Apartment project set for downtown

January 28, 2011
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Work is expected to begin this spring on the historic renovation of a vacant, four-story building at 100 Commerce Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids. The plan is to have 31 market-rate apartments on the top three levels and retail space on the ground floor.

The development firm, 100 Commerce Development Co. LLC, is investing up to $3 million into the project and will begin work on the 30,000-square-foot building once its application for historic tax credits is approved, which is expected to happen within the next few months.

Douglas Gulker is part of that firm. He is also a broker, developer and owner of Fusion Properties, a company that partnered with Locus Development several years ago to develop Hopson Flats, a student-housing complex at 212-216 Grandville Ave. SW.

Although Hopson Flats largely features four-bedroom apartments, Gulker said that building provided motivation for this project, which he feels will fill a void in a developing section of downtown.

"That project is primarily four-bedroom units, and this building allows us to turn to the one-bedroom and two-bedroom market," he said. "Commerce continues to be redeveloped. That building is probably one of the last couple that are on that street that need to be redone."

Gulker said two-thirds of the apartments will be one-bedroom units. "The primary reason for that is because of our proximity to Cooley Law School. It will probably make us one of the first choices for Cooley students. While we're not strictly a student-only project, that type of tenant typically wants to be in their own unit," he said.

He added that he'd like to find a coffee shop and bakery combination to fill the ground floor.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority has provided financial support for the project. Board members awarded the development firm a $50,000 grant for certain activities, such as barrier-free access. They also agreed to reimburse the company up to $100,000 of the tax-increment revenue the completed project will generate. Those dollars normally go directly to the DDA, but members voted last fall to return the revenue to the firm. City commissioners also awarded the projects a brownfield, which makes it eligible for state tax credit.

According to the DDA, the structure was built in 1908 by the City Bakery Co. and has been vacant for more than 15 years. "Over the past 10 years, several developers have looked at renovating the building. However, the building's relatively small footprint has made it somewhat cost prohibitive to renovate," said Eric Pratt, a planner with the DDA.

Fusion Properties will manage the renovation, while Hooker De Jong Architects Engineers of Muskegon will design it.

Gulker said he hopes to have tenants moving in by the end of this year.

"We are still actually waiting on the historical tax credit approval process, and as soon as we complete that process, we'll complete the design and hopefully be under construction in late spring," said Gulker.

"Our goal is to have it completed by the end of the year. We did Hopson Flats in approximately eight months, and this project is considerably smaller, square-footage-wise, than Hopson."

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