Imperial Metals plant project grows larger

May 2, 2009
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Now that the firm appears to have a purchase agreement in place with the city, Irish Twins III can move forward with its plan to renovate the former Imperial Metals plant at 801 Ionia Ave. NW.

And that plan has grown.

Instead of offering 42,000 square feet of space for offices and a restaurant, Irish Twins plans to develop about 55,000 square feet, create a 10,000-square-foot courtyard, and add a water tower to the site as a landmark.

“We’re going to have about 42,000 square feet of the original structure that we’re going to renovate. Then when it’s leased out, we’re going to add a liner building along Ottawa (Avenue). I’m not sure exactly how big that’s going to be — the architect is still working on that. But I think it’s going to be somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet,” said Jack Buchanan, a partner in Irish Twins III.

The liner building will have two stories. It will enclose the property and create space for a courtyard, which will give the tenants an outdoor place to meet and give the proposed restaurant an outdoor dining area. Buchanan compared the space to a courtyard park.

“It will be like a wireless outdoor hangout space we’re kind of calling the Boston Legal Deck, a place where people can hang out and have meetings during the warmer months,” he said.

Space for the courtyard became available when the city decided to purchase less property on the site for its parking lot. Instead of buying 48,787 square feet on two parcels, Parking Services will now purchase one parcel along Ionia Avenue of 28,100 square feet, which allows Irish Twins to incorporate the parcel on Ottawa Avenue into the development.

“One of the reasons we agreed to renegotiate is it gave us that green space back, which we think is better than having some of our suites overlook a parking lot. A lot of our units will have walkouts directly onto this park. Their offices could basically open up onto this area,” said Buchanan.

“Another benefit of the interior space is a restaurant could have an outdoor deck, which is a challenge to get downtown.”

As for tenants, Buchanan said he has been in contact with several companies that are interested in leasing the entire building. Another has inquired about taking a third of the space, while some smaller firms have also asked about space. The building hasn’t been listed yet.

“There is movement, apparently, in the kind of loft market again, and I think we’re going to have a product that is going to be much more unique than any loft project that’s out there. It’s going to be a pretty contemporary loft,” he said.

“The addition, for example, will be all very contemporary glass, so we’re not trying to give it a historic feel. We’re trying to give it a very urban, contemporary industrial feel. Overall, we want to differentiate the building from any other building that is out there.”

Buchanan said the first phase of construction will begin immediately after the firm closes its purchase transaction with Parking Services.

Lott3Metz Architecture is putting the final touches on the design. Pioneer Construction Co., which is financing the first phase, will manage the project. Irish Twins still needs to get approvals from city planners, including an OK to add that distinctive water tower to the site that would mark the business district in North Monroe.

Irish Twins also has to meet three requirements listed in the term sheet it has with the city by June 1; Buchanan said they will meet all three by the deadline. He said the survey is done, the title is being done, and they have a commitment for an $80,000 letter-of-credit.

So if the all the ducks aren’t quite lined up for the project yet, they’re at least getting in line, which is a major relief to the developers. The firm was in its fourth year of trying to get financing; then the financial market crashed and the economy went into a deep recession. Buchanan thought he had a development in place for the property when his first LLC, Irish Twins Group, bought the site in 2005.

“You don’t buy a piece of property unless you know you’ve got a development that is going to work. In this case, we happened to own the property with the first group because we had some guarantees and promises that turned out not to be there,” he said.

Irish Twins Group was under the impression that Founders Brewing Co., which needed more space than it had in the Brass Works Building at 648 Monroe Ave. NW, would become the site’s key tenant. Founders had agreed to take 15,000 square feet in the Metals plant.

But that deal never materialized because Founders was reportedly unable to secure a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration to cover some of the costs associated with its relocation and expansion.

When that happened, Irish Twins Group was stuck with a mortgage and 40,000 empty square feet. About six months later, Founders announced it was moving to 235 Grandville Ave. SW, its present home.

“We never would have bought the building. I’m not a spec developer, and I don’t think most are. We did not buy that building to develop a spec project. We were approached by Founders, who came to us and said, ‘We want to buy the building, and will you develop it for us on our behalf and we’ll partner up?’” said Buchanan.

“(Founders co-owner) Mike Stevens assigned his buy-sell agreement to me, and that’s what I closed on. So we would have never bought the building without assurances from Founders and their bank for financing,” he added.

“But we’re excited about the development we’re going to do, and the way we’re doing it is a normal deal.”

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