Division Avenue project gets more DDA support

April 12, 2009
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The Downtown Development Authority agreed last week to let Harris Lofts LLC collect reimbursements through tax-increment financing for a handful of ADA-compliance items, as part of the firm’s planned renovation of the Harris Building at 111 S. Division Ave. in Grand Rapids.

Harris Lofts, headed by Robert Dykstra, wants to transform the three-story, vacant structure into a 24-hour multi-purpose building with office space, classrooms, studios for film, art and photography, and a wellness center. Retail and meeting space may also be part of the development. Dykstra said the firm was investing $3.8 million into the project, which he called “Nextwork.”

The board’s action means Harris Lofts could collect up to $178,600 in reimbursements for a recessed opening, elevators, restrooms, door hardware and signs.

“The state tax credits demand there be a local involvement,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler. “The general budget is isolated from these individual projects.”

DDA Counsel Dick Wendt will draw up an agreement between the DDA and Harris Lofts that Fowler will sign on behalf of the board. But Fowler noted that reimbursements won’t begin until the project is done and the taxable value of the building has been set, which will determine the exact amount to be reimbursed.

“In a case like this, the money has to come to us before we can reimburse,” said Kayem Dunn, DDA chairwoman.

Wendt said state law only allows the DDA to reimburse up to 75 percent of the improved portion of the property-tax revenue, as the other 25 percent stays with the board.

The DDA awarded Harris Lofts a $50,000 Building Reuse Grant in February. Those dollars will go toward a fire-suppression system, utility upgrades and restoration of the structure’s façade.

Board members also approved a grant worth $25,900 to First Ward 2 LLC, owner of the Trade Center building at 50 Louis St. NW, to fill an existing areaway. First Ward estimated the cost of the project at $74,000, which includes demolishing the existing areaway cap and installing a new building wall.

“This comes out of the city’s desire to reconstruct Ionia Avenue,” said DDA Planner Eric Pratt. “The Incentive Committee has reviewed this request and recommended your approval.”

The work will be performed in tandem with the city’s reconstruction of Ionia Avenue between Fulton and Fountain streets this summer.

The DDA also pledged $100,000 to a $350,000 effort to design and install a life-size sculpture of Rosa Parks at the downtown park named in honor of the Detroit woman who became a central figure in the 1960’s civil rights movement.

The DDA agreed to give $75,000 to the sculpture itself and $25,000 to the installation work. The money will come from property-tax receipts.

“We have supported other art projects and sculptures in the past,” said Fowler.

Fowler said the donation is a qualified expense that will come from the board’s parks, open space and cultural improvements budget.

“There is a precedence for this (gift),” said Dunn.

The sculpture will be along Monroe Avenue at Monroe Center, near the entrance of the park that was designed by noted artist Maya Lin. Installation is tentatively set for September 2010.

“My only concern for the city is, I don’t want the city to get stuck with the maintenance cost,” said Mayor George Heartwell, an honorary co-chairman of the Rosa Parks Sculpture Committee.

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