Second Story To Buy Eight-Story Y

August 20, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A commitment to downtown and a realization that older adults would enjoy living in that district are why Second Story Properties plans to purchase and renovate the soon-to-be-vacant YMCA building at 33 Library NE.

Second Story recently reached an agreement with YMCA officials to buy the 89-year-old structure and will develop the 125,000-square-foot facility into unique condominiums that will feature a goodly number of amenities that should appeal to active adults who want to simplify their lives.

The building’s location also played a major role in the firm’s decision to go ahead with the effort. The Civic Theatre, the Van Andel Arena, the library, along with churches, museums, and restaurants, all are nearby.

“With all of the cultural happenings and the flagship cultural institutions all anchored downtown, it just seems a natural setting for a more mature community,” said Second Story Properties President Sam Cummings.

“Sam and I have always been, and always will be, very committed to downtown Grand Rapids,” added John Green, executive vice president of Second Story Properties.

“When we’ve talked to people living in the suburbs, generally the empty-nester crowd, we’ve sensed that they have a need for community, for intellectual stimulation, to know their neighbor and to really be a part of something.”

Second Story will spend $15 million to buy the eight-story Y and build about 40 condos, most of which will have two or three bedrooms. The units will range in size from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet and prices will start at around $190,000.

The building’s exterior will be historically restored, while the interior will be renovated to match today’s tastes. The project will be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and residents will have wireless access to the Internet.

The interior will have common areas for recreation and social interaction, a rooftop greenhouse, an outdoor garden, a café, some lower level office space, fitness areas, a pool, and secured onsite parking in a two-level ramp.

Cornerstone Architects President Tom Nemitz, widely known for his restoration work, will design the project. A contractor will be selected later.

Cummings and Green feel all the amenities should make life more enjoyable for those who have grown weary of living in the suburbs and of maintaining a home that is now too large for them.

“With this project we think we can accommodate some of the things that demographic doesn’t want to give up. Incorporating a rooftop garden into the project was a big deal,” said Cummings.

“We’re giving people the opportunity to move beyond the walls of their condominium and still be free,” said Green.

The transaction is expected to close in May, after the Y moves into its new location on Lake Michigan Drive NW. The renovation work is expected to be completed in spring 2006.

“The fact that we don’t close until next May gives us a great opportunity to do a lot of our planning without having carrying costs,” said Cummings, who added that his firm had talked with YMCA officials for nearly 10 months before reaching an agreement.

The deal is also contingent on Second Story gaining historical and brownfield status for the building, and also getting some tax-increment financing.

“We are working very closely with the city of Grand Rapids on getting these approved. I can’t emphasize how important these types of subsidies are to make this project work,” said Green.

At least one member of the City Commission has already acknowledged the value the project potentially holds for the city.

“This project succeeds on all fronts,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

“Sustainable restoration and viable reuse of historic buildings such as this contribute enormously to the vitality and character of our community. The property will also meet the needs of a growing segment of our population,” he added.

One result from a study commissioned by the Downtown Development Authority was that empty nesters accounted for 29 percent of those who see the district as a possible place to live.

Ron Nelson, president and CEO of the YMCA, said he was pleased that Second Story Properties, a company with a solid reputation for historical preservation work in urban settings, is buying the building that served as his organization’s regional headquarters for nearly 90 years.

“The YMCA’s goal in this purchase agreement was for our historic facility to continue to enhance the downtown community, as it has done since 1915,” said Nelson. “Second Story’s development plans truly share a sincere respect and appreciation for the heritage of this building.”

Second Story has been in business since 1990. When it acquires the downtown YMCA the building will become the 17th structure the firm either owns or manages.    

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