Art Museum Proposal Moves Ahead Another Step

June 24, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Plans for a new 130,000-square-foot Grand Rapids Art Museum continued to evolve Tuesday as the City Commission requested the Downtown Development Authority’s participation in the project and approved tentative terms for a potential property swap between them.

The deal would involve the city’s exchange of the Wurzburg block properties it owns for DDA property of equal value in the DASH south lot, a site the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) has been considering for a surface transportation center.

The Wurzburg block property is located in the DDA district, has an appraised value of $2.5 million and includes a 135-space public parking lot. The three private properties on the site have been secured until Dec. 15.

Local philanthropist Peter Wege donated $20 million towards the design and construction of the facility, which will cost between $50 million and $60 million. The museum’s board intends to raise the remaining $30 million to $40 million in private, state and federal funds.

Mayor John Logie questioned why the city should involve the DDA in the process at all.

City Attorney Phillip Balkema responded that under a provision of the state constitution, cities may not give away property for any private purpose or, unless authorized by law, any public purpose.

But the city can legally exchange a property with another municipal corporation like the DDA for an equal valued piece of property, Balkema said.

The city could then transfer the DASH south property to ITP and the DDA could proceed on the art museum project, which would involve the transfer of the Wurzburg block properties to the art museum.

City Manager Kurt Kimball said terms and conditions of the proposed development agreement with the DDA, put together by city staff and museum representatives, were designed to protect the city, guarantee the project is completed, and assure that the art museum remains open to the public and consistent with the DDA’s mission to promote economic growth and development downtown.

Among the terms proposed are: 

  • That the Grand Rapids Art Museum acquire three private parcels on Monroe Center at its own cost.

  • That the art museum be responsible for all costs related to construction and development of the new facility.

  • That the art museum work with the city and DDA to restore at the site the 135 public parking spaces the project will displace.

  • That construction begin by April 1, 2004, and be substantially completed by the end of 2005, or the DDA is free of obligation for the development. 

  • That the development have substantial ground level open retail space along Monroe Center and Ottawa Avenue.

  • That the façade of the Mutual Home building be preserved and that the museum provide rent-free space in the building for ice-skate warming and vending areas.

  •  That the art museum pay an amount equal to that of the annual DDA assessment on the property whether or not the development is subject to assessment.

  • That the art museum work with the city to find a new tenant for its current facility.

Second Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak, the lone dissenter, questioned whether the city would be getting an equal valued property in the exchange and also whether the already congested downtown area with limited parking was actually the right location. He suggested the Commission was getting a little ahead of itself and should look at other location alternatives. 

“That Wurzburg lot is probably the most valuable piece of property the city has in its possession and could be ripe for other development other than a governmental piece of property,” he said.

Two commissioners pointed out that the lot was indeed valuable but has sat vacant for years.

“Developers haven’t been breaking down any doors to get it,” said Second Ward Commissioner Rick Tormula. 

He added that the project would likely garner wide support if art museum officials get out in the community and sell the idea of a new art museum and the art education opportunities it would offer students to make up for cutbacks in public school system art programs. 

The art education component was one of several reasons First Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt supported the motion as well. Second Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut added that a new art museum would represent a legacy for future generations.

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