Gallium Says It Has Reached Zero

October 17, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Barring any last-minute change of plans, the Gallium Group LLC will unwrap a redesigned Calder Plaza hotel next week and ask city commissioners for a six-month extension on its one-year option to buy the plaza and its parking ramp.

At the same meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 28 — the day before the option is set to expire — Jack Buchanan said his group will provide evidence that they can get to zero.

“We are at zero. We are bringing forward facts that show we are at zero. The problem is that everything has gotten confusing from what has been presented in the past from various other parties, so much so that nobody knows what getting to zero means,” said Buchanan, CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures and the driving force behind the project.

Blue Bridge Ventures, a local real estate and development company, has partnered with Houston-based Hines Interest LP to form the Gallium Group for the project that proposes to build a convention center hotel on the plaza and move City Hall from it to a new site downtown without raising operational costs for the city.

“We will have some experts clarify that our project will not cost the taxpayers anything more than if they were to stay right there and do nothing,” added Buchanan.

Last October, city commissioners gave Gallium a one-year option on the plaza, which sits across Monroe Avenue from the new convention center, and 12 months to prove it could do what it said it could. The commission vote then was 5 to 2, and the developer paid the city $25,000 for the exclusive purchase right.

But in June, city staffers used a flurry of numbers to tell commissioners that Gallium couldn’t get to zero. In fact, Assistant City Manager Gregory Sundstrom said a new City Hall built by the developers would cost the city $67 million over 30 years. Still, by a 5-to-2 vote, commissioners beat back a motion made by Mayor John Logie to cancel the option on the spot and agreed to give Gallium a chance to make a last-ditch pitch.

Buchanan said part of that pitch would be to ask for an extension to give commissioners extra time to digest all the numbers they will hear next week.

“We’re going to be coming to commissioners with a lot of information they haven’t heard before and that we haven’t had a chance to present to them,” said Buchanan last week.

“We’d love it if they would vote for (the deal). But we don’t expect them to be able to do that.”

Getting another six months for a final decision would mean that the project’s most vocal critic, Logie, wouldn’t have a vote, as the mayor leaves office at the end of the year. More time would also allow the replacement for 3rd Ward Commissioner Scott Bowen, now a state judge, to get up to speed on the project. Bowen voted for the option last year and against ending it early in June.

Commissioners will also see a redesigned hotel because Gallium has dropped the county from its proposal, at least for the time being. (See related story.)

Now the developers are planning to construct the hotel next to the county administration building and the new design, being done by renowned Los Angeles architect Richard Keating, will move the ballroom that was planned for the county building into the hotel.

The result will likely be a taller structure than the original 24-story building, and the new design will not have any improvements for the plaza.

“We’re real confident that, on the city’s footprint, we can integrate the same functions that we were going to put into the county building into where the city site is. We don’t need the county building. So (Keating) is working on that and he is also basically working on a design that leaves the plaza the way it is,” said Buchanan.

“What we were offering to do before was to enhance the plaza. But I think that got misconstrued into that we were going to take the plaza apart and move the Calder,” he added. “We’re going to prove that we’re not going to be doing that. The plaza, for now, would stay the way it is.”      

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