Future meets past as Kendall renovates Federal Building

February 6, 2011
Text Size:

It could have been an albatross.

Instead, the historic old Federal Building in downtown Grand Rapids will be reincarnated as part of Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design.

“When finished, this project will present many opportunities for Kendall, but more than anything else, this project represents a fine example of how to honor the integrity and significance of an old building while transforming that building into a meaningful extension of the college’s programs and presence in the city of Grand Rapids,” Kendall President Oliver Evans wrote in last fall’s edition of college magazine Portfolio.

Working together, FSU, Kendall, the state, city and county and The Christman Co.’s affiliate Christman Capital Investment Group crafted a financing plan for the $28.5 million renovation of the 91,000-square-foot 1911 Beaux-Arts building.

The patchwork of financing includes up to $25 million in tax-exempt bonds, backed by Grand Rapids and Kent County, and $10.6 million in state tax credits as well as fundraising. The bonds became available as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act’s provision to broaden their use in order to spur development.

Construction began this fall and is expected to be complete in March 2012. KCAD will lease the building at first, but eventually will assume ownership.

After serving as the federal court house and post office, the building at 148 Ionia Ave. NW was turned over to the city in 1975. The city leased it to the Grand Rapids Art Museum from 1980 until 2007, when the museum moved to its new building at 101 Monroe Center.

Putting the building in KCAD’s hands had been discussed for many years. It sits between Kendall’s building at 17 Fountain St. NW and student housing at 5 Lyon St. NW. The apartment building is owned by Rockford Construction but is home to many Kendall students. Evans has said that having the old Federal Building as part of KCAD will give the growing college the feel of a traditional campus.

The college’s enrollment has nearly tripled from its low point of 500 in 1994 to 1,425 in fall 2010. Many of the students are traditional college-age students who will appreciate the campus feel, Evans told the Business Journal in 2009. KCAD merged with FSU in 2000, a move that he said saved the college.

Kendall was founded in 1931 through a bequest from Helen M. Kendall and named after her late husband, furniture designer David W. Kendall. It started out at the Kendalls’ home on Fountain Street, moved to College Avenue, and in 1984, settled on its current location in the former Manufacturers Building. In the 1990s, KCAD bought the neighboring Interstate Building and used an atrium to meld the two into the home it has today.

Turning the Federal Building’s former courtrooms, post office, galleries and even old jail space into classrooms, studios, exhibit space and auditoriums that meet standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design will be a challenge. The museum did not use the top two floors, which have been untouched for decades and need extensive work.

Even empty, the old Federal Building was a $100,000-per-year maintenance commitment for the city. Now, a historic building will be restored, providing construction jobs, bolstering downtown development and giving KCAD the opportunity to add space and programs for its growing student body.

Recent Articles by Elizabeth Slowik

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus