Old Laundry Site Prime For Redevelopment


    GRAND RAPIDS — The two South Division Avenue commercial sites that the city put on the market in April are still awaiting buyers, but four months on the market seems brief compared to the length of time it took to bring them to that threshold. 

    The north site, 530 S. Division Ave., is 2.1 acres with 330 feet of frontage on Division and has an asking price of $350,000. 

    The south site at 630 S. Division Ave., which includes the former American Laundry & Cleaners property, is 2.9 acres with 477 feet of frontage on Division. The city is asking $395,000.

    Together, they represent the largest tract of industrial land still owned by the city, as well as one of the larger vacant pieces of land within the Renaissance Zone, according to City Business Advocate Susan Shannon.

    It all started with the American Laundry & Cleaners property, which the city acquired through tax reversion because of delinquencies that began in the early 1980s. The American Laundry bankruptcy was converted to a Chapter 7 closing in 1989.

    In 1996, the city and the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality undertook a joint effort to clean up the site, which was contaminated with dry-cleaning chemicals, and to prepare it for commercial or industrial redevelopment. 

    Between 1998 and 2000, the city bought 20 parcels surrounding the American Laundry property and pieced together a large industrial tract running from Division east to Sheldon Avenue and from Buckley Street south to Sycamore Street.

    The city bought the 20 parcels with $750,000 from the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    Under terms of the loan, if enough new jobs are created on the sites, up to 90 percent of the loan amount, or $675,000, then becomes a grant. Since each job created would eliminate $20,000 of the loan, the creation of 34 new jobs would, in essence, “pay back” the loan.  

    The commercial site was packaged as two sites situated near enough to each other to be developed together. Both are zoned heavy commercial or light industrial and their location within the Renaissance Zone means both are nearly free of state and local taxes through 2011.

    Following their market debut this spring, the city received two proposals. Both were incomplete in that they lacked the financial data required by the city to ascertain the feasibility of the projects, Shannon said.

    No formal proposals for either site have been submitted since then, but “the interest is out there,” she said. She has received a number of calls, about 10 of them from prospective buyers who have an actual project in mind.

    Given the softness in the economy, she’s not surprised the sites haven’t sold yet. As she sees it, a lot of companies are just holding steady right now and shying away from large investments.

    “It usually takes several months to market a piece of property like this. And we have a number of conditions with it. It’s not like we’re just putting a price on it. You do have to create at least 20 brand new jobs, so that’s a challenge, I think.”

    At least 20 new full-time, non-retail jobs must be created at each site, with each job paying at least $7.30 per hour.

    In addition to the number of jobs created, the city’s Economic Development Priority Team also considers the following criteria:

    • Type of business
    • Proposed purchase price
    • Investment amount in site improvements, facilities or machinery
    • Design of the building and landscaping
    • Financial viability and qualifications
    • Timing of project completion and job creation

    The city hopes the sale and redevelopment of one or both sites will spur a domino development effect along South Division. 

    “We’ve already started to see some development and investment along that corridor since the Renaissance Zone started in 1997. That’s why we want the right kind of development there, too, and I think we’re going to be a bit choosey,” Shannon added.

    The city announced availability of the sites through a couple of mass mailings to every Realtor in West Michigan and through some newspaper advertising. The sites also are listed on the MLS (multiple listing service), so brokers can earn a commission on their sale, Shannon noted.


    The $750,000 loan from the Michigan Strategic Fund comes due Dec. 17, 2003. In the event that no jobs are created by deadline, the entire amount must be paid back over 15 years, Shannon said.

    “But that’s not going to happen,” she added. 

    Interested parties can call Shannon directly for further information or to discuss a potential proposal. Shannon suggests that those interested also visit the medc.michigan.org Web site to calculate the tax savings they can realize within the Renaissance Zone.


    From 1997 through 2000, 68 businesses undertook projects in the Renaissance Zone, collectively investing nearly $80 million and creating 839 new jobs. Eleven projects are under construction in the Renaissance Zone this year, representing a $22.2 million investment and 115 new jobs.

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