Bantam Capital To Renovate Building

March 12, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The project’s concept, secured financing and prior renovation experience were the reasons why city commissioners gave Bantam Capital Investments LLC a six-month option last week to buy a vacant, three-story building at 101 S. Division Ave.

The city’s Economic Vitality Team recommended the proposal from Bantam Capital over two others and commissioners gave the development group, headed by local architect Ted Lott, a unanimous nod.

“They have very good experience with a project like this. They also have a lead on a tenant, a restaurant for the first floor,” said City Economic Development Director Susan Shannon of Bantam Capital. “They also have a letter of credit from Fifth Third Bank.”

Second Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut, a member of the vitality team, added that the project fits the city’s master plan.

Bantam Capital plans to invest up to $4.5 million to renovate a building the city took over more than three years ago through a demolition-by-neglect lawsuit. The city spent $157,000 to stabilize the 60,000-square-foot structure, known as the Watson & Heald Building, and even tried to auction it off several times. The structure is 119 years old.

Bantam Capital agreed to the city’s asking price of $165,000 for the building, and will pay the city $5,000 for the 180-day option. The option payment will be credited to the purchase price when the deal closes.

“The biggest issue for us is we have the financing and we believe we have a commercial tenant,” said Lott, a partner with Greg Metz in Lott3-Metz Architecture.

Lott said his group plans to renovate 101 S. Division in a fashion similar to what they did with 71 S. Division, the Donovan Building that sits across Oakes Street from the Watson & Heald. Commercial space went on the ground floor and market-rate apartments were built on the upper two levels there.

McGraw Construction directed the Donovan renovation and ICON Properties offered the space, which was fully leased before the work was finished and was a contributing factor as to why Bantam Capital was awarded the option.

Daniel Durr, of ICON, told commissioners last week that the apartments in the Donovan were being rented for $650 to $1,300 per month and that Bantam Capital would offer similar rents for the 17 to 20 apartments that will be built in the Watson & Heald.

As for parking, which is somewhat scarcer in the Heartside Business District since the City Centre ramp closed, Lott said they would work that issue out.

“I’ve never seen any project succeed or fail because you can park or not. The parking in this project will be similar to the Donovan. We will be able to do some in the basement and provide for some of our parking needs there. We’ll probably have to secure some other spaces from some other sources — independent or the city, for example,” said Lott.

“But to me, it just seems like a problem we need to address. Is it a deal breaker? Not in our minds. It’s just another development problem we have to solve,” he added.

Metz, Durr and others have joined Lott in Bantam Capital.

In turn, Bantam Capital has informally joined Dwelling Place in revitalizing that stretch of South Division. The Watson & Heald is across the street from The Avenue for the Arts project, a renovation of four vacant buildings at 104, 120, 122 and 126 S. Division.

Dwelling Place CEO Dennis Sturtevant said his group is rehabbing those structures to provide artists with loft-style apartments and studio space.

“We’re certainly aware of what Denny is proposing, and none of these decisions are made in a vacuum,” said Lott. “However, we would be doing this project if Denny wasn’t doing his.”    

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