Raw Metals Renovation

November 23, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — A smidgen of New York style may make its way to the Monroe North Business District, if the Irish Twins Group LLC can make its way through the brownfield and tax abatement processes.

The Irish Twins, Jack and Rob Buchanan, want to renovate the former Imperial Metals plant at 801-803 Ionia Ave. NW into a mini-replica of the massive Chelsea Market in the West Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The market is nine stories tall at its entrance, stretches for about four standard-sized city blocks, and has an 800-foot-long concourse. It serves as a one-stop food shop, with about 20 culinary tenants on the first floor and offices on the other levels.

The Buchanan brothers aren't planning to fill Imperial Metals with food sellers. Nor are they going to even vaguely try to duplicate the New York market's size at the site on Ionia Avenue between Mason and Newberry streets.

What they are planning to do, though, is to mix Chelsea's raw industrial interior design with a few new touches of their own at the Metals building.

"We're copying a project we saw in New York called Chelsea Market — it's the coolest loft project we've ever seen. We've never seen anything like that and we're taking some ideas from there to make our project very unique," said Jack Buchanan, founder and CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures LLC. His brother Rob is an attorney with Buchanan and Beckering.

"It almost looked like they went out of their way to make it feel more raw. Instead of hiding old industrial parts and machinery or taking those out, they backlit and highlighted them. Throughout the whole mart is some really neat sculptures and art. It's the most unusual building I've ever seen."

Imperial Metals is actually a series of buildings spliced together over the years, totaling about 50,000 square feet of space. The Buchanans plan to demolish at least one small structure — maybe two — renovate 30,000 square feet in the main building, and add 31,000 new square feet of space to the site.

The loft development would offer more than 60,000 square feet of space when finished, with a partially open, below-ground parking deck facing Ottawa Avenue, and a nearby surface lot on Ionia. The development will have an outdoor greenspace for tenants and a plaza. The project is expected to cost $9.7 million to build.

Founders Brewing Co. is interested in relocating from the Brass Works Building at 648 Monroe Ave. NW to the northern half of Metals. The firm's brewing facility and taproom would be built in 15,000 of the renovated square feet. Irish Twins hopes to lease the remaining 45,000 square feet to office tenants.

"We haven't come out with our plans yet, but we have had some inquiries as to what we're doing there. The most calls that we have gotten have been from the office market," said Buchanan.

City commissioners set Dec. 13 as the date for both the brownfield and tax abatement public hearings. The city's Brownfield Authority has added the project to its list of accepted projects. If commissioners agree, Irish Twins would get reimbursed $923,220 for the cost of demolition and the safe removal of contaminated soil from the site.

The developer also is asking for a $900,000 credit on the Single Business Tax.

Irish Twins would also save $338,981 in property-tax payments over a dozen years if it were approved for a tax abatement that covers the renovation portion of the project. The city's share of the abatement would be $85,000.

City Economic Development Director Susan Shannon said the Metals incentive package would total $2.16 million. The state also has to sign off on the brownfield designation and tax abatement.    

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