Government, Manufacturing, and Real Estate

Land bank closer to selling Sparta Foundry site

Authority to help Cedar Springs redevelop key downtown property.

October 27, 2012
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The unidentified party interested in buying the four-acre site of the former Sparta Foundry is reportedly flying in from Amsterdam in a few weeks to meet with officials from the Kent County Land Bank Authority and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

KCLBA Executive Director Dave Allen said the meeting is most likely to take place around the middle of November and it just may result in a sale of the property at 252 Gardner St. in Sparta. The land bank acquired the contaminated site early this year when Kent County commissioners assigned it to the authority for remediation and sale.

Since that assignment, the land bank has cleared the site and made the property ready for a transaction. “We’re that close to a deal,” said Allen, as he held the thumb and forefinger of his right hand just a few centimeters apart.

The potential buyer owns a manufacturing business, and Allen noted that if a deal gets done the plant that would be built on the site would be a first-of-a-kind business for the area.

Allen said the land bank has sold the building at 1007 E. Fulton St. in Grand Rapids to an Australian couple who will be opening a catering business and a café there. The land bank bought the purple-and-green structure, which once housed a Believe in Music store and more recently the Beat Goes On record shop, from the county in a tax-foreclosure sale for $12,000 in back property taxes.

Allen also said the land bank has received an offer for an industrial building at 3106 Three Mile Road in Walker. The business that was located in the building had the only printing press in the state that could print directly on bottles. Allen reported that Haviland Products Co. bought the building’s equipment, hired the business’ staff, and moved both into its plant at 421 Ann St. NW.

The building is getting a $90,000 makeover and a new business will move into it. “This is the result the land bank likes to see,” said Allen.

Board members agreed last week to a request made earlier by the city of Cedar Springs.  KCLBA took the deed to a badly blighted, two-story building in the city’s downtown district at a key address at 95 N. Main St. and has taken on the task of getting the property ready for redevelopment on the city’s behalf.

The structure has to be demolished because it is filled with asbestos and lead paint, and there reportedly is an underground tank beneath it that may be filled with petroleum products. The property is actually three separate parcels, two of which are vacant. The site is important because it is directly across the street from the property where Cedar Springs plans to build a new civic center, a project that would also include a library and an amphitheater.

Ideally, the city would like to see a mixed-use development, with a restaurant on the lower level and apartments above, built on the site once it’s cleared, cleaned and sold. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds the city received will be used to assist with the cleanup work. The project also hopes to draw funding from the Michigan Blight Elimination Program.

“We’ve gotten funding for projects like these in the past,” said Jeff Edwards of SME Environmental, an engineering firm that does a lot of remediation work.

Allen said the North Main Street site is probably worth from $15,000 to $20,000. “It’s worth the same with or without the building,” he added. “This will not cost us anything.”

Allen told board members that the organization was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from the Dyer-Ives Foundation to help cover the cost of developing its three-year strategic plan that the land bank’s Advisory Council is directing. “The $15,000 will be more than enough to cover it,” he said.

Allen also said some organizations, such as the city of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors, have approached him about being on the Advisory Council. But, at least for now, all 16 seats on the body are filled and there isn’t any duplication of representation on the council.

As far as the land bank’s finances are concerned, Allen said the organization was $8,000 under budget for the year. “I think we’ve done a really good job of controlling costs,” he said, while noting that a $2,500 insurance bill was on its way. “Before the end of the year, we’ll have a project-by-project budget for you,” he told board members.

Allen also announced that the land bank will be moving from 82 Ionia Ave. NW, a county-owned office building just off Monroe Center, to a third-floor suite in the Waters Building on Ottawa Avenue. “We will be more than doubling our space in a professionally styled place for only $325 a month more,” he said.

Plainfield Township Supervisor George Meek will be leaving the land bank board next month. He lost in the August primary election, after serving the township for 35 years. His last day as supervisor is Nov. 20. “It’s been very beneficial to have you here and we’ll find a way to keep you involved,” said Kenneth Parrish, KCLBA chairman and Kent County Treasurer.

Parrish said he hadn’t been served papers from a lawsuit the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance announced that it filed a few weeks ago against the county, the land bank and Parrish. The suit claims the trio violated state law by allowing the land bank to buy tax-foreclosed properties prior to the county’s annual public sale and doing so “significantly reduced the county’s revenue, by as much as $1 million or more.”

The suit’s plaintiffs are Rusty Richter, the Keystone Realty Group LLC, 383OG LLC, Jeff Fortuna, James Kane and the Affordable Housing Coalition. Kent County Circuit Court Judge George Buth has been assigned the case. “We’ve not had discussions with legal counsel yet,” said Parrish. “We will defend ourselves diligently.”

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