A Sweet Sixteen As In Millions

April 11, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — It just may be a coincidence, but $16 million seems to be a magic figure.

The city is trying to avoid cutting $16 million from its upcoming fiscal-year budget because having to do that could result in fewer firefighters and police officers serving the city on July 1. At the same time, property for a new City Hall and parking garage in the Heartside District lists for $16 million.

If the city chooses those parcels, one on Division Avenue and three on Fulton Street, developers of a proposed hotel for Calder Plaza would be billed for that tab. Then the city would be able to plug its budget hole and not lose any police or fire personnel.

And according to the Gallium Group LLC, the hotel’s developer, paying that tab is fine with them as long as it fits within the $95 million budget they have set for the project.

“If we can’t make the numbers work, then that site might not work. If we can make the numbers work, then we don’t care,” said Lisa Young, a spokesperson for Gallium.

As for the sites, Young said the parcels were on a short list of potential locations for a new City Hall complex

“It’s one of the sites that already have been considered anyway. It is on the ‘A’ list,” said Young.

Those properties include the former Junior Achievement building at 12 S. Division Ave., the old White & White Pharmacy at 98 E. Fulton St., and two nearby parking lots.

The initial list of potential City Hall locations had 30 sites on it last fall after the city gave Gallium an exclusive one-year option to buy Calder Plaza and its underground parking ramp in October.

Since then, the list has been cut based on the needs the city has for a new headquarters, such as access to high-speed fiber optic lines. Properties without such amenities have been eliminated.

On the same day that City Manager Kurt Kimball told commissioners the city needed $16 million to close the budget gap, commercial realtor Robert Tol told commissioners that the properties listed for $16 million.

Mayor John Logie, who doesn’t believe that Gallium can make the numbers work for the city, reportedly invited Tol to address the city commission that day.

Blue Bridge Ventures of Grand Rapids and Houston’s Hines Interests LP, the firms that make up the Gallium Group, want to build a 24-story, 400-room convention hotel on Calder Plaza, which is across Monroe Avenue from the new DeVos Place convention center that is under construction.

But to put the hotel up, Gallium first has to move both the city and the county from their current plaza locations to new sites at no cost to taxpayers.

At last report, Kent County was interested in relocating to the former Probate Court site on Ottawa Avenue. Recent talks with county officials, however, haven’t taken place because the city owns most of the plaza, and Gallium has to reach an agreement with the city before it can make an offer to the county.

If a deal is struck, Gallium plans to keep the plaza open to the public and redesign it around Alexander Calder’s sculpture called La Grande Vittesse. 

“Our intention is to keep Calder Plaza as Calder Plaza. It’s going to be a public space,” said Young. “People are afraid that it is going to go away and it won’t.”

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