Urban Market cleanup to begin

January 28, 2012
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Last summer, the Grand Rapids Economic Development Office wrote a grant application to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and asked the agency to give it $1 million for the remediation of 3.5 acres of underdeveloped land on the southeast fringe of downtown.

Recently, the office revealed that DEQ had granted its request and awarded $1 million to the site on Ionia Avenue just south of Wealthy Street, where the Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Action Committee plan to build a year-round, indoor-outdoor Urban Market. The cost of the project is expected to range from $28 million to $32 million.

“Good things do happen on Friday the 13th,” said a smiling Kara Wood, city economic development director, of the day she learned of the grant.

How did the idea to apply for the grant, which is the single biggest award the DEQ can make, come about?

“When we were preparing the brownfield documents and the project went from a renovation project to all-new construction, it became clear that there were going to be a lot more expenses related to the demolition of the buildings and the removal and disposal of the contaminated soils under the buildings. So I called up our contact at DEQ, Susan Wenzlick, and began to explore the opportunities with her,” said Wood.

Wood said the city hasn’t received a lot of DEQ grants in recent years and she felt the time, and the project, was right to file for one. The grant will actually reimburse the cost to clean up the property, as dictated by state law. “The costs have to be incurred, and then we request reimbursement from the state. I don’t know when we will actually have the money in hand, but the work can begin,” she said.

The project’s partners were, of course, ecstatic about receiving the grant.

“This funding is a significant boost to the project and will allow our private fundraising effort to focus exclusively on building the market rather than cleaning up the site. We are extremely grateful for this contribution,” said Jon Nunn, Grand Action executive director.

The city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority also is playing a big role in financing the project. City commissioners recently approved $200,000 for the development the brownfield authority received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “We also brought to the project $200,000 in EPA Revolving Loan Fund dollars again, to address the brownfield conditions of the site,” said Wood, who also serves as the authority’s executive director.

“All of these predevelopment costs are additional costs on top of the construction costs the project would have to incur. So we wanted to make it easier for the developer to do the project. With Grand Action being our private partner in this public-private partnership, it was really important for us to get all of that pre-site development stuff done first. The DDA is involved, as well. As the property owner, they were anxious to assist the project with any federal or state funding we could get our hands on,” she added.

The brownfield authority is also involved in financing the public improvements the DDA plans to make around the site. The downtown board wants to make upgrades to the utilities and streets that border the market, and the authority has agreed to issue the bonds for that work, which has been estimated at costing from $2.3 million to $2.5 million. The tax-increment revenue that will come from the property improvements the finished project will make to the site has been targeted to make the bond payments.

City commissioners gave the authority the green light to proceed with the bond issuance last week. “That’s primarily for public infrastructure,” said Wood of the bond financing, “for the road, water and sewer there on Ionia, Buckley and Logan.”

Grand Action and the DDA hope to have the market built and open in spring 2013.

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