Tough Sledding

December 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ashley Capital LLC has asked the city to amend its brownfield plan for the 206 acres on

Eastern Avenue
between 36th and 44th streets that the firm has proposed to buy from Steelcase Inc.

City commissioners last week set Jan. 9 as the date for a hearing on the change, needed because the New York real estate developer filed a new development plan for the land a few weeks ago with the city's Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

Ashley Capital redesigned its project for the site after its initial plan was criticized by nearby residents a few months ago.

City Economic Development Director Susan Shannon said the redesign means fewer of the 18 buildings will have to be razed. Only six will be demolished, while a dozen will be renovated.

Shannon also said Ashley Capital upped its investment in the project to $162 million, or about $20 million more than the firm said it would spend on the development in its initial filing with the city earlier this year.

But even with a bigger investment in the site, Shannon said Ashley Capital would actually capture a smaller reimbursement from brownfield status for the infrastructure improvements it would make to the property — and over a shorter period of time.

Ashley Capital was eligible to recoup $22.5 million over 15 years for its initial investment of $142 million. Under its latest $162 million spending plan, though, the firm can only claim a reimbursement of $13 million over 10 years.

Shannon said Ashley Capital would also seek a credit from the Single Business Tax, if it gets a brownfield designation from the city and the state.

The SBT, however, expires in a year and the company said it would be 2011 before the project is completed. State lawmakers are expected to deliver a tax to replace the SBT next year and include some sort of credit to match the one that will be lost when the current tax is eliminated.

Ashley Capital plans a mixed-use development for the site, which has 4.7 million square feet of space for the company to fill. But two previous visits with city planners have not gone well for the firm. Neighbors complained a few months ago about the housing portion of the company's project, which was targeted to low-income families, and Ashley Capital pulled its rezoning request from the agenda. Then city planners balked a few weeks ago at the big box retail the firm said would be part of a new commercial development on about a quarter of the site, with the rest remaining zoned as industrial. Planners tabled the request.

Ashley Capital entered into a purchase agreement with Steelcase for the property last spring and the transaction is expected to close early next year. The city reported that nearly 4,000 jobs will emerge from the firm's development when it is finished.    

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