GRCF Readying For New Home

February 11, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — After 86 years, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation is finally going to have a home to call its own.

The foundation recently purchased the historic building known as the Icehouse at

72 Grandville Ave. SW
in downtown Grand Rapids. The icehouse was originally one of a network of rail-side refrigerated warehouses Anheuser-Busch built to cool cars of beer that were being shipped long distances. It's one of only two Anheuser-Busch icehouses still standing.

GRCF looked at more than 60 properties, but the 104-year old icehouse bested them all. The building just looked like it would make a substantial statement about the fact that the foundation believes strongly in the urban area, said Diana Sieger, the foundation's president.

"The foundation has a very strong commitment to the core city, and we didn't want to move outside the parameters of downtown," Sieger said. "We fund so many things that relate to revitalization of neighborhoods and to families and children in the urban setting, and it's seen throughout all of our grant-making and initiatives. We wanted a very visible property in the downtown area."

The building was previously owned by Chemical Products, which had operated out of the building for more than 40 years. GRCF purchased the building for $2.4 million from developers Sam Cummings and Eric Wynsma, who had done extensive renovations and put on a new roof and windows.

"It was a great old building to purchase because most of the unknowns of a renovation have been more or less dealt with or uncovered," said Curt Mulder, project manager for Fryling Construction Co., the general contractor awarded the project. "They cleaned the building up and reduced it to its original barebones structure. So the surprises have really been limited."

The building's historic features include the familiar eagle-adorned Anheuser-Busch logos carved in terracotta tile, a hayloft, a cobblestone courtyard, stable doors, and the original cupola that was used for ventilation. They're all staying, Sieger said.

The building is actually three buildings enjoined — the icehouse, horse stables and a packaging facility. All in all, there are 20,700 square feet of space, of which 17,000 is usable space, Mulder said. GRFC expects to move into its permanent home around Sept. 1.

The project is currently in the design development phase, Mulder said. The building has a basement and two floors, but it has seven different levels because the floors between the three buildings don't match in elevation, Mulder said. That's a challenging aspect of the project for Design Plus — the architectural firm selected for the project — and for Fryling.

"Figuring out how it's all going to work and come together is probably the most difficult part," he said. "We will probably use some ramps."

The foundation intends to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the building, most likely LEED Silver certification, Mulder said.

Sieger invited David Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County, to look at the preliminary plans for the building to make sure it is accessible to everyone. Sieger said the foundation incorporated a lot of Bulkowski's ideas into the plan.

Sieger said the foundation needs more space, particularly conferencing space. It has been leasing space in the WatersBuilding at

161 Ottawa Ave. NW
for more than 30 years. It currently leases 7,000 square feet of space on the second floor, but its largest conference room can only accommodate about 20 people and is in use almost continuously, she noted.

"We are constantly convening groups around a variety of community issues," Sieger explained. "We really need to bring other groups together and we can't do it here. We've gained so much momentum in the last 15 years."

GRCF works very closely with the JohnsonCenter for Philanthropy at GrandValley, which offers seminars and workshops. The foundation would like the JohnsonCenter to be able to use the Icehouse facility in concert with them. Sieger said GRFC will have fully functioning training rooms and will be open to community groups.

As of last week, the foundation was still pulling together total cost estimates. It has applied for new market tax credits to reduce out-of-pocket costs. The credits are available to nonprofits and for-profits that make qualified equity investments in low-income areas of their community. Dennis Sturtevant, CEO of Dwelling Place Inc., is serving the foundation as development consultant because he's familiar with the new market tax credits process, Sieger noted.

Along with the tax credits, the foundation is planning a fundraising campaign to help defray the cost of the property, building renovations, move-in expenses and furnishings. Sieger said members of the foundation board will determine the total cost of the project at their meeting today.

Several years ago, philanthropists Tom and Mickie Fox gave the foundation a $1 million lead gift towards a permanent home. In honor of them and other area philanthropists, the foundation is planning a public collection of books, images, research and stories about the impact philanthropy and philanthropic families have had on the community.

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