City Developers California Bound

November 22, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Chances are good that Assistant City Manager Gregory Sundstrom and Blue Bridge Ventures President Jack Buchanan will fly together to Los Angeles to meet with noted high-rise architect Richard Keating on Dec. 6.

The purpose of that trip will be to give Keating the city’s needs for a new headquarters and to get his feedback on what can be incorporated into a design and what that building might look like.

City staff met with Buchanan again last Monday, but it was the first time a meeting was held at the Blue Bridge offices in the Brass Works Building on Monroe NW since the two sides began talking in July.

“The meeting was probably a little less stressful and a little bit more of a friendly format than what it has been,” said Buchanan. “It was the first time they came here as a group.”

Blue Bridge and Hines Interests LP have formed Gallium Group LLC with the intent to build a 24-story, 400-room convention hotel on Calder Plaza, which is across Monroe Avenue from the DeVos Place convention center and is home to both the city and county buildings.

The discussion held last week centered on the needs the city has for a new building in case it does move from its current location on the plaza.

“That is what we need in order to figure out what size building, what the components of that building are, and where it could go. The main thing was we sort of laid out a map and a timeline with them, as to how and when we do that,” said Buchanan.

“So they’re in the process of putting together the bells and whistles that they may want in that building,” he added. “We’ll see what we can do with that and come up with some sites on where they could go.”

Two possible downtown sites have been made public for a new City Hall: the former Steketee’s department store at 77 Monroe Center and the City Centre parking ramp property on the corner of Division Avenue and Fulton Street.

But Buchanan remarked that other sites also are being looked at. He said a choice would be made on what the property has to offer in terms of the city’s needs, whether it can hold the new building, and how accessible it would be to the public.

Buchanan said he hasn’t met with county staff recently, but hopes to do so soon. Al Vanderberg, assistant Kent County administrator and county point man in the project, has been busy with the controversial Purchase of Development Rights proposal that is before the Kent board.

To make the hotel a reality, the Gallium Group has to move the city and the county to new sites without raising any operational expenses above what each has in their buildings now. That figure, however, will also include future costs for remaining at the current locations, as both buildings are nearly 35 years old and will be in need of upgrades.

Buchanan said his team can reach zero, the magic number with the city. In one scenario, the developers would build the city a 100,000-square-foot structure and a 215-space parking garage on a 30-year land contract. Then Gallium would buy City Hall and the underground parking ramp and pay the city for 30 years of parking revenue from the ramp.

“In the analyses my team and I have conducted, we’ve reached zero and even see the city possibly coming out millions of dollars ahead. But in order to finalize the deal, we must determine the exact space needed by the city,” said Buchanan.

The next time the city and the developers will likely meet will be at a ticket counter in the Gerald R. Ford International Airport next week, and Sundstrom will likely have the city’s wish list for a new building in his briefcase.

“We have a tentative plan for myself and one of the guys from the staff to meet with the architect, probably out in California, on the 6th.In the meantime, what they’re doing is putting together the list of the things they’d like to have in a more productive City Hall,” said Buchanan.

“We’re on a pretty aggressive timeline right now. We’d like to get a lot of this done by the end of the year.”  

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