DDA backs Locus Development project

October 14, 2011
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Although no one at the Downtown Development Authority called it a “major achievement” last week, board members were clearly pleased that Locus Development has decided to renovate the former Junior Achievement building.

“As you all know, it has been an eyesore for a long time,” said DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler. “Fortunately, Locus Development has taken control of the property.”

Locus Development, a partnership between urban developers John Green and Andy Winkle, plans to invest $4.5 million into historically redeveloping the two-story structure at 2 E. Fulton St., also listed as 12 S. Division Ave., which has been vacant since 1998. Green said they picked up the building in a foreclosure sale from Mercantile Bank, and have lined up Tower Pinkster to design the work and Pioneer Construction to manage it. An office tenant will occupy the top floor and a restaurant the ground floor. Each level has 8,000 square feet of space.

“We have a lot of restaurants downtown, but not this type of restaurant,” said Green, without revealing any more information about the eatery. “We will make investments in the streetscape, too.”

Fowler said redevelopment of the building will help it serve as another anchor for the revival of the South Division corridor and will improve the look of a “signature intersection” at the corner of Division and Fulton Street, which already includes The Gallery at Fulton, a small park and a renovated building that houses state offices and city police.

The DDA agreed to support Locus’ effort last week by awarding the firm $35,000 to fill the building’s areaway, $65,000 in a building reuse grant, and a tax-increment reimbursement up to $189,000. The clock for the reimbursement won’t start ticking until the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority ends its capture of tax-increment revenue, which is likely to be 10 years. Before then, any reimbursement will come from the BRA. The building was added to the city’s brownfield list in 2007 when a previous owner planned to renovate it for a bank.

Locus has already captured state tax credits, in addition to the brownfield reimbursement from the city for the project, and is hoping to obtain state historic preservation tax credits. “We should be hearing any day about the enhanced historic tax credits,” said Green, who added the project is on the state’s list, and credits have been set aside for the projects that will be named.

Green said Locus hopes to begin construction near the end of the first quarter next year and finish the work before ArtPrize gets underway in September. The firm’s structure was named this month as the top ArtPrize venue. Locus, renovating the J.A. building as Fulton Property Holdings LLC, is planning to have the building LEED certified and estimates that 35 to 40 new jobs will be created from the project.

The DDA also awarded a $35,000 reuse grant last week to J.K. Grand Rapids Real Estate LLC, which is renovating the former Tap House building at 8 Ionia Ave. SW. The firm operates 35 restaurants in the state and is opening a Buffalo Wild Wings early next year in the building, its fourth in the metro area.

Board members also approved a downtown liquor license request for the new Chloe’ Élan Restaurant that is slated to open on the first floor of Bridgewater Place in February. City commissioners also have to ratify the application. Christine Gill, former owner and operator of The Sierra Room and Opus 1894, will operate Chloe’ Élan, which will feature New American cuisine and will offer small jazz and blues combos in the evenings. Rockford Construction will do the restaurant’s $650,000 build-out.

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