Waterfront Purchase Is Nearing

February 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County moved a step closer to buying riverfront property along Monroe Avenue last week when members of the Finance and Physical Resources Committee unanimously approved the purchase agreement.

“It is time to pick this up,” said Commissioner Fritz Wahfield. “It’s not an expense, it’s an investment.”

Seven of the eight commissioners with seats on the committee were present at last week’s meeting. The full Board of Commissioners will make the final decision this week on whether to buy the land.

The property is actually three, not two, parcels on Monroe Avenue, just to the north of the I-196 overpass and just to the south of Trowbridge Avenue on the east bank of the Grand River. All three are vacant and together the parcels amount to 1.28 acres.

The property carries a price tag of $2.425 million.

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio told committee members that the county needs the property for its future. Wahfield added that the county’s Building Task Force looked at a number of downtown sites for a potential future location for the county, and the group decided the Monroe Avenue site was the best fit for the county’s needs.

Wahfield served on the task force.

Delabbio said parking could be an immediate use for the land, which sits across Monroe Avenue from a surface lot the county owns. But he added the site was large enough to hold a new administration building, a construction project he indicated the county wouldn’t likely undertake for another eight to 10 years.

According to Grubb & Ellis/Paramount, the commercial real estate firm that represented the county, the asking price for the land is $43 a square foot. The broker said other parcels in the North Monroe Business District have sold from $20 to $37 per square foot over the past five years.

But those transactions took place before the opening of DeVos Place, the city’s new convention center roughly two blocks south of the parcels, and didn’t have river frontage. Building renovations along Monroe Avenue also have raised property values in the district.

Grubb & Ellis/Paramount reported that the property is under contract for $2.425 million through March 25. The seller, listed as Frank Freund, signed the agreement on Dec. 26.

Freund is executive vice president, treasurer and CFO for American Physicians Capital Inc. of East Lansing. The firm is an insurance holding company that primarily writes medical professional liability and workers’ compensation policies through one of three subsidiaries.

S.J. Wisinski & Co. represented Freund in the negotiations.

The county will use funds from its capital improvements account to buy the property if commissioners ratify the agreement on Thursday. Kent has 90 days to cancel the deal after the county agrees to it. A baseline environmental assessment will be done on the land.

The property is selling for $2.35 million. But the broker’s commission and closing costs will raise the county’s tab to $2.425 million. The committee approved a resolution that lets the county spend up to $2.45 million on the transaction.

Commissioner Jack Boelema responded to a suggestion that if Kent buys the property, the county would be taking a prime piece of commercial real estate off the market. He remarked that it was important for the county to look ahead.

“A purchase like this is justified,” said Boelema.

The property has been on the market for years.  

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