MHPN honors local LEED project at 920 Cherry St. SE

May 31, 2009
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Of the seven building awards the Michigan Historic Preservation Network handed out at its annual conference held in Grand Rapids recently, only one achieved LEED status. And that one-of-a-kind project was done by a local firm.

MHPN honored the Inner City Christian Federation, a nonprofit housing corporation, for historically renovating the D.A. Blodgett building, the 101-year-old former home for orphaned children and a rehabilitative medicine center that closed nearly 20 years ago and was set to meet the wrecking ball.

But in 2005, ICCF bought the building at 920 Cherry St. SE for its new headquarters, invested about $14 million in its restoration, and earned LEED Gold certification for the structure, which opened last year. What ICCF did, though, is an exception to the rule. Most historic preservations don’t include LEED standards, and MHPN would like that to change.

“We are seeing more of that, but probably still not enough because I think a lot of developers think that it’s too costly. Now that there is more incentive to do some green design, I think we’ll be seeing more of that,” said Nancy Finegood, MHPN executive director.

“We haven’t seen as much as we would like to, or we’re seeing that they’re doing just a portion and don’t have the financing to do all of it. Perhaps they’ll put in solar panels or something like that and then wait for the rest,” she added.

Downtown Grand Rapids, though, is getting a few more. Locus Development plans to seek LEED certification for the firm’s renovation of three four-story structures on Monroe Center near Ottawa Avenue. Locus is doing the project at 102, 122 and 114 Monroe Center as Flat Iron Holdings LLC.

Kendall Renaissance LLC is also planning a green renovation for a five-story building at 16 Monroe Center, just east of Division Avenue.

“My own organization is doing a lot to become more green,” said Finegood about the effort MHPN is undertaking, which includes recycling waste. “How can you promote it when you don’t do it yourself?”

And practicing what you preach can pay off. At least it did for two longtime preservation promoters. Jack Hoffman and Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, a husband-and-wife team, have been known since the 1970s as stalwart building preservationists and resolute believers in keeping an area’s architectural history as intact as possible. For those efforts, MHPN rewarded them with a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor generally viewed as the most prestigious award given each year.

“Not only have they been wonderful advocates for historic preservation in Grand Rapids, they’ve both been board members with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network,” said Finegood.

“I’ve been with the organization for six years. When I came on board, Jack was a member and I believe that Rebecca may even have been a founding member.”

Rebecca Smith-Hoffman has become a fixture in preservation as both an activist and a consultant. Jennifer Metz has been a partner with Smith-Hoffman for the past dozen years in Past Perfect Inc., a consultancy firm that many developers rely on for historic information on the buildings they want to renovate and for professional guidance through the standards set by the federal government.

“Where Rebecca is the fiery, passionate supporter of all that is right and good in this world, Jack is the calm, deliberate intellectual who is always ‘hopeful’ and a consensus builder searching for a reasonable solution,” said Metz, who introduced the Hoffmans at the awards ceremony held at San Chez Bistro restaurant.

“Rebecca dreams big and it often comes true. It always frustrated me because many times she will not get credit for her predictions or dreams. … I have personally witnessed her genius many times, and I admit to even thinking, ‘Great idea, but it will probably never happen’ — and more often than not, it does,” added Metz.

Smith-Hoffman serves on the Grand Rapids Historical Commission and is writing a book on the city’s architecture that will be available online through the commission. Jack Hoffman is a member of the Interurban Transit Partnership’s planning board, a practicing attorney, and a partner in the downtown law firm of Kuiper Orlebeke PC.

“One thing about Jack in general, whether it’s the practice of law or his involvement with historic preservation, he is passionate in his beliefs and in his views. But he is always open-minded. He always listens to the other side. He always looks at the other person’s viewpoint. He always tries to see the approach that the other person has, and I think that is what makes him so valuable,” said Tom Kuiper, a partner in the firm.

“He always tries to bring parties together to find a common goal,” he added.

Kuiper Orlebeke is one of the few firms in the state that practices preservation law, an area that accounts for a significant portion of the partners’ business. Kuiper said Hoffman and Tim Orlebeke started that practice and have helped many of the nonprofit developers get federal and state historic tax credits for their affordable housing projects to finance those projects. They’ve also worked with rural developers who’ve wanted to restore farms.

“It’s very sophisticated and complicated stuff. And I think that there is probably nobody in Grand Rapids who knows that area of law better, or has been involved in more deals than Tim and Jack,” said Kuiper. “So the firm does a lot of that.”

In addition to honoring the Hoffmans and ICCF, MHPN also gave awards to Grand Rapids Public Schools and Lott3Metz Architecture.

GRPS won a building award for turning Harrison Park Elementary at 1440 Davis Ave. NW into a contemporary learning center that maintains the structure’s historic character. The project involved building an addition to the middle school and constructing a two-story connecting lobby that neatly links the renovated portion of the school with the new addition.

MHPN gave Lott3Metz the 2009 Tax Credit Project Award for the firm’s restoration of its new home at 645 Cherry St. SE. The historic renovation qualified for both federal and state tax credits and proved that a building doesn’t have to be at least a century old to qualify as a preservation project.

“We replaced damaged bricks, tuck pointed, repaired the existing steel window frames, replaced all the glass with double-pane glass for energy efficiency, (added a) new roof and coping,” said Greg Metz, a partner with Ted Lott in the urban design firm that has a LEED- accredited staff and did the project as Think Tank LLC.

The Lott3Metz building, which once was home to the New York Life Insurance Co., was built in 1956. A structure must be 50 years old to qualify for historic tax credits.

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