City Picks RSC For Ramp Site

May 17, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Second Story Properties can start accepting deposits on 74 new condominiums planned for the former City Centre parking ramp site at the downtown corner of Division and Fulton.

City staffers can also begin negotiations with RSC Associates of Chicago on a purchase agreement for the 37,000-square-foot parcel that carries the prestigious address of

1 Division Ave.

City commissioners unanimously agreed today to enter into talks with the intent of selling the property to RSC Associates, which has offered $2 million for the parcel that was recently appraised at $1.95 million.

RSC Associates proposes to invest $24 million into its building that will have 74 condos, a bookstore, a jazz club, a café and parking for 194 cars with 83 of those spaces designated for public use. Second Story is a principal in the project, as are the Rise Group and Built Form.

Second Story President Sam Cummings said his firm would begin marketing the condos soon. The number of condos that are pre-sold will determine the type of financing plan that RSC Associates will get for the project.

Prior to giving city Economic Development Director Susan Shannon, Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema, Downtown Development Executive Director Jay Fowler and others the OK to enter into talks with RSC Associates, commissioners wanted to know whether the downtown residential market was reaching a saturation point with 800 to 1,200 units on the drawing board.

Shannon told commissioners that it would be three more years before the city would know how many of these units would actually be built, and Mayor George Heartwell said a recent downtown housing study suggested the market could support the RSC Associates condos.

“The market study that we had done for downtown would suggest that we can absorb it,” said Heartwell, a former residential broker.

Ritsema said the soon-to-be revealed results from an upcoming parking and transit study for the Heartside Business District, where RSC Associates will locate its project, calls for a minimum of 100 new parking spaces. Ritsema told commissioners that she would try to gain a few more public spaces than the 83 that RSC offered when negotiations get underway.

“A shift from private to public might shortchange them,” said Heartwell of the spaces.

Shannon told commissioners that a project submitted by Fulton & Division LLC would have meant more tax revenue for the city than offered by the RSC Associates proposal, which a selection committee ranked as the project that best met the city’s goals for the site.

But she added that Fulton & Division wasn’t selected by the committee because it didn’t have as much experience in development, offered office space as part of its proposal with a 16 percent downtown vacancy rate, and only bid $1.18 million for the property.

Shannon said that if the city can’t reach an agreement with RSC Associates or if the firm can’t get its financing in place, they would begin negotiations with Rockford Construction and Design Plus, which submitted a proposal that has retail space and 40 condos and was rated a close second by the selection committee.

“The gap between one and two was very close,” said Richard Craig, an architect that served on the committee. “I think everybody felt comfortable with both projects, but RSC had more first place votes.”

Shannon said she hoped to have a purchase agreement for commissioners to review by the end of summer and that RSC Associates would use the next few months to perform due diligence on the site and get its financing for the project in place.

“My only concerned was how the financing would work,” said 2nd Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut, “and you’re about to find that out.”    

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