Downtown Is Getting Some Facelifts

April 23, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Downtown Development Authority recently handed out more than $368,000 in grants for work on eight buildings in the district.

Four were building reuse grants that help owners with façade improvements, barrier-free access and fire safety equipment. Those totaled $250,000.

Grants were also awarded to fill areaways adjacent to four buildings that have frontage on Commerce Avenue SW; a street the DDA is also upgrading this year between Fulton and Cherry. An areaway is the space in front of a structure underneath the sidewalk. Those grants totaled $118,300.

DDA members awarded their largest building reuse grant, worth $100,000, to Terra Firma Development. The firm is renovating the highly visible Campau Square Building at 180-182 Monroe Ave. NW into loft office space on the top two floors of 180 and top three levels of 182.

The structure is actually two buildings that were joined together in 1978. Normally, the DDA limits building reuse grants to $50,000. But because Campau Square is two structures and because it sits on the prominent corner at Monroe and Pearl, board members, in effect, awarded the project two grants of $50,000 each.

Terra Firma principal Eric Wynsma told the Business Journal that he would use the money for façade work.

“We’re dismantling everything that was done to that building in the 1970s and our new brick façade alone is going to cost about $300,000, and we’re going to spend another $80,000 on windows. So, obviously, the $100,000 is well spent already,” said Wynsma.

“We’ll be north of $1 million for what we’re putting into this thing. So the city doing that is a really cool thing, because that encourages people like us to buy these old buildings and make them look better,” he added.

Old building is right. Campau Square is thought to be the oldest commercial building in the city, having opened its doors in 1853. And its location is prime, near the convention center, the upcoming art museum and a proposed hotel just two blocks west.

“This will have a tremendous visual effect on that corner,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler of the project.

The DDA gave First Shot LLC, which is renovating the former home of Fox Jewelers at 83-85 Monroe Center, a $50,000 building reuse grant.

“The sprinkler system alone is probably more than that. That rehab project is really an expensive undertaking,” said Deborah Shurlow, principal in First Shot and a broker with Grubb & Ellis/Paramount.

“It can go either toward the façade front, it can go to the sprinkler system — any number of things,” she added. “It’s more than spent and it’s also greatly appreciated. Every bit helps, that’s for sure.”

Shurlow is investing just south of $1 million in the project and plans to transform the front of the building into a single storefront for a retailer or restaurant. Now, the structure has a vestibule and the front is set up with display windows down the center and on both sides. Shurlow wants to straighten the front and use the vestibule as the only entrance.

“So it will look like it did 50 or 60 years ago,” she said.

Although the building won’t look like a jewelry store when Shurlow is done with the work, she doesn’t want Fox Jewelers to fade from downtown’s memory. Shurlow said Tom Fox, who owned the structure for decades, has told her he likes the blueprint she has for the building and she hopes to keep the Fox Jewelers sign up after the work is done.

“I think it’s sharp. It’s a part of downtown history. However, if it proves to be too costly or if I’m lucky enough to get a national retailer or restaurant or somebody on that main floor that actually wants that signage for their own store, then I’ll probably have to give the idea up,” she said.

Shurlow plans to build apartments on floors two through four and condos on the fifth level. She is also seeking a brownfield designation for the building and feels confident that her project would qualify for one.

Buildings at 5 Lyon St. NW and 45 S. Division Ave. were also awarded $50,000 reuse grants by the DDA. The building on Lyon, also known as the Commerce Building, is being renovated for student housing on the top two floors, while the South Division structure is being upgraded for a new restaurant.

Board members gave areaway program grants to the Lennox Room at 72 Monroe Center, Heartside Manor at 35 Oakes St. SW, the Leonard Building at 35 W. Fulton St., and to 62 Commerce Ave. SW.

The DDA has nearly $600,000 in its building reuse account and $482,000 in its areaway program account for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.           

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