Beacon Hill at Eastgate rebounds from financing snafu

May 7, 2010
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Beacon Hill at Eastgate, the retirement community going up on the former location of Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, was nearly scuttled during the financial meltdown of 2008. Now, a slightly revised version of the development is expected to open this fall, bringing new residences for senior citizens, as well as 70 new jobs.

“It took a miracle to get us here with the way the market went,” BHE President and CEO Jeff Huegli said. “Our financing plan cratered at the end of ’08, so we had to restart, literally, from scratch.”

The British bank that had agreed to take the lead position, loaning $50 million for what was then a $70 million project that included senior apartments, assisted living and a new dementia unit at 1919 Boston St. SE, became a victim of the 2008 financial crisis, Huegli said.

Despite the turmoil, BB&T Bank, based in North Carolina, stuck with its smaller position on the project. With potential occupants already lining up, Huegli went hunting for a new lender. After a 10-month evaluation period, Huntington Bank signed on for the scaled-back version.

“It’s just a testament to local banking,” Huegli said. “I’m really grateful to Huntington. They believed in us and made it work.”

Formerly Michigan Christian Home, Beacon Hill trimmed the project from $70 million to $50 million by delaying construction of the assisted living and dementia unit, Huegli said, and renovating its older properties, which was not part of the original plan. The financing twists and turns have delayed the project by about a year, but Huegli said he’s pleased with progress made so far. Completion now is expected at the end of this year.

“It’s a quarter-million square feet of residential and community spaces,” he said. “I’m still surprised by it. It exceeded what I thought would happen.”

The 12.2-acre site will include 114 independent-living units of 800 to 1,500 square feet each and 36 assisted living units. Nearly all are spoken for. Another 36 apartments and 14 units for assisted living, which were part of the original plan, now are being held for a future phase.

The renovated space for the dementia unit is on target to open at the end of the summer, Huegli said. In the new building, the common area is expected to be ready by October, while the west wing is expected to be ready for occupancy in November and the east wing in December.

“We will infuse home services to keep residents as independent as they can be for as long as possible in their existing places. It’s all right here on our 22-acre campus,” Huegeli said.

The nonprofit Michigan Christian Home was founded in the 1950s by a group of Baptist churches as a retirement community for retired ministers and missionaries. Serving 150 residents, it has 29 in licensed nursing home beds, 70 apartments in a four-story building and 20 suites licensed as homes for the aged.

With the decision to expand onto the former hospital’s property, the organization became known as Beacon Hill at Eastgate.

General contractor is Rockford Construction; Design Plus is the architect. Huegli said around 500 tradespersons will have worked at the site by the time everything is open.

“We will be introducing a brand new program to care for residents afflicted with various forms of dementia,” Huegli said.

The effect of the federal tax breaks for new homebuyers has been dramatic on the seven or eight future occupants of Beacon Hill, with six of them selling within a week, he added. Beacon Hill is working with Moving Station, a Chicago-based company that assists senior citizens and senior living communities with the home sales and moving process.

“To be honest, it couldn’t have worked out better because of the way the housing market shifted,” Heugli added. “It seems to be, if not rebounding, stable. And we’re benefitting from that.”

“We have actually managed to increase capacity to be able to move a body of residents out of the program that will become the program for dementia-stricken people. So those residents are moving into renovated space that will be providing them with more spacious assisted living. We’re anticipating this whole thing to take about four or five months.

“We’re going to be hiring this summer. We will have 70 new employees that will be brought on as part of this new campus: 40 positions, 70 people,” he said. “They’ll range from operations director to security guards and maintenance, lots of dining services folks. We’ll have a driver we’ll need.” 

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