springs developer plans to convert the former Riverside Elementary School at 2420 Coit Ave. NE into an assisted living and memory care facility for up to 55 seniors. Haan Development is investing $6.8 million into the 36,000-square-foot building; the work plan calls for a 15,000-square-foot addition.

Of that total investment, Haan Development will spend $1 million to remediate the property, which qualifies as functionally obsolete under state environmental law. The firm will remove asbestos, do some demolition work and make public infrastructure improvements to the site. It will be reimbursed for those activities.

“The expense to convert a school into a licensed care facility is more than what new construction costs,” said Wood. “They’re expected to start construction late this year.”

City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said she is looking forward to the project being completed. She taught at Riverside, and the school is in her ward. Grand Rapids Public Schools closed Riverside Elementary in 2010 and sold the building to Haan Development last year. Haan Development hopes to complete the project by the end of next year.

“They had approval from planning for some time. They just hadn’t put the brownfield application together,” said Wood.

When finished, the project is expected to generate $38,000 in property and income tax revenue for the city each year.

On June 11, commissioners will hold hearings on two bond requests for construction work. One hearing is required by the Internal Revenue Service and doesn’t involve a local bond issuance. Colorado Health Facilities Authority plans to issue tax-exempt bonds worth up to $80 million and then loan the proceeds to Covenant Retirement Communities so the firm can renovate the buildings it owns and operates in five states.

Covenant Retirement plans to spend millions of those proceeds on improvements to Covenant Village of the Great Lakes at 2510 Lake Michigan Drive NW in the city.

“There will be some investment made at their property here — up to $5 million,” said Wood.

The second bond hearing involves the city’s Economic Development Corp. issuing up to $5.4 million in tax-exempt bonds on behalf of Cornerstone University. The school is building a two-story residence hall adjacent to its new baseball field. Construction is underway, and the hall will house 92 students on the west side of the campus. The bonds will be issued after the work is completed.

“Their on-campus student population is growing,” said Wood.

“They’re got a lot of land there,” added Commissioner James White.

Commissioners agreed last week to extend a Renaissance Zone redevelopment agreement with the American Seating Co. for the continuing renovation of its west side campus along Broadway Avenue and 11th Street. The firm now has another year to complete the $4 million project. The new deadline date is Dec. 31, 2014.

“It’s a pretty extensive surgery they have to complete. They will still invest $4 million in the project, but not the way they originally planned,” said Wood.

American Seating CFO Leslie Cummings said some demolition needs to be done and asbestos has to be removed. “We are issuing an RFP before the end of May to get the asbestos removed,” she said.

City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz told commissioners the city won a 2103 Governor’s Award for historic preservation last month. The city was cited along with the Christman Co., Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art and Design, Tower Pinkster and Hopkins Burns Design Studio for the historic conversion of the massive former federal building on Division Avenue into classrooms and offices.

“I just had a tour recently, and it’s amazing what they were able to do,” said Schulz. “It’s beautiful.”

The city owns the building and is leasing it to Christman, which is sub-leasing space to the schools. Much of the renovation was financed through federal ARRA bonds the city and Kent County allocated to the project.

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