DDA Back In Downtown Buildings

May 16, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Downtown Development Authority is back in the business of helping building owners make improvements.

DDA members last week decided to support, although not unanimously, a trio of downtown renovation projects with three separate $50,000 grants.

The $150,000 in awards from the Building Reuse Incentive Program was the first the panel has made in a while, as few applications have come to the board since the economy nose-dived three years ago.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said there was plenty of money available in the fund, cash that the board has dedicated to assist projects that revive older buildings in the agency’s district.

DDA Chairman Verne Barry noted over the past few years the board has awarded $2 million to building owners from various assistance funds that have upgraded facades, filled areaways and made other improvements. Those awards, he said, helped give rise to $30 million worth of development downtown.

“It has had a good ripple effect,” said Barry.

The three locations to receive the DDA awards are:

  • 100 Ionia Ave. SW: A single-story building that will be renovated for an Irish pub.

  • 38 Oakes St. SW: A five-story building that will be renovated for the new Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

  • 71 South Division Ave.: A three-story building that will be renovated for retail and housing.

The South Division address is also known as the Donovan Building, built in 1911 by the Donovan Building Co. The structure has a lengthy history of hosting notable tenants that include the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., the Otis Elevator Co. and the Grand Rapids News Co.

Today, McGraw Construction, Ashlar LLC and Lott 3 Architecture are renovating the 27,000-square-foot building at the corner of Division and Oakes. The partners, known as SD71 LLC, are investing about $1.5 million in the project, which will hopefully put retail on the ground floor and a dozen apartments on the two upper levels.

“It’s a big-deal project for me and my partners, and, we believe, for the city,” said Ted Lott, an urban designer and principal of Lott 3 Architecture.

“We already have one storefront, on the Division side, rented out to Vertigo Music.”

The renovation project, which is being done to historic standards to gain tax credits, will offer another large storefront space on Oakes Street.

The partners bought the building six years ago and began renovating it about three years ago. Vertigo Music has been leasing space there since 1998 and will stay open for business during reconstruction. The Donovan is situated in the Heartside Historic District.

Rockford Construction will renovate 100 Ionia and 38 Oakes. Both are part of the Cherry Street Landing project that the firm started four years ago with SIBSCO and is now continuing with the DeVos family. Rockford COO Kurt Hassberger said work on both should get underway this summer.

All but one DDA member voted to award the grants last week. Paul Mayhue, a Kent County commissioner, disagreed with the decision. He felt the developers probably didn’t need the financial assistance.

“I think that some of these people can do this on their own,” he said.

But Mayor John Logie noted that when the DDA created the funding program the board deliberately refused to add a means test to the application, meaning that even the richest of the rich could receive funds if a project met the guidelines. Fowler told board members that all three met the required criteria set by the DDA when it began the program five years ago.           

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