Backing Off From Condos

February 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Market conditions and condominiums were on the minds of city commissioners last week as they amended brownfields for two mixed-use projects that will offer home-ownership options in different segments of the core city.

Stratus Properties LLC plans to renovate the structure at 345 State St. NE, the former Park Professional Building, for medical offices and also add two new floors with 14 condos.

38 Commerce LLC plans to build 60,000 square feet of new space across two structures that would meet at the corner of Commerce Avenue and Weston Street SW for office use, retail space and condos — or maybe a mix of condos and apartments.

“At the public hearing, it was pretty clear those were condos at the time,” said Rosalyn Bliss, 2nd Ward city commissioner, of the Commerce-Weston project.

But that proposal may change after last month’s hearing.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said condos are planned but the plan could be altered based on what the housing market is like when the project gets going. She said it could become mostly apartments, instead of all condos.

“It really is dependent on the market,” added Wood.

In contrast, Wood said Stratus Properties would be building condos.

“This one is more firm. This one is being built as a condominium project,” she said.

Second Ward Commissioner David LaGrand said it was also likely condos would be built in the State Street project. It’s located just north of the expanding Saint Mary’s Health Care campus and also is near some well-maintained homes in the Heritage Hill residential district.

“There is a very strong likelihood that there will be demand for condos here,” said LaGrand, who lives in the neighborhood.

He also said the city can’t control market conditions, which lead to changes in projects that come before the commission. But he agreed with 1st Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak, who said commissioners need to keep a close eye on downtown projects that include housing.

“If you over-saturate the market, as we seem to have done with condominiums, you’re just creating empty spaces,” said Jendrasiak.

Stratus Properties is investing $4.6 million in its project and is requesting a brownfield reimbursement of $333,750 over 15 to 20 years for demolition work, site preparation, and the removal of lead and asbestos from the building. Stratus is also asking for a business tax credit of $366,500 from the state.

38 Commerce LLC is putting nearly $14 million into its project and is asking the state for a business tax credit of $1.26 million. The Downtown Development Authority is expected to provide the project with $640,000 for elevators, ramps and streetscape improvements.

Both should be completed late next year.

Wood said the Stratus project is expected to create from 30 to 40 full-time jobs, while the 38 Commerce development would create 60 to 70. But LaGrand took issue with Wood’s use of the word “create.” He called it a soft concept and said businesses create jobs, not the office or retail spaces.

“It offers the opportunities for jobs to be created,” Wood said of the spaces. “Without the spaces, there would be no jobs.”

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