Government and Real Estate

County may sell riverfront site

A request for bids on the property could be issued soon.

October 19, 2012
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County may sell riverfront site

Kent County may consider selling a prime downtown site that consists of a trio of adjacent riverfront parcels on Monroe Avenue, just north of Michigan Street and next to the I-196 overpass, if the price is right. Kent has owned the land for the past eight years.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio told members of the county’s Executive Committee late last week that he has been approached by a representative of an “institution” that is interested in buying the parcels that total 1.28 acres in the 500 block of Monroe Ave. NW on the east bank of the Grand River.

Delabbio did not identify the institution that made the inquiry. “It might make sense for us to consider disposing of that property,” he said.

Delabbio also said the county wasn’t under any pressure to sell the land, which has been fenced off and maintained as greenspace. “There may be more individuals and institutions interested in this property,” he added.

To determine that interest, Delabbio asked County Purchasing Director Jon Denhof to write a request-for-proposal that the county will likely issue in the near future. The RFP would allow the county to accept bids on the site. But the date as to when the RFP would be ready hadn’t been set as of last week.

Commissioner Jim Talen, though, wondered if now is a good time for the county to sell the properties after the recession has reduced most property values. “We’ve had this property for so long. Is there a need to sell it?” he asked.

Delabbio said there wasn’t, “We’re not under any pressure to do so.” He added that he had been told that the price for riverfront property hasn’t risen in recent years.

Although the site hasn’t produced any apparent revenue for the county, it hasn’t cost the county much to maintain it, either. “We bought it when prices were up and we don’t want to lose money,” said Commissioner Dan Koorndyk.

The county bought the land in 2004 for $2.4 million from Frank Freund, an executive vice president, treasurer and CFO for American Physical Capital Inc. of East Lansing. At that time, the Gallium Group, an investment partnership between Blue Bridge Ventures and Hines Interest LP, had been trying to buy City Hall and the County Administration Building. Both are on Calder Plaza. Gallium wanted to build a hotel and office structure then on the plaza, a project that didn’t go forward.

The county didn’t announce a specific use for the site when it purchased the land on Monroe Avenue. But the county did acknowledge back then that the property was large enough to accommodate a new administration building should the Calder Plaza site change hands. “We’re not sure what the highest and best use of that property is,” said then-Commission Chairman David Morren when the purchase was made.

The county also owns a 90-space parking lot across Monroe Avenue from the property, which it owned before it purchased the riverfront land. That site is used for employee parking and could become part of a sales transaction, if one goes forward.

“What I’m hearing is we’re here for good,” said Koorndyk last week of the county’s current location. But Koorndyk added that there was a time when no one thought the Grand Rapids Press building would be sold. Michigan State University, though, purchased that building on the northeast corner of Michigan and Monroe for its medical school earlier this year.

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