Cornerstone Still Designs Downtown

November 4, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — One of the city’s most active and honored architectural firms is busy redesigning two notable and venerable downtown office buildings.

Cornerstone Architects, at 25 Ionia Ave. SW, is drawing up the renovation plans for the People’s Building and a build-out scheme for the move by Standard Federal Bank into the Trust Building.

The People’s Building is a 12-story office structure with a long history at 60 Monroe Center.

City commissioners recently admitted the People’s into the new Monroe Center Renaissance Zone, a move that gives the Renucci Family Trust a 15-year break from most local and state taxes so the firm can renovate the stately building into housing units, office space and retail.

Cornerstone President and principal Tom Nemitz told the Business Journal last week that the top six floors of the People’s Building will be renovated into market-rate condominiums or apartments. He added that floors two through six will be revived as new office space, while the ground floor and the basement will be done for retail and service shops.

“The basement in this building is gorgeous. It has a huge vault in the bottom of it that is pretty interesting,” said Nemitz.

“I think the most interesting thing is the conversion of the upper floors, which were always office, to residential. The views are just amazing from the upper levels. So I think as a market-rate residential, apartment-condominium, depending on how they structure it, will be very neat.”

Nemitz said that extending the utility infrastructure for residential living and meeting current building codes are the biggest challenges he faces in the conversion project.

“The other floors as office will pretty much fall into place as they are. But the separation between office and residential is always a concern,” he said.

“The building is in great shape. It’s been very well maintained and that is a plus.”

Because of the Ren Zone designation, residents that live in the building won’t have to pay city and state income taxes, while businesses that locate there will be exempt from personal property taxes and the Single Business Tax for most of the zone’s 15-year stretch.

But the residents and companies will have to pay an increasing portion of those taxes during the zone’s final three years.

A general contractor hasn’t been selected yet for the renovation work.

As for the Trust Building, Nemitz said Standard Federal will fill three floors of the structure at 40 Pearl St. NW with offices and install a branch bank on the ground floor.

Standard Federal will move its corporate offices from the former Michigan National Bank Building at 77 Monroe Center to the fifth, sixth and seventh floors of the Trust. The bank’s retail outlet will move there from 125 Ottawa Ave. NW.

“We’ll be doing the complete renovation and gutting of those floors for all the Standard Federal departments,” said Nemitz. “We’re anticipating that they are going to be starting to move in around the first of the year. It’s a pretty fast track.”

A contractor hasn’t been selected yet for the Trust Building build-out either. But Nemitz said a request for qualifications would be going out soon.

Cornerstone Architects has been designing renovations and new construction projects since 1989.

The firm has an office in Traverse City, which is headed by Vice-President and principal John Dancer.

Nemitz said Cornerstone is also working on a couple of projects for Interlochen Center for the Arts.

His firm is designing the creative writing building on the 1,200-acre campus in northern Michigan and drawing the expansion plan for the performance theater.

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