County Upgrading Downtown Office Building

October 31, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Not that many governmental units are also landlords, but Kent County happens to be one that is.

The county owns the building at 82 Ionia Ave. NW, just a block north of Monroe Center, and manages the commercial and office spaces there for some of its departments, but also for three private-sector tenants and two government agencies that aren’t affiliated with the county.

As part of keeping its commitment to those tenants, the county has eight improvement projects listed for the building over four of the next five years that are worth $8.7 million, if all are done within that timeframe. Two are certain to be done next year, while four are targeted for 2009, one for 2011, and another for 2012.

Making repairs to the southwest side of the building and replacing the structure’s air-conditioning system are the two projects on tap for 2008. An engineering study paid for by the county revealed that 82 Ionia is settling. The county will spend an estimated $150,000 to correct the situation.

“The building is structurally sound and the settling is normal for a building of its age. We did have an engineering analysis done that proposed some solutions, and the plan for 2008 is to implement those solutions to make the building safe for the long term,” said Robert Mihos, facilities management director for Kent County.

“It’s just normal settling, and we’re being proactive to counteract and offset that.”

The repair plan hasn’t been finalized yet and won’t be until the engineering specifications are done, which will probably be next spring. Then the county will put the project up for bid, most likely next summer. When the bids come in, the plan will be finalized.

“We’re putting money in the budget to have that done, but the engineering will have to take place first and then the specifications will be put together,” said Mihos.

The other project the county is set to undertake in 2008 is to replace the chiller and the cooling tower that provide air conditioning for 82 Ionia. The units are 27 years old and were rebuilt three years ago, which added up to five years to the system’s life expectancy. Since the rebuild was done, though, two assessments have recommended that the chiller be replaced.

Kent has set aside $400,000 for the work. The county will solicit bids for the project early next year so the effort can by completed by April.

The most expensive project the county has on its capital improvement list for 82 Ionia is replacing the parking ramp in 2012 at a cost of $7.8 million. But Mihos said that project isn’t carved in stone and will only go forward if the building needs more parking. Right now, he said the ramp has an adequate number of spaces for tenants and their visitors.

“We’re putting it into the long-term planning in the event we need additional parking spaces, but that isn’t a totally approved project,” he said. “If the need is there, then that is something we will consider. If it’s not, then we will just continue to maintain the ramp.”

The county bought the building in 2005 from the Peter Secchia family for $5.5 million, after leasing space in it for seven years. The reason the county bought it was to make sure it had some available space for any overflow that might come from the county courthouse, at the corner of Ottawa and Lyon NW. But so far, shifting a court-related department from the courthouse to 82 Ionia hasn’t been necessary.

“It gives us a good adjacency to the services that support the courthouse, just two blocks away,” said Mihos.

The county’s prosecutor’s office, community development office, Friend of the Court, and circuit court probation occupy space at 82 Ionia. The city’s 61st District Court drug-testing program is there. Other tenants are the National Labor Relations Board, AT&T, Lucre Inc. and Wiersum Restaurants Inc., which owns and operates the Diversions Video Bar and Grill located on the ground floor.

The building was built in 1932 and renovated in 1979. It offers 108,000 square feet of space over its four stories and has a two-story ramp with parking for 128 vehicles. Mihos said about 12,000 square feet was vacant and about 300 people work in the building on a regular basis.

“Most of the projects are being done to help improve and decrease the energy use in the facility, which will, in turn, lower operating costs, thereby making the facility more cost-effective to operate and maintain, and also improving the safety and security of customers and staff.”

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