Terms Meet With GR City Approval

December 3, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now that city commissioners have agreed to the terms that outline a new city-owned parking ramp as part of a $14 million project proposed for the intersection of Commerce Avenue and Weston Street in the Heartside Business District, the city’s next step is to prepare and finalize an agreement with the developer.

38 Commerce LLC has plans to put up two buildings — one fronting Weston and the other fronting Commerce — with 30,000 square feet of office space, ground floor retail and 30 to 35 condominiums.

Last month Andy Winkle, who heads 38 Commerce and Kelwin Properties, said he wasn’t certain whether the residential portion of the project would be apartments or condos. But since then he said he has received a lot of interest from potential buyers and has decided to build condos. He said news that the development would have an adjacent parking ramp helped fuel that interest. He added that the construction cost for the units is $225 a square foot. At 1,000 square feet, his asking price is $225,000.

Winkle has had a hand in two recently finished downtown developments. He worked with the Elevation Group to create Hopson Flats, a residence for college students built in two former warehouses on Grandville Avenue, and the new home of the Founders Brewing Co. at 235 Grandville Ave. SW.

Besides his plan for Heartside, Winkle is getting ready to start another project soon at 444 Bridge St. NW in the Stockbridge Business District, which is just west of downtown across the Grand River.

“Mr. Winkle is a Chicago resident who saw the light and came to where the action is,” said a smiling Mayor George Heartwell.

The city’s ramp would have 360 spaces and would be hidden behind the buildings.

“I think this is the model for public parking as it goes forward,” said Pam Ritsema, Parking Services director.

Parking Services will buy the ramp’s 23,230-square-foot parcel, which has a price tag of $1.68 million and is slightly above the appraisal price. The parking department will pick up about $1.2 million of that cost with roughly 25 percent of it in cash and the rest through a municipal bond to be issued by the Grand Rapids Building Authority. The Downtown Development Authority will contribute $473,000 to the property purchase.

“Without that (DDA) funding, this project wouldn’t go forward,” said Ritsema, who added that her department has about $7 million of working capital set aside.

The total cost for the ramp is just under $11 million, which includes engineering, design and the property. The actual construction cost is $9.3 million. Ritsema told commissioners she was confident the ramp would cover the debt service and turn a profit in a few years.

“The public parking piece isn’t just for the development, but also for the neighborhood,” said Ritsema. “The addition of the public parking would help drive the development of the neighborhood.”

The DDA and the Parking Commission ratified the project’s terms last month.

But before either the ramp or buildings can go forward, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission has to approve the demolition of the building at 38 Commerce Ave. SW, a razing Winkle and his partners would pay for. The partners also have to give the city a letter-of-credit for $770,000 to cover the cost of a façade for the ramp in case they can’t complete their project.

The two buildings must total at least 68,000 square feet. The structure along Weston will have the office space and the one on Commerce will contain the condos. Ritsema said construction on the ramp would need to start by February 2009, although she hopes to get it going by next October. The city will have two years to build the ramp; work would begin before the buildings get started.

“I think this is more than adequate,” said 1st Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt, who leaves office at the end of the month, of the development’s terms. “I think this is a good project.”

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