Architecture & Design and Real Estate

New developer revives old building into apartments

LC Companies enters market for first time, but not for its first historic rehab.

November 3, 2012
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New developer revives old building
The Century Furniture Building, formerly the Baker Furniture Building, is getting an $18.5 million renovation that, when completed, will feature apartments, retail and office space. Courtesy LC Companies

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Mike Jacobson may be a new developer in downtown, but he isn’t a newcomer to the district.

Jacobson’s firm, LC Companies LLC, is historically renovating the Century Furniture Building — the former Baker Furniture Building at 40 Logan St. SW — at a cost of $18.5 million. When the project is completed next summer, the five-story building that offers 125,000 square feet of space will be called Baker Lofts.

Baker Lofts will feature 87 affordable apartments ranging from 650 to 1,200 square feet on the top four floors. The ground floor will have 15,000 square feet of retail space, leasing offices and a workout space for the building’s residents.

The project is in an underdeveloped area at the southern edge of a district that has drawn a great deal of attention ever since the Downtown Development Authority and Grand Action Committee revealed their plans for the new Downtown Market on Ionia Avenue SW near Wealthy Street. The market is a $30 million development that will become the city’s first indoor-outdoor, year-round market next summer.

Baker Lofts will be just a block south of the market.

“As this area of the city begins its transformation, it is key to have high-quality, lower-cost housing available,” said Michael VanGessel, CEO of Rockford Construction, the firm LC Companies chose to manage the transformation.

Jacobson, who is also an attorney, has lived here for quite awhile. He also has had his eye on downtown for a long time, and on the Century Furniture Building for at least the past three years.

“Our initial discussions and efforts to start working on the building pre-dated the (Downtown) Market announcement, but that only strengthened it as a location. But Ionia, in our minds, was going to extend beyond Wealthy Street, and it really is a fine, old building,” he said. “I’m very familiar with downtown.”

Jacobson told the Business Journal that LC Companies is a collection of firms with various business interests and two offices, one in Ann Arbor and one in northern Michigan. He added that the company’s specialty is developing affordable housing, which is what he is bringing to Baker Lofts.

“The concept of affordable housing encompasses different strata. Predominantly, we serve people with incomes of 60 percent or less of an area’s median income,” he said. “Depending on how it’s developed and structured, that can either encompass an entire spectrum of people who fit that category or tier.

“And in our case, we predominately service people from 40 to 60 percent of that income tier and that encompasses a lot of people who work downtown,” he added.

After conducting some studies of the market and reviewing some that others have done, Jacobson said his firm found a need for more rental housing — certainly for those individuals at the income level he described.

“Our conclusion is there should be a substantial demand for it. And I think the coolness of the area that is resulting from all the efforts being made with the (Downtown) Market will help make it a very attractive housing area,” he said.

Jacobson said the project has been approved for federal historical tax credits, and those guidelines will be strictly followed in the detailed restoration of the early-1900s-era building. The project also will receive tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to develop affordable housing in an area of the Heartside Business District that can use more residential units.

LC Companies also will seek LEED certification for the building from the U.S. Green Building Council once the work is finished. “In late July or early August, we should finish, and the apartments are set to go online in early April,” he said.

Jacobson said he selected Rockford Construction to manage what some might see as a fairly delicate project because of its track record for historically renovating dozens of century-old structures.

“Rockford has a vast amount of experience in rehabilitating old furniture warehouses. They’ve had properties of similar construction, so it was very logical to consider them,” he said.

The project is being designed by Gary Breen of Concept Design Studio in Norton Shores, an architectural firm that has developed a reputation for historic preservation and adaptive reuse work.

“They’ve done other historical rehabilitations for us,” said Jacobson. “Gary is very good at what he does and is great to work with.”

Although LC Companies might be new to Grand Rapids — this is the firm’s first development here — Jacobson mentioned that historically restoring an old, vacant urban building isn’t new to them.

“We have done several others in the state in urban areas that have proved to be very attractive to the residents. These are the kind of buildings that people like to stay in, and we don’t experience a lot of turnover,” he said.

“Urban living is becoming a really attractive mode of lifestyle for the type of tenants that we attract, and we expect that will happen with this project.”

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