Building Is Tribute To Barry


    GRAND RAPIDS — Work on Verne Barry Place is expected to start in May.

    When the $16 million project is completed, low-income residents will have new and affordable apartments to live in, and retailers will have new market–rate commercial spaces from which to sell their art-related goods.

    The Heartside Nonprofit Housing Corp., a subsidiary of the sector’s largest nonprofit property management firm, Dwelling Place, is doing the project — which is part historic renovation and part new construction.

    The plan is to renovate the Dwelling Place Inn, an apartment building

    Dwelling Place

    bought in 1982 that once was three hotels. The building currently contains 88 small units — rooms, basically, without private baths and kitchens. The work will pretty much double the size of the apartments and add baths and kitchenettes to each one, cutting the number of units in half from 88 to 44.

    An elevator, skylights, atriums and an interior courtyard will be added.

    The plan also calls for a new five-story building to go up on a surface parking lot just south of the Dwelling Place Inn, which is at

    44 1/2 S. Division Ave.

    The new structure will replace the 44 apartments lost to the renovation work and add another 28 similar units, which is

    Dwelling Place

    ‘s way of responding to the closing of the former downtown YMCA on

    Library Street NW

    “There were over 100 units at the Y and these are just 28. It’s not like we’re trying to replace them one-for-one; it’s just a partial replacement of some of those units in the neighborhood. So we will have a total of 116 units in the entire project,” said Dennis Sturtevant, Dwelling Place CEO.

    “It is going to be a LEED-certified project. We’re even doing the vegetative roof and whole nine yards on this thing,” he added.

    Sturtevant said doing the project for low-income individuals doesn’t mean that his organization felt there was a need for more low-cost housing in Heartside. The project was conceived to let low-income residents stay in an area that has been their home for years.

    “We expect that the 88 people who live there right now will move into the new units,” he said.

    The new building will go up first so that those living in the Dwelling Place Inn won’t be displaced from their homes. After they move into the new structure, the restoration project will begin. Pioneer Construction will manage the project, which DTS/Winkleman designed.

    Heartside Ministries, and its mini-art gallery, will retain one of the commercial spaces. But the rest will be marketed to art sellers and artists to keep the trend going that Dwelling Place began a few years ago in the 100-block of South Division. Like that project, this one will also feature two stories of market-rate living, gallery and studio space for artists.

    “We’re going to try to focus most of our energy in the commercial spaces to arts-related businesses. It’s an experiment-in-the-works, if you will, and we’ll see how far we can take this. But we think it’s moving in the right direction, and we’ll keep trying,” said Sturtevant.

    Funding for the project is coming from a handful of sources, including low-income housing tax credits, the state Housing Development Authority, the Frey, Steelcase and Grand Rapids Community foundations and the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program.

    Sturtevant said it was fitting to name the project in honor of Barry, a former automotive executive who was a workhorse activist for the people of Heartside, a Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year winner and chairman of the Downtown Development Authority.

    “We knew we had to change the name from the Dwelling Place Inn when we started working on this a couple of years ago. But no one could come up with a good name. We were looking at the old hotel names and a number of other things. In the midst of all of that, as it was coming down to crunch time to having to make a decision, Verne passed away,” said Sturtevant.

    “As I was getting pressure from folks to come up with a name, I thought, oh my gosh, Verne had an office there. Verne, himself, had been homeless, was a recovering alcoholic. Verne made a special effort to build a bridge between those that have and those that don’t, and was very effective on the DDA with the arena in ensuring that there were employment opportunities for people in the neighborhood.”

    Barry passed away on June 30, 2004

    “It seemed fitting. This is where Verne started his recovery. This is also where he got started in the neighborhood with his employment and training program. To me, it made a lot of sense. He had died before we made this decision, but I kind of figure that he probably knows.”

    If everything goes right,

    Verne Barry Place

    will open late next year as construction is expected to take 18 months. And for

    Dwelling Place

    , which turns 26 years old this year, the project has kind of a retro feel to it.

    “It really is us going back 20-some years later to one of the first projects that

    Dwelling Place

    did, and making sure that the renovation is done right this time,” said Sturtevant with a distinct smile in his voice.

    “It’s always been foremost in our mission to prevent folks who have lived in the area and abided by the law from having to move out from the neighborhood that they’ve lived in for many years. While, at the same time, we’ve been trying to find a way to create more income diversity in the neighborhood, and that is what this is about.”    

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