Morton House project is underway


Each floor of the renovated Morton House will have 11 apartments, including studio, one- and two-bedroom units. Photo by Chris Pastotnik

Remediation work has begun on the final piece to complete the revival of Monroe Center.

Rockford Construction has started engineering the pre-construction phase for the ultimate renovation of the Morton House, a vacant, 13-story, 170,000-square-foot structure at the northwest corner of Monroe Center and Ionia Avenue.

“The building has some asbestos and lead in it, and we are currently working on abating those two items and then we’re going to move into demolition. Basically, all of the floors from three to 13 will be cleaned out so we can start fresh on our 123 residential units,” said Ken Bailey, senior vice president of planning for Rockford Construction.

Bailey said his firm has hired a local contractor that is certified to remove the contaminants. The toxins will be hauled to a Class 2 landfill in Coopersville, which is authorized to receive such waste materials.

He said the removal process is being done in protected areas with the workers wearing protective suits.

“All the materials that are taken out, whether asbestos or lead, are bagged properly, taped up and put into a sealed dumpster and hauled offsite to the Class 2 landfill,” said Bailey.

The removal process began about three weeks ago and is expected to take about two months to complete. Once finished, the demolition work will get started in earnest.

“We’re gutting the floors and basically taking the building down to its structure and replacing all the windows, the roof, and doing some exterior masonry restoration. Then we’ll start with kind of a fresh skeleton for the multifamily build-out,” said Bailey.

Bailey said each floor will have 11 units. Two two-bedroom apartments, one studio and eight one-bedrooms are planned for each level.

“We’re using the existing vertical circulation, the existing stairwell there, and we are replacing the three elevators. We have two passenger elevators and one freight elevator.”

The cost of the project is expected to be about $21 million.

Rockford joined the RDV Corp. to form 55 Ionia Partners, which bought the building.

“This is a really important investment for downtown. Rockford is taking on some of the really challenging projects downtown,” said Mayor George Heartwell in August.

To emphasize the importance of the project for the city, the Downtown Development Authority and the Economic Development Corp. jumped aboard to help finance it.

The DDA awarded the effort a $50,000 building reuse grant for the renovation of the façade, a $35,000 grant to help fill the structure’s areaway, and a $35,000 grant for a new sidewalk and streetscape work along Ionia Avenue.

The DDA also agreed to reimburse the partners 75 percent of the tax revenue the finished project will generate for 10 years, a total of $1.5 million.

In addition, the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority loaned the partners $400,000 for the remediation work from its Revolving Loan Fund, funding the city’s agency received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that is specifically to be used for clean-up work.

Members of the partnership have personally guaranteed the loan, which is interest-free. Payments are set to begin in January 2017 and be completed in January 2023.

The building’s official address is 72 Monroe Center NW. It opened as the Morton Hotel in 1872 on that site, after the National Hotel was destroyed by fire. In the 1970s, the hotel was remodeled and became the Morton House Apartments with 220 affordable units, until it closed in 2011.

“We’re probably planning on being done at the end of January with remediation,” said Bailey. “The demo work has started from the top down, and as we get through abating the floors, we’re starting the demolition.”

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