City Hall Needs ADA Upgrades?

November 14, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Engineering Systems Inc. (ESI) of Aurora, Ill., and Disability Advocates of Kent County found that City Hall was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and both firms said the issue needed immediate attention.

Gallium Group LLC hired ESI and Disability Advocates to review city headquarters for ADA compatibility. The investment partners, who want to build a hotel on the City Hall site, also contracted with ESI for a structural analysis of the 34-year-old, 10-story building.

In the Gallium report given to city commissioners at the end of October, the consultants said City Hall lacked accessible restrooms, entries, stairs doors and a drop-off area; rescue assistance and signage; a visual alarm system; compliant controls and emergency systems in the elevators; and a grade-level entrance to the building from Monroe Avenue.

In all, the 19-page report cited 14 issues that they said required immediate attention and another nine that they felt needed to be remedied in the future.

ESI placed the cost for the immediate repairs at slightly over $700,000.

“These are must items, in our opinion,” said Daniel Wojnowski, a principal with ESI.

Wojnowski added that it would likely run just under $2 million to bring City Hall into perfect ADA compliance.

The city counters that the ADA law doesn’t apply to City Hall, across Monroe Avenue from the new convention center, because the building has “grandfather” status with respect to it. City Hall opened in 1969, while the disabilities act became law 21 years later in 1990.

As for the structural condition of the building, ESI found corrosion from water damage in the stairwells and the Government Center parking ramp, a leaky roof, and cracks to the floors and ceiling on the lower level.

The consultant said the façade was showing signs of structural deterioration on the south side and cracks on the east side, while part of the surface on the north side has eroded.

Wojnowski told commissioners that up to 30 percent of the exterior panels on the north side should be replaced. That work, he said, would cost $470,000, and the replacement panels wouldn’t exactly match the rest of the façade.

He also said the building’s glass enclosures need to be replaced and the stairs repaired within 10 years. New plumbing and HVAC systems are also needed.

In all, ESI pegged the cost of immediate ADA upgrades, structural repairs and new systems at $3.4 million. But Wojnowski said the city could spend an additional $3.9 million on other construction work to City Hall, bringing the total tab to $7.3 million.

Gallium is a partnership between Blue Bridge Ventures of Grand Rapids and Hines Interests LP of Houston. They want to build a 400-room hotel on Calder Plaza, but to do that Gallium has to move the city to a new location without it costing taxpayers more than the city spends now and will spend on City Hall in the future — a requirement the partners said they have met.

“We’re confident that this is not voodoo economics. Nor is it too good to be true,” said Bob DeJong, a partner at Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone who represented Gallium at a luncheon meeting with commissioners late last month.

Also at that meeting was Ted Mandigo of TR Mandigo & Co., a noted hotel consultant that Gallium brought in from Elmhurst, Ill. Mandigo said he reviewed the feasibility study for a new downtown hotel done by HVS International and the financing plan Gallium has proposed. He indicated that the project was feasible and that Gallium has the funds to build the hotel and move the city.

Mandigo added that putting a hotel on Calder Plaza, across from DeVos Place, would help draw business to the city’s new $212 million convention facility.

“Convention planners want to minimize the time conventioneers are away from the convention,” he said.

In addition, Mandigo said the value of the underground parking ramp was worth from $6.5 million to $9.3 million. He felt a good price for it would be $7.9 million, what he called a midpoint of that range. Mandigo said he based his evaluation on the capitalization rate and replacement costs for the building.

Gallium has offered the city $9 million for the ramp.

But in June the city reported that offer wasn’t high enough. The city said it expects revenues from the ramp to top $98 million over 30 years, with net revenues reaching $61 million over that period. For FY03, which ended on June 30, operating revenue from the ramp was projected to reach $800,000.

City commissioners tabled a vote for 30 days on extending for another six months the one-year purchase option Gallium had on City Hall, the plaza and the ramp. The option expired on Oct. 29. Commissioners tabled their vote on Oct. 28, meaning that they should take the matter up again on Nov. 25.   

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