DDA sees huge ROI from 616 Development


Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Kristopher Larson recently shared some of the investments his board has made with Kent County commissioners, and then pointed out the gratifying returns those investments have realized for the downtown sector.

At the top of his list was $100,000 the DDA awarded 616 Development for its restoration of the previously vacant buildings at 1 and 7 Ionia Ave. SW. Larson said 616 offered an interesting business model that is more involved with creating a downtown community than renovating buildings.

“People remain the most important aspect of our business, from nurturing the people who belong to our own 616 tribe, to connecting our 616 Lofts residents to our great urban living experience, to showing our appreciation to all the business partners and city officials who have made it possible for our projects to have forward motion,” said 616 founder and principal Derek Coppess at the recent grand opening of the 1 Ionia building.

Although less steeped in development than community, the construction plan still resulted in the Grand Rapids Brewing Co. occupying the first floor, office space being sectioned out on the second level, and 21 apartments being leased on floors three, four and five. Larson said 616 invested $4.5 million into the project, while the state contributed $360,000 worth of support.

When the math was done, Larson said the DDA’s investment had a remarkable return ratio of 48:1. “We ensured that all people will have accessibility to the building,” he said of the board’s role.

The DDA also has invested in 616’s current project — the revitalization of the empty and deteriorated Kendall Building at 16 Monroe Center. In September, the board gave the firm, which is putting $4 million into the project, a 10-year property-tax abatement worth up to $350,900 over that period. The state also awarded 616 a $475,000 grant from the Community Revitalization Program for the restoration.

The project is called 616 Lofts at Kendall. It, too, will feature ground-floor retail, office space the firm will move into on the second floor, and apartments on the upper levels. It will have a common area in the basement and a rooftop deck.

“Despite the fact that a large portion of demolition has required asbestos removal, demolition and design at 16 Monroe Center have been mostly straightforward,” said Coppess. “Many historical features will be preserved and up-cycled in the Kendall construction or in upcoming projects.”

It will be interesting to see where the board’s ROI will end up from this project, Larson said.

The DDA, though, doesn’t only invest in construction projects within the district. Downtown events also are popular with the board. The DDA gave ArtPrize $20,000, and the Anderson Economic Group said the annual arts competition had an economic impact of $15.4 million over its 19 days in 2011.

The board also awarded the last LaughFest $7,500, and a report from Grand Valley State University that Larson cited showed the annual celebration of laughter put together by Gilda’s Club was also worth $15.4 million to the local economy. The DDA doubled its support for the next event to $15,000.

The DDA gave $75,000 to the new $225,000 two-year DASH pilot program that began running through the Monroe North Business District this month. It has been projected to give the board a 2:1 ROI. “We’re also getting a tremendous output from the community,” said Larson.

As for the DDA’s upcoming investments, Larson first pointed to a project called the “South Arena Visioning and Development Strategy.” Its general purpose is to find the right way to redevelop a trio of parking lots the DDA owns near Van Andel Arena. A steering committee is expected to offer advice to board members on how they can get the best ROI from making the lots available to developers.

“Right now, this is an opportunity for us to shape a vision we can control,” said Larson.

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