Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

DDA approves tax break for key project

September 16, 2012
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While the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority awarded a 10-year property-tax abatement last week to the developer that plans to renovate the Kendall Building at 16 Monroe Center, the city will hold a public hearing next week on whether to do the same.

616 Development wants to revive the vacant and boarded-up structure at the east end of Monroe Center for retail, office and residential uses. City Assessor Glen Beekman has determined that the 132-year-old building qualifies as an “obsolete property,” which means 616 will be entitled to a decade-long tax break worth roughly $35,900 a year when it completes the work.

“The building has been an eyesore for the community for many years,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.

“The state has indicated it will help the project,” said City Economic Development Director Kara Wood, referring to the Michigan Community Revitalization Program that replaced the state’s brownfield and historic tax credit programs in January.

616 is spending about $4 million on the project, which includes the acquisition cost. About $2 million of that will go toward the rehab portion of the work, as much of the interior needs to be gutted and rebuilt.

“That’s a huge cost, and I wish you luck,” said City Commissioner Walt Gutowski.

The project, called 616 Lofts at the Kendall, will offer two retail suites on the ground floor and a dozen apartments on levels three, four and five. The residential plan calls for three two-bedroom units, six one-bedrooms and three studios, with rents expected to start at $1,000 a month.

The principal and founder of 616 Development, Derek Coppess, told the DDA he didn’t think it would be too difficult to find tenants for the Kendall. He said there are 207 potential renters on the firm’s waiting list, most between the ages of 25 and 35. “It’s a fun demographic,” he said.

Another reason the developer believes it can fill the building is its location.

“You can’t get much closer to the heart of the city than this historic building with its beautiful bay windows overlooking the Civil War monument and easy access to downtown theaters, restaurants, shops and parking,” said Monica Clark, director of operations and community at 616 Development.

A deck will go up on the roof; storage areas and a common space for tenants will be built in the basement. 616 will move its offices to the building’s second floor.

“I’m delighted to see this project happening,” said DDA Vice Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

The Kendall Building was built in 1880 and named after George Kendall, who came to the city in 1846. He was a businessman in the grocery and dry goods trade and served as a village trustee, an alderman and as a school board member. Kendall also belonged to St. Mark’s Church and helped to start St. Mark’s College, which led to the naming of College Street. The building, sandwiched between Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, has five stories and about 15,000 square feet of space.

Larson said this was the fourth time the DDA has approved the obsolete-property tax break, having done so twice in 2003 and again the following year. He also said the DDA currently was generating only $140 a year in tax capture from the structure, which has been vacant for decades, but would get about $13,000 annually after the tax abatement expires.

Coppess said he wants to begin the renovation this fall. He credited the DDA and the city with making the project possible.

“Without support from Kris (Larson), Jay (Fowler) and the city staff, this project would not have been possible. Kris is a true professional who is already working hard to continue the positive momentum established by leveraging public-private partnerships in downtown over the past three decades,” he said.

Larson replaced Fowler as executive director in August when Fowler retired from the post after nine years.

The DDA also entered into an agreement with a team of consultants to evaluate and make recommendations to improve Monument and Veterans Memorial parks, located near the Kendall Building. OCBA, Quinn Evans Architects, FTC&H, Bazan Electric and LandArc Studio were chosen by a committee the DDA named in May. The DDA has allocated $119,473 for the project.

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