Grand Rapids Eyes Ramp Proposals

March 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — A review of the five projects that were submitted last week for the former City Centre parking ramp site is expected to get underway within two weeks.

The review committee will consist of two city commissioners, a parking commissioner, a member of the Downtown Development Authority, and at least two stakeholders from the Heartside Business District, which is home to the 37,000-square-foot parcel at the corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue.

Parking Commission Chairman Jack Hoffman will serve on the committee. Hoffman chaired the steering committee that was formed late last summer to decide what to do with the property. Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema will also be on the panel.

DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn also is likely to represent that board on the committee. Economic Development Director Susan Shannon will chair the panel.

"We are meeting with our attorney to do a background check on the financials that they have given us so we can give the committee some background on them. Then the committee will have a discussion on who they want to bring in for interviews. Hopefully, they can do that in one meeting," said Shannon.

"We're working closely with our legal counsel to make sure there are no surprises," said Hoffman.

Shannon, Ritsema and DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler have done most of the legwork for the city to get the sale to where it is today. The city put the corner section of the block on the block in December with an asking price of $1.95 million, the appraised value of the site. City officials, though, made it clear that price wasn't their only consideration.

They said public parking had to be included, as all proposals did. They also said a mixed-use project with an arts-and-entertainment-type of retail, such as a bookstore or jazz club, would have a leg up on those that didn't.

And one project has both, along with a bit more. RSC & Associates of Chicago has a two-story bookstore, a jazz club and a billiard parlor in an entertainment complex that would sit next to an 11-story condominium tower. Second Story Properties would market the $24.7 million development.

Rockford Cos. and Design Plus have submitted One Fulton Plaza for the site. The $12 million project has retail and a five-story condominium building.

Division & Fulton LLC offered a $29 million project called City Center Place, a development of offices, condos and retail.

Real estate developer Robert Tol proposed a project with a grocery store, apartments, condos and office space for the site, but only after using the property for parking and as a staging area for his Park Place project he plans to build across the street.

James Azzar proposed a parking ramp for the site to support two nearby buildings he owns.

"The proposals are pretty exciting," said Fowler.

Shannon said the five bids ranged from $1.18 million to $2.05 million. Proceeds from the sale will go to Parking Services, which will use the money to replace some of the parking spaces Heartside lost when the ramp was razed last fall.

Shannon hopes to have the committee start meeting with the developers around April 11. An evaluation will follow each face-to-face discussion, and then the committee will make a recommendation to the Parking Commission and the City Commission.

"What we will recommend is that we enter into negotiations," she said. "We will require a development agreement."

"We're likely to develop a short list for presentations," said Ritsema.

The city spent about $20,000 to market the property, a campaign that included direct mailings and placing ads in business publications in Detroit and Chicago.

City commissioners have to approve the sale and the Historic Preservation Commission has to approve the design because the property is located in the Heartside Historic District. The city will give the chosen developer 150 days to do a due diligence on the site.

Shannon said she hopes to have the committee's work wrapped up in May with city commissioners making their decision in June.

"We're very interested in entertainment and retail to create a presence on the street that would link Division to the Van Andel Arena," she said. "So we can have that pedestrian walkway that will make people feel comfortable downtown."    

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