Newsmaker: Avenue Of The Arts

January 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — It's a cool project that has already won a cool award for a section of the city that is becoming cooler by the day.

Even the project's name expresses a certain degree of sophisticated coolness: Avenue of the Arts. And the way the financing came together for it was pretty cool, too.

Dwelling Place Inc., though, isn't a finalist for the 2007 Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year Award because it's cool. If that was the only benchmark,

Dwelling Place
would find itself in the final 10 every year.

Dwelling Place is a finalist because Avenue of the Arts is having an economic impact on the Heartside Business District that will go on for many years and is helping the city fill its goal of creating the best arts-and-entertainment district on this side of the state.

In November, the Neighborhood Business Alliance recognized the effort the nonprofit development company and property manager made to commerce and residential living on

South Division Avenue
via the project when it gave
Dwelling Place
its prestigious Gerald R. Helmholdt Award.

Adding the Newsmaker Award as its second honor would fit Avenue of the Arts because it is really an umbrella name for

two Dwelling Place
projects that renovated five largely vacant buildings just south of
Fulton Street

The first is the Martineau Apartments. Located in the 100-block of

South Division Avenue
, four of the buildings offer 23 income-restricted apartments for artists. Sixteen of those apartments have gallery and work space, and two of the buildings have retail space.

The second project evolved from the success of the Martineau Apartments. The Kelsey Apartments at

136 S. Division Ave.
, just south of the Martineau, has 14 apartments with work spaces that are also targeted to low- and moderate-income artists, with commercial space on the ground floor.

The Martineau and Kelsey projects have brought businesses to the area and helped support the ones already in the district. The success that both projects have had has motivated Dwelling Place CEO Dennis Sturtevant to consider a third, but this time at market rates. He said many artists who applied for an apartment were turned away because their income slightly exceeded the maximum amount to be accepted.

But Sturtevant said

Dwelling Place
couldn't accept all the credit for the terrific outcome the projects have had. The financing, for example, began with a $1 million donation from Stephen and Eleanor Bryant of Fremont, and later involved National City Bank, the Local Initiative Support Corp., the Cool Cities Initiative, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Downtown Development Authority.

Then there was the wizardry of George Larimore, by day an investment specialist with Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce. Sturtevant said Larimore put together a package of tax credits that was groundbreaking. Besides the historic and brownfield credits that many developers are familiar with, Larimore brought New Market tax credits to the project and to West Michigan for the first time. New Market credits can have a return of 39 percent.

Sturtevant also said that if it wasn't for the Cherry Street Landing project, which delivered Western Michigan University, Cooley Law School, Holland State Bank and others to blocks just west of Division, Avenue of the Arts probably wouldn't be so cool.

"The place has come to life. The live-work spaces are filled and South Division is swarming with young people," said Kayem Dunn, DDA chairwoman. "I think we've done something to keep young people here."

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