Riverfront Land Sale Questioned


    GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners will be asked to make a decision next week on what to do with 16 acres of city-owned riverfront property at

    201 Market Ave. SW

    , also known as the Public Works Island.

    Last week they announced that creating a fair process to sell the land is as important to them as getting the right project for the land, which the city is selling for $35 million.

    Mayor George Heartwell and commissioners James Jendrasiak, Elias Lumpkins, Rick Tormala and James White said they had heard rumblings that the first call for proposals, made through a letters-of-interest process, ended unfairly when a nine-member committee charged with evaluating those letters didn’t endorse any of the three firms that responded.

    Their comments, though, came after Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong updated them on the current state of the marketing effort, noting that it was still at the second stage of what they had hoped would be a 12-stage process, and suggested to commissioners that they make a request for full proposals for the property.

    DeLong said an RFP would require more details than the letters provided and would include such items as renderings of proposed projects and specific financial statements that would show whether a developer has the resources to build the project. He said the process should be open to anyone interested, including the trio that submitted letters, and be open for at least six months instead of the 60 days in the letters request.

    “Two months is not sufficient,” said DeLong. “Our job is to do the best job we can to market that property.”

    Heartwell and Lumpkins said there is a perception “out there” that the letters-of-interest process wasn’t conducted fairly. Jendrasiak said the three developers spent time and money on responding to the process to only come out of it with nothing. Then he asked DeLong if the current course of action had become a “political thing.”

    DeLong said the process wasn’t being politicized, and an RFP wouldn’t prevent anyone from responding. But Tormala, who noted that he has been skeptical of the process since it began, said it would look like the city was playing favorites if a developer other than the three that replied submitted a proposal.

    White, who sat on the letters panel, said the developers responded to the questions they were asked and that the committee could only get the answers it wanted from an RFP. He said the city should restrict its RFP call to Grand Rapids Development Corp. of Atlanta, Moch International of Grand Rapids and Barnes Stevens Redevelopment of Buffalo, the three firms that responded to the letters request.

    “It’s difficult now to open it up again and let anybody bid,” he said.

    White said the three should be given six months to reply to an RFP. If they don’t respond or if their proposals aren’t good enough, only then, he said, should the process be opened to anyone.

    But 1st Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt disagreed. He said the city should open the bidding because more responses could result in a better proposal.

    “They’re all going to be invited back in,” said Schmidt of the three firms.

    Heartwell told DeLong to provide commissioners with all the information the committee reviewed. DeLong also told commissioners that he would have information on relocating the city’s departments and vehicles from the Public Works Island at next week’s meeting.    

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