Construction and Real Estate

Former Catholic school to become housing site for seniors

December 20, 2013
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St. James School site
The former St. James School is situated in a residential neighborhood and would be the site of a housing development for senior citizens. Courtesy Colliers International of West Michigan

The near west side of Grand Rapids is getting another residential development.

While Rockford Construction has started work on a four-building market-rate apartment complex at 600 Douglas St. NW, the Genesis Nonprofit Housing Corp. is putting together its plan to turn the former St. James School into an affordable residence for senior citizens just a few blocks west of where Rockford is building.

Genesis bought the elementary school building from the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids for $465,000; the transaction closed Dec. 6. Colin Kray and Colliers International of West Michigan represented Genesis in the deal, while Stan and Mary Anne Wisinski of NAI Wisinski of West Michigan did the same for the diocese.

The two-story brick building at 750 First St. NW gives Genesis 42,238 square feet of space to develop. The structure sits on 1.5 acres, which offers plenty of space for an expansion. The property has 92 parking spaces.

Genesis Executive Director John Wynbeek said his organization bought the building because it is near downtown and the project will meet a residential need there. At the same time, Genesis wants to increase its presence on the city’s west side.

“We already are a stakeholder on the west side. We developed and operate Iroquois Apartments above the Swift Printing building at Bridge and Mount Vernon. And our offices are in the Bridge Street Depot building across from El Sombrero,” he said.

“I’ve personally enjoyed having our office and apartments here. It was about a year ago when I was looking around the neighborhood and saw that the school was available and thought, ‘Boy, this would be a great place for housing,’” he added.

Wynbeek said Genesis is in the process of deciding how many units it will construct in the former school and how many will fit into the expansion it plans to make to the building.

“What we’re looking at is to create apartments in the school building and add some new construction, as well. There is a nice large parking lot there that I think can be useful, and I think it will enhance the neighborhood a little bit by filling in First Street with additional housing, which benefits everybody,” he said.

Wynbeek said the individuals he has spoken with have agreed the location will be a good one for senior housing. That stretch of First Street, just west of Stocking Avenue, doesn’t get a lot of traffic so the locale should be fairly quiet.

In addition, there isn’t a lot of senior housing in that immediate area. The closest, perhaps, is Villa Maria, which offers seniors apartments at the corner of Walker Street and Valley Avenue.

“We kind of think, too, there is so much movement toward housing downtown and we’re really close to downtown. Some people would say the west side is part of downtown. So we’re thinking that is a draw, as well — the close proximity to downtown and all that’s happening there,” he said.

Wynbeek has already talked to city officials about what Genesis plans to do with the building and the property, and he said he has received favorable feedback. He said Genesis will explore all the resources available to help develop the site, such as a PILOT, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, for the affordable units at St. James.

The Roman Catholic elementary school closed in June 2007. At one time, St. James was one of three elementary schools the diocese operated in what is now known as the Steepletown District. The schools at St. Adalbert and St. Mary’s were the other two.

Genesis is a nonprofit membership corporation that offers senior housing and supportive housing, meaning affordable apartments for low-income individuals and families and those with disabilities. Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, the Inner City Christian Federation and Hope Network are the corporation’s members.

“We are a separate 501(c)3, and each of those organizations appoint board members to our board. But we are separate from those organizations, as a whole,” said Wynbeek.

Genesis isn’t a newcomer to housing development. The organization owns and operates at least six developments from its office at 528 Bridge St. NW. The newest senior housing facility is Heron Manor, an apartment complex with 55 units that began providing assisted living services in 2009 at 2106 Leonard St. NE.

Right now, Genesis is building a supportive housing development called Genesis Woods on Wilson Avenue near the old 44th Street in Grandville. Wynbeek said construction is about one-third completed. Genesis Woods is the first project the organization has built in Grandville and probably the first affordable housing complex in the city.

“We have 33 apartments under construction and the units will be for low-income people with special needs,” he said. “We hope to open it in the spring.”

As for converting St. James School into senior residences, Wynbeek said Genesis’ next step is to refine the project’s specific target population. “We’re looking at seniors. We’re looking at affordable. But we’re kind of focusing on a more specific niche there. We’ll be continuing with our development plans for the school, the new construction. We’ll be submitting a tax-credit application initiative, probably in August, and then also aligning up any additional funding that might be required.”

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