Blue Bridge Buys Old St Nicks

May 7, 2004
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EAST GRAND RAPIDS — Blue Bridge Ventures recently closed on a prime piece of very scarce real estate.

The Grand Rapids commercial broker and development company picked up five acres of residential property in East Grand Rapids in late March.

The land on Boston Street SE, just east of Metropolitan Hospital and west of Breton Road, is the only unused residential property currently available in the city.

“There is no other land available,” said Michael Systsma, a partner at Blue Bridge.

“We’re going to enhance it somehow and then sell it,” said Jack Buchanan, CEO at Blue Bridge, of the property.

Most of the land is unoccupied.

The sole building on the entire site is best known as the former home of the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church. The church moved to East Paris Avenue a few years ago and sold the property to Bibleway Outreach Ministries.

But Bibleway defaulted on the purchase agreement, meaning the deed reverted back to St. Nicholas.

Church officials then sold the two-story, 11,000-square-foot building, land, and a parking lot with 125 spaces to Blue Bridge. Price and terms of the deal were not revealed.

Systsma told the Business Journal that Blue Bridge sees at least three uses for the parcel. One, of course, is a residential development. The property is large enough for a homebuilder to put multiple single-family houses on the five acres, an opening that doesn’t come along very often in East Grand Rapids.

“Vacant land there is not available and is something that a lot of people would like to take advantage of,” he said.

“We’ve had several builders approach us who are interested in buying the lots.”

But at the same time, the neighborhood association has told Systsma that it would like to see the property developed into a community and recreation center.

They felt the church could be converted into meeting rooms and classrooms. A soccer field, basketball courts, and other recreational items would be developed on the land behind the church.

“That is something that the city should own. We’d be willing to develop it for them and give them a turnkey,” said Systsma.

Blue Bridge has already had a few preliminary discussions with city officials. Systsma said the city was trying to determine its recreational needs and where funds for the center would come from. 

A third option is to sell the property to a church.

“We’re looking at every option we can,” said Systsma.

If a church doesn’t purchase the property, Blue Bridge will either sell or donate the pews, doors, kitchen equipment and other interior items.

One possibility the firm is considering is to sell the kitchen equipment to a restaurant and give the remaining items to the Interfaith Hospitality Network for distribution to needy churches.

According to county records, Bibleway bought the property in 2001 for $810,000. Prior to the sale, the taxable value of the site was listed at $237,800.

Green space exists in front of and behind the church. The land runs close to 700 feet deep and is more than 300 feet wide.

“We’re open to what ever makes the most sense,” said Systsma, who lives in East Grand Rapids and who joined Blue Bridge last fall.

“We want to do what’s right for the city. Once you make a decision you can’t go back. There aren’t any other five-acre parcels available there.”

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