Cherry Street Cleared For Landing

March 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — What do the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the Black Rose Irish Pub, the office building at 120 Ionia Ave. SE, EQ3 Furniture, the United Way headquarters, the home of Design Plus, the Western Michigan University Graduate Center, the Bank of Holland, the proposed Tall House development and the new Heartside parking ramp have in common?

All those projects mark the completion of the original plan for the Cherry Street Landing project, a development that Rockford Construction Co. first unveiled a decade ago.

“This is a very exciting day for us,” said Rockford COO Kurt Hassberger. “Today we’re talking about the last piece of Cherry Street Landing.”

That last piece is the remaining portion of the Area 3 parking lot along Ionia Avenue, just east of Van Andel Arena and just north of The Bank of Holland building.

Tall House Enterprises is in the process of purchasing the property from the Downtown Development Authority for $130,000 for the Tall House at 45 Ionia, a $27 million building project that will rise nine stories and contain 70 condominiums, 15,000 square feet of retail space and 25,000 square feet for offices.

“We’ll have first-floor retail and office space on the second level,” said Mary Witte, a partner with George Haworth in Tall House Enterprises.

The Downtown Development Authority agreed to the transaction last week, which still needs approval from the city commission. The property transfer is actually a three-way deal between the DDA, CSL West Associates LLC and Tall House. CSL West owned the site but left the title with the DDA so the city could continue to operate the parking lot.

The agreement calls for Tall House to begin construction on the 200,000-square-foot development by the end of next year or face a $100,000 penalty, a provision that DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said was similar to the one the city included in its contract with Two West Fulton for that $24 million project at Fulton and Division.

“They still would be bound by the development agreement,” said DDA counsel Dick Wendt, if Tall House failed to begin construction by the imposed deadline.

Haworth told the DDA they have their financing in place and they would go ahead with the project even though the Michigan Economic Development Corp. denied their request for brownfield status and the tax break that accompanies the designation.

“Without a brownfield tax incentive, it makes it more difficult,” said Haworth of funding the project. “We are now trying to understand why (the project was denied).”

Rockford began the six-block Cherry Street Landing project with SIBSCO LLC, a real estate firm owned by the Peter Sechhia family, after the arena opened in 1996. A few years ago, RDV Corp. became Rockford’s partner and the two formed CSL West. The Richard DeVos family owns RDV Corp.

“We’ve pretty much redeveloped the six blocks there,” said Hassberger.

But Hassberger added that CSL West hasn’t entirely vacated the landing strip yet. The firm owns a former hotel there and sees that building as a “natural” to be renovated into housing. The partners also see the Thomas M. Cooley Law School as a natural market for that housing project.

“We haven’t given up on the building,” said Hassberger of the former Heartside Manor. “We still own it.”    

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