A new look for an old building

January 4, 2009
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The wheels are in motion for a new type of office space in the Monroe North Business District, situated on the northern edge of downtown Grand Rapids.

The design for the former industrial building, the Imperial Metals factory at 801 Ionia Ave. NW, has been described by the development firm as a loft rehab that offers a contemporary expression.

“We really want to enhance an old-factory look,” said Jack Buchanan, managing partner of Irish Twins Group III, the firm doing the renovation.

Although hard to pigeonhole in a word or two, the look can be likened to some of the renovated factories in New York’s Chelsea Market, a former industrial district in the West Chelsea neighborhood.

“It’s almost like a design-and-build thing. We’re going to blow out the brick and encase it in glass,” he added.

To accent the renovated, two-story, 40,000-square-foot structure that will have space for office and retail and entrances from Ottawa, Newberry and Ionia streets, Irish Twins hopes to be able to add a water tower to the property that would serve as a new landmark for the district. The firm needs permission, though, from the city’s Planning Commission to add the tower.

The city has agreed to buy 48,000 square feet on the site for $1.6 million, and build and operate two separate public parking lots with 139 spaces on the property. The lots will be connected by a stairway; the city will add 40 street parking meters for additional parking.

“The parking will help develop the sites (in the neighborhood),” said Buchanan.

But unlike other projects where the city has picked up the tab for parking, Irish Twins will pay the city $50,000 a year for 10 years and turn over $1.1 million of its brownfield tax credits to the city to help pay for the lots. The business district’s Tax-Increment Financing Authority will also contribute $280,000 to the city’s construction cost.

“It’ll probably take about 10 years for us to break even (at the lot),” said Pam Ritsema, director of the city’s Parking Services department, which is buying the property and building the lots. “We will need to be a patient investor to get our investment back.”

Parking Services estimated it will cost $1.2 million to build the lots. Added to the $1.6 million purchase price for the property, the city plans to invest $2.8 million in the project. City commissioners approved the deal; Buchanan felt the property transaction would close in June.

The agreement the firm has with the city requires it to invest a minimum of $5 million, redevelop at least 29,000 of the 40,000 square feet, and end up with a finished project that has a taxable value of $2.9 million.

“The project will be a catalyst for redevelopment in the North Monroe area. The project will enhance the site and continue to build upon the surrounding developments in the area and will likely spur additional redevelopment of the surrounding blocks,” said Kara Wood, city economic development director.

The development is expected to give the city $30,000 in annual income-tax revenue from the jobs at the site.

Buchanan said the firm was close to selecting an architect to tweak the planned design, and a general contractor to direct the renovation work. He also said Irish Twins didn’t have any tenants signed, but was working with a few. Despite that situation, Buchanan said they were going ahead with the project.

“It’s nice to see some new development going on in North Monroe,” said Jim Zawacki, president of the Monroe North Business Association.

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