Downtown Building To Be Revived

September 6, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Another downtown building may be renovated soon.

SD71 LLC has its sights set on restoring 71 S. Division Ave., a 91-year-old structure on the southeast corner of Division and Oakes.

The building was once home to a number of well-known businesses, but has only one tenant today — Vertigo Music.

The developers, however, plan to fill two more storefronts on the ground floor, carve out a dozen apartments on the second and third floors, and provide secured parking for tenants in the basement. The four levels offer 27,200 square feet of total space.

“It’s a big-deal project for me and my partners, and, we believe, for the city,” said Ted Lott of SD71 and Lott 3 Architecture at 25 Ionia SW.

“We already have one storefront, on the Division side, rented out to Vertigo Music. The second storefront is sitting there waiting for a redo. We’re going to get that one straight and attempt to lease it, as well.”

Lott plans to relocate his urban design business to the commercial space on Oakes Street, while the remainder of the building will be converted into apartments.

City commissioners will hold a public hearing in two weeks on whether or not to add the building to its Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Doing so would make SD71 eligible to receive a 10 percent tax credit from the state on its estimated $1.5 million investment in the project.

Rick Chapla, a redevelopment specialist with The Right Place Program and a member of the authority, told the Business Journal that the building qualifies for the tax credit under the state’s Core Communities program. He said renovating the structure, which is considered obsolete, advances a public purpose and makes it deserving of the tax support.

The partners bought the building in 1997, and Lott said they have been working on rehabilitating the structure for more than two years.

“It’s been a struggle to put a financing package together, to glean whatever assistance the city and the federal government offers,” said Lott.

“But we’re really close to seeing some solid light at the end of the tunnel, at this point. The brownfield redevelopment public hearing is a big step for us. That tax credit is very important to us having a successful project,” he said. “Additionally, we’re very close to finalizing our financing, as well.”

Lott hopes to have the financing for the project wrapped up within the next 60 days.

According to Past Perfect Inc., a Grand Rapids firm that consults developers on historic renovation projects, 71 S. Division was built in 1911 by the Donovan Building Co. and was designed by Thomas Benjamin & Son Architects.

The Donovan & Company Clothing Co., the Toledo Computing Scale Co., the Grand Rapids News Co. and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America were its first occupants.

The Otis Elevator Co., the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), Bliss Manufacturing, Meyer’s 10 Cent Stores and the Salvation Army were other notable tenants. Wepman’s bridal clothing, men’s clothing and formal wear businesses were located there for nearly 35 years until 1995, when the tuxedo rental shop and a dry cleaner closed.

The building was vacant until Vertigo Music moved into it in 1998. The store will remain open for business during the renovation project.

The dozen apartments planned for the building will be a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units. Tenants will have a shot at a nice cold-weather amenity, as they will be able to park in the basement and take an elevator to their apartment.

“We are fortunate that the basement walks out into the alley. What we are going to be able to do is use the basement essentially for tenant parking. We won’t have enough parking for every occupant of the building. But we will have a certain amount of parking to offer if people are interested, and we suspect they will be.

“It’s a neat amenity and a completely unique amenity for that neighborhood. Our hope is to be able to provide a unique product, certainly for that neighborhood and hopefully for downtown, so when somebody considers living there, there will be a few little things that may make it a better idea than living in some other places.”

It shouldn’t take too long for SD71 to renovate the building, as they’ve already done a lot of the initial work.

“The good news is a lot of the nasty, scary, demo work has been done, and was done in the first phase of the project. So really it’s a wide-open shell right now, in really, really good shape,” said Lott.

“We’re hoping for a four-month turnaround on it,” he added. “Obviously, once we dig in it is imperative for us to turn around the renovation as quickly as we can. So that is our hope at this point.”           

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