City Commission Approves Ren Zone Expansion


    GRAND RAPIDS — The City Commission on Tuesday approved a proposed expansion of existing Renaissance Zone districts to include 12 more properties.

    If approved by the state, the dozen properties would expand existing districts beginning in January next year and running through the end of December, 2011.

    The Commission further approved creation of a new zone that would be established the first of next year and also extend through the end of 2011. The new zone would accommodate a project proposed by Belwith International.

    Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Keller Brass asked to have its application pulled. The company was anticipating a nearly $6.9 million investment that would create 60 new jobs and generate $18,000 in new income tax. Mayor Logie said the company wanted more time to work on its application.

    A late entrant to the application process, Wolverine Coil Spring Co., was added to the list of proposed projects, though there was some debate as to whether it should be included.

    First Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt objected to its in inclusion in the present round of applications because commissioners only heard about the proposal “in the fourth quarter, in the final minute,” even though the city had spent months reviewing 18 applications for Renaissance Zone expansion. He added that he would be happy to consider Wolverine Coil’s application at another time.

    Susan Shannon, the city’s business advocate, said the Economic Development Priority Team had not recommend inclusion of Wolverine Coil for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not clear that the company’s location at 818 Front NW is adjacent to an existing zone, she said.

    Second, the company proposes to undertake minor renovations, which doesn’t really fit in to the goals the commissioners have set for the Renaissance Zone, Shannon said. 

    “The property is at 98 percent occupancy and the $1 million they’re looking to invest here are just some renovations, not actually a full modification or redo of the building,” Shannon explained. “We also felt that by adding them kind of as an island might cause some controversy down the street with other neighbors.”

    Jay Dunwell, Wolverine Coil president, said the company has a 45,000 square foot building, many portions of which were built more than 80 years ago and those sections of the plant are in dire need of renovation. He said since the company’s manufacturing processes have evolved, it doesn’t need as much warehouse space and now hopes to completely redo that space. 

    “This investment for our small business with 60 or so employees, I think, will do an awful lot and will create, hopefully, a much more presentable building to our employees and our community,” Dunwell said. 

    First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak suggested commissioners include Wolverine Coil and let the state determine whether the property qualifies as “adjacent to” the zone. If Wolverine Coil were rejected by the state, he said, its proposal could potentially be brought back as a Public Act 198 or brownfield redevelopment project. 

    Second Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut questioned whether that determination shoul be left to the state and also expressed concern about the “blurring of the lines” between Public Act 198 and Renaissance Zone projects.

    The distinction, Shannon explained, is that to be included in the Renaissance program, a property must be contaminated and be at least 50 percent vacant for a minimum of a year. Additionally, the proposal for the property has to involve a major redevelopment that will likely generate other development in the neighborhood. 

    Second Ward Commissioner Rick Tormala stressed that Renaissance Zones are designed to create as many jobs as possible. He pointed out that Wolverine Coil will create more jobs than six of the other companies recommended and generate more new income tax than eight of the companies recommended.

    “That impresses me and that’s why I’m going to support the amendment,” he added.   

    As Shannon pointed out, one of the things to remember in considering proposals is  total impact on the established cap. She said some projects have a negative and some have a positive impact on the cap. Wolverine Coil would reduce the cap by nearly $5,500.

    The city has another opportunity to take applications Sept. 15 for consideration for 2003, she added, “so it isn’t as if we are cutting off peoples’ opportunities.”

    But 3rd Ward Commissioner Scott Bowen said he wants to see the Commission be as aggressive as possible in use of the zones, even if it means surpassing the cap the Commission set for itself.

    With the inclusion of Wolverine Coil, the dozen projects represent more than $18 million of new investment in the city. Collectively, they are expected to create 196 new jobs and generate some $61,000 in new income tax. 

    The city must now submit the expansion proposals to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for approval. Proposals unsuccessful in this round can be resubmitted at another time, Shannonsaid.


    Projects recommended for expansion of existing Renaissance Zone districts were:

    Keeler Die Cast

    Grand Rapids Chair

    Tontin Lumber

    Eikenhout Inc.

    L.H. Flaherty Co.

    L&F Packaging Inc.

    Gordon LLC


    Williams Distributing

    LaFavorita Tortileria LLC

    Garden Street, LLC

    Wolverine Coil Spring Co.

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