DDA backs trio of plans

February 16, 2009
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Two renovations and a new construction project received financial support from the Downtown Development Authority last week.

The most expensive of the three was proposed by Meridian Building Co. LLC, which has local veteran developer Robert Tol as its lead investor. Meridian Building plans to invest $26 million into a 10-story building at 20 E. Fulton St., which is currently a surface parking lot on the southwest corner of Fulton and Sheldon Avenue.

“It’s a significant investment,” said John Byl, an environmental attorney at Warner Norcross who represents Meridian Building.

The project’s blueprint contains 105 market-rate apartments, 10,000 square feet for ground-floor retail, and a parking deck with 286 spaces.

“I have financing from the AFL-CIO (pension fund), as the primary,” said Tol.

Meridian Building is also counting on receiving a Michigan Business Tax credit for $4.5 million because the property qualifies as a brownfield.

“The state has already given us a favorable response,” said Byl of the MBT credit.

“The credit is issued when the project is concluded, and typically there is a market for those credits,” he added.

The DDA agreed to reimburse the development firm $1.02 million for making public improvements along Fulton and Sheldon and for making access to the building barrier free as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The reimbursement will come from the increase in property taxes the new project is expected to create.

Tol said he hoped to begin construction in late summer and have the project finished within two years after breaking ground.

Division Lofts LLC has plans to renovate a 101-year-old building at 111 S. Division Ave., which was home to In the Image, the Harris Furniture Co. and the Knights of Pythias, into three floors of space for filmmakers, photographers, artists, lawyers and small businesses.

“We are trying to attract what everyone calls the ‘knowledge workers’ today,” said Bob Dykstra, an investor in Division Lofts.

The structure, known as the Harris Building, will also include a fitness center, offices, stages, sound rooms, a theater, and a wine and coffee bar. A restaurant or market could also be part of the development. A record store, a bookstore and an art gallery could also be included.

“We have a commitment from a wine and coffee bar. We’ll be open 24 hours. Again, we’re trying to attract the knowledge workers and make it fun — sort of like Google,” said Dykstra, who operates a similar development in Kentwood.

Division Lofts plans to invest $3.8 million into the renovation, and the DDA agreed to give the developer a building reuse grant of $50,000 for façade restoration, utility upgrades and a fire-suppression system. The board is also considering granting the company a tax increment reimbursement. Division Lofts will also seek historic tax credits and a MBT credit from the state.

“We have equity available to purchase the building,” said Dykstra, adding that he was waiting for the final word about the project’s financing.

Kendall Renaissance LLC, headed by Brice Bossardet of Virgin Soil Properties, plans to renovate the Kendall Building at 16 Monroe Center into a dozen apartments and two retail storefronts for an investment of $4 million.

The DDA upped the project’s tax reimbursement from $185,000 to $218,000 last week and also gave the firm a $50,000 building reused grant and a $35,000 grant to fill the areaway, the below-ground space in front of the building.

“The (City) Commission responded very favorably at a public hearing,” said Mayor George Heartwell, also a DDA member.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said that once the Kendall Building is completed, the board can start thinking about renovating Monument Square, which is across the street from the structure. Fowler said the design work would be done this year, and the renovation would get underway next spring.

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