Downtown projects receive city’s attention

August 2, 2011
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A downtown hotel project that has been on the shelf for the last few years got a new lease on life last week, as Grand Rapids city commissioners agreed to a smaller version of the original development plan and gave the developers two more years to begin building it.

Peter and Brian Beukema now have until July 1, 2013 to start construction of a hotel with 160 to 180 rooms and a 175-space parking structure at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Newberry Street NW, roughly a 40,000-square-foot parcel that was once occupied by Western American Mailers. The Beukemas will have to complete the work by June 30, 2015.

The site was included in the city’s original Renaissance Zone in 1997. Commissioners extended that designation in 2008, a year after the Beukemas unveiled their original building plan.

“They’ve not backed down from their commitment to the project. But they need more time to build it,” said Kara Wood, city economic development director. “The loan-to-value ratio changed during that time and they got stuck in it.”

Initially, the father-son development team planned to put up a 238-room hotel with 235 parking spaces, and 8,000 square feet of retail space at a cost of $37 million. Wood said their current investment is $18 million, plus they bought the property for $2 million.

The Beukemas, who own hotels in the area, have razed the former WAM building and cleared the site for construction. They also will make infrastructure upgrades to the property and have given the city a $950,000 letter-of-credit as part of the development agreement.

“The property has been vacant since 2004, and it will be a catalyst for major development in the North Monroe area providing additional hotel space at a mid-market price range,” said Wood. “We’re still going to get 100 new jobs from the project.” The Beukemas are doing business as Hotel Holdings Monroe LLC for the project.

Commissioners also granted the 20 Monroe Building Co. LP a second extension last week to meet deadlines for an expansion of The BOB at 20 Monroe Ave. NW. The entertainment center is to be expanded across a parking lot that the development firm purchased from the city.

However, the necessary legal case to vacate Ferry Street, a narrow publically owned stretch that is immediately north of the lot, has to be conducted in Kent County Circuit Court, and having to wait for that decision would make it impossible for 20 Monroe to meet its current deadlines. About 190 individuals have to be made aware of the case. “We reviewed this request with our legal counsel and feel their request is fair,” said Wood. “There is a significant level of investment riding on this.”

So commissioners gave the firm another year to file for building permits and to begin and complete construction. “This certainly is a project that I think is worth waiting for,” said Commissioner Walt Gutowski.

According to the latest agreement, work on the project has to begin by Oct. 1, 2012, and be finished by Oct. 1, 2013. The project’s final plan has to be filed with the city on Aug. 1, 2012. The Gilmore Collection owns The BOB.

Jon Blair, Jeffrey Baker and Matt Steigenga should know next week whether the Rood Building they own will be designated as a historic structure. Commissioners set Aug. 9 as the date to make their decision whether to place the 138-year-old building at 139 Pearl St. NW in a local historic district all by itself. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Local attorney Charles Conant Rood built it in 1873. Noteworthy architect William Robinson designed the Rood, which has been the first-floor home to Flanagan’s Irish Pub since 1981. The owners, doing business as Rood Sixty North LLC, plan to renovate the structure’s top three floors for apartments.

A study committee established by the city recommended that the building receive the local designation. Its ruling was supported by the city’s Historic Preservation and Planning commissions.

“The designation will not only add another layer of protection to this significant building,” said Suzanne Schulz, city planning director, “it will afford the owners the opportunity to obtain needed tax credits for the renovation of the building.”

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