Monroe Center projects advanced

January 18, 2009
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A pair of $4 million LEED-certified projects planned for Monroe Center will get a public airing next week. City commissioners will listen to brownfield requests from both, after both received financial assistance from the Downtown Development Authority last week.

Kendall Renaissance LLC wants to resuscitate the Kendall Building on the east end of Monroe Center near Division Avenue. The five-story structure at 16 Monroe Center NE has been vacant for the better part of three decades and its 11,500 square feet has been boarded up for seemingly as long.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sick of looking at this building," said Brice Bossardet, who has already redeveloped two structures on Monroe Center, to the DDA.

Kendall Renaissance, which is associated with Bossardet's Virgin Soil Properties, is proposing to invest $4 million into the project.

"They have an investor out of California working with them," said Kara Wood, city economic development director.

Flat Iron Holdings LLC wants to renovate a trio of four-story, almost empty structures near the west end of Monroe Center and blend the interiors of the upper three floors into 27,000 square feet of contiguous, modern office space. That price tag is $4.5 million.

Locus Development principals John Green and Andy Winkel formed Flat Iron Holdings, the entity that owns the adjacent buildings: the Flat Iron at 102 Monroe Center, Groskopfs at 112 Monroe Center, and the Herkner at 114 Monroe Center.

"There are very few buildings in the central city that provide 9,000 square feet per floor. By combining the three buildings, we offer office tenants a unique opportunity to lease up to 27,000 square feet on three floors," said Green.

The buildings are considered downtown landmarks. Two were opened in 1860, the other in 1870. The Michigan Historic Preservation Network helped the firm get a historical easement late last month for the work that will be done according to historical standards.

"The project will be phased, with exterior upgrades, demolition and sandblasting beginning this summer, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades will occur as new leases are secured," said Green, who added that the upper floors have been vacant since the 1940s.

"We have a letter-of-intent from a user," he said.

Wood said the firm will apply for a Michigan Business Tax credit of $527,800, but can't receive a brownfield reimbursement, as the buildings are in the Downtown Development Authority's district. But the DDA did agree last week to award Flat Iron a trio of $50,000 building-reuse grants, money the firm can use to provide barrier-free access, upgrade utilities, make improvements to the facades, and install a fire-suppression system.

Flat Iron will also ask for federal and state historical tax credits, which could be worth up to 45 percent of the firm's investment. Green pointed that these public sources of financing are vital to the project.

"Without approval, the redevelopment of these three landmark buildings will not likely occur."

Blake's Turkey Sandwich Shoppe and Locus Development are located in the Flat Iron, while Groskopfs Fine Luggage and Gifts is in the Groskopfs. All three will stay put and Groskopfs will continue to own its space after the restoration. The Herkner is completely vacant.

"We are going to completely redo the storefronts according to historical standards," said Green.

A finished project will offer a total of 32,000 square feet — 27,000 for office and about 5,000 for retail. Wood said it will add from 30 to 50 new jobs.

"The revitalization of these buildings will bring life to the downtown by filling in vacant and underutilized space to make downtown even more vibrant," she said.

Kendall Renaissance plans to develop the building's ground floor into retail space, and floors two through five into a dozen apartments that Bossardet said would be targeted to college students and young professionals. He has spoken with a few retailers.

Kendall Renaissance doesn't qualify for brownfield reimbursement either, as the building is also in the DDA district. But last week the DDA awarded the project up to $180,000 in tax-increment financing, a $50,000 building-reuse grant, and up to $35,000 to fill the areaway in front of the structure.

Wood said the developer will also apply to the state for an MBT credit worth $500,000.

Bossardet said he plans to close on the building's purchase by the end of March, begin construction in April, and finish by the end of November.

"This is a pretty exciting project and one of the bigger ones I'm going to do," he said of the Kendall. "We've got it under agreement, and it cost me a lot to do that."

City commissioners will hold both hearings Jan. 27.

City contracts for polluted parcel inspections

City commissioners approved a professional environmental services agreement last week with NTH Consultants Ltd. and Soils and Material Engineers Inc. Both firms will make site assessments on potentially contaminated properties in the city.

The contract is worth $400,000. City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said the money is coming from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and no city funds are being used.

NTH Consultants and SME Inc. were selected from 12 engineering firms. The economic development department, the city’s engineering office and The Right Place Inc. reviewed the submitted proposals.

The agreement runs through July 30, 2011.

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