New Parking Critical To Monroe North Hopes

May 8, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The development firm asked the city last year to build a parking ramp so its renovation project, and others like it in the Monroe North Business District, could go forward.

But now the Irish Twins Group LLC is more than willing to settle for the surface lot the city is currently considering for its project and for the rest of the parking-strapped business district.

The Irish Twins Group is a partnership between developer Jack Buchanan and Rob Buchanan, his brother and a local attorney. They want to turn the former Imperial Metals Building at 801-803 Ionia Ave. NW into new commercial space, but they need additional parking spaces to accomplish that feat.

“North Monroe has had a very desperate need for parking for a long time — it’s a real issue. It’s been a killer of projects. It’s just hard to develop when you have limited parking opportunities,” said Jack Buchanan, CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures LLC.

“They’ve convinced themselves that maybe there’s not a market for a ramp, but there certainly is a market for a surface lot. That’s what we’re hearing from them. A surface lot is sort of a good first step,” he added.

Parking Services Director Pam Ritsema revealed recently that the city is seriously thinking about buying a piece of the property the Irish Twins Group owns and building a surface lot on it. Should the city go forward with the lot, it would be built on the northern portion of the Imperial Metals site and on the southern part of an adjacent parcel that was home to West Michigan Printing, a vacant building that would have to be razed to make room for the lot.

Ritsema said the city is having the land appraised and that Walker Parking Consultants of Kalamazoo is evaluating the site to determine how many spaces could be built there and what the construction cost might be. The standard cost for a surface space is about $5,000, a price tag that does not include the cost of land.

Ritsema thought the city could collect the tax-increment revenue from the site to help offset that cost, as the property would yield brownfield tax credits. She estimated it would cost her department about $20,000 to find out if the site is appropriate and affordable for a surface lot.

“We don’t have a price for the land. The appraisal is due in mid-May,” she said.

Ritsema added that the city was in the “investigative stage” of the potential land purchase and said a lot there might become part of the DASH park-and-ride shuttle service.

The Buchanans have owned Imperial Metals for nearly three years now and at one time they included apartments in the project. But to pull off the residential portion, they needed the city to build a ramp near the multi-story development to draw renters to the building.

However, the city nixed the ramp idea last year as being too costly a project to undertake and questioned whether there would be enough demand to make a ramp a successful venture.

Then, not too long after that decision was made, the bottom fell out of the residential market and the Irish Twins Group dropped the idea of including apartments in the project.

“The banks and others are not really interested in residential properties. We were looking at apartments. Condos and apartments are tough to do right now. Between the lack of parking and the financial market the way it is, we just sort of looked back to going to the original plan to renovate part of the building,” said Jack Buchanan.

Imperial Metals is actually a series of buildings that have been spliced together over the years, and those structures offer a total of roughly 50,000 square feet. Since the parking lot would be built on the northern half of the property, a northern portion of the building may also have to be demolished to get enough spaces for the development and the district.

“If they build a surface lot next door, we would create a mixed-use development, all commercial, in the remaining building that we would have left,” said Jack Buchanan.

“We’re still trying to figure out with the city how much land they would need for their public parking lot. We’re probably going to wind up with somewhere between 38,000 and 50,000 square feet of building that will probably be a combination of rehab and maybe some new construction.”

Jack Buchanan said they have a few prospective tenants but they can’t go any further with the leasing effort until the parking question gets answered. The Imperial Metals property is between Mason and Newberry streets.

When the Irish Twins Group asked the Parking Commission for a ramp last year, Pioneer Construction was part of the project. But Jack Buchanan said it isn’t certain at this time if Pioneer will be involved with the current project.

“We haven’t decided yet. Right now, we’re back to saying, ‘Let’s see what the city does,’” he said. “The key to this whole thing is probably the parking. So at this point, we’ve got a prospective tenant. We haven’t gone back to contractors, tenants or anybody else until we see what the parking is going to be.”

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