More Condos Coming

March 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners amended two development agreements last week that will allow two property transactions to add 300 condominiums to the downtown housing stock.

Approval for one of the developments, however, didn't come easily.

Commissioners transferred the development rights of the Area 3 parking lot at

45 Ionia Ave. SW
from CSL West Associates LLC to Tall House Enterprises LLC.

Then they extended two deadlines that will let Tall House Enterprises build a nine-story mixed-use development on the lot, just east of Van Andel Arena. The dates to begin and complete construction were both pushed back a year to Dec. 31, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2008, respectively.

Tall House is in the process of buying the property. But the transaction is actually a three-way deal between the Downtown Development Authority, CSL West and Tall House.

CSL West, a partnership between the Richard DeVos family and Rockford Companies, owns the lot but left the title with the DDA so the city could continue to operate it as a parking lot. The DDA owns a small parcel just north of the lot that it is selling to Tall House for the project, and board members amended the agreement two weeks ago.

Tall House is investing $27 million into the project, which will feature 70 condominiums along with 15,000 square feet of retail space and 25,000 square feet for offices.

"Pre-sales are going well," said Mary Witte, a partner with George Haworth in the Tall House project, of the condo sales. "We have 10 reservations."

The development completes the Cherry Street Landing project, which began 10 years ago.

"This is a great infill project for downtown," said Mayor George Heartwell. "It is unusual. It is complex, no doubt about that. But it is a great opportunity for us."

Two commissioners, though, didn't exactly see the next project as a great opportunity for the city. James Jendrasiak and Rick Tormala, of the 1st and 2nd wards, respectively, didn't want to amend a development agreement that would help Parkland Properties of West Michigan buy The Boardwalk from 900 and 940 Monroe LLC.

Parkland Properties, headed by Jonathan Rooks, plans to turn the 230 apartments in the building into condominiums and make $2 million worth of investments in it. The building's commercial spaces would remain as leased space.

The controversy revolved around extending the time from 2011 to 2020 that Parkland Properties could collect tax-increment reimbursements for improvements made to the former Berkey & GayBuilding. The original reimbursement was for $1.75 million, and $385,000 of that total has been paid out. Amending the contract means the city would have to wait another nine years to collect tax revenue from the property.

"I don't see any benefit to us. I see a benefit to the developer," said Jendrasiak. "We have an overabundance of housing. Why do we keep giving these guys breaks when there are a lot of unsold homes downtown?"

Tormala said there were enough high-priced condos on the market, and that downtown needed more affordable and mixed-income housing units.

"I certainly don't know how we're going to fill all those high-ticket condos," he said.

But DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler told commissioners that condos in The Boardwalk would start at $69,000, possibly the lowest sales price in downtown, and would go as high as $199,000.

Heartwell said converting the apartments into condos would result in more property tax revenue for the city. Commissioners amended the agreement by a 5-to-2 vote.    

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