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Condos may take Jacobson's space

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In Grosse Pointe, condos may take Jacobson's space

Dwellings in the Village would be for seniors

April 20, 2004

BY AMBER HUNT MARTIN

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Adding condos or lofts to spice up a retail-heavy downtown is nothing new -- think Royal Oak, Port Huron or Birmingham. But Grosse Pointe's latest proposal has a twist: Its development would be aimed at seniors.

The City Council heard plans Monday from Sunrise Senior Living to renovate the vacated Jacobson's department store in the Grosse Pointe Village shopping area with retail stores on the first floor and condos above.

The proposal, still in the planning stages, mirrors other cities' attempts to boost downtown business by increasing foot traffic. But most of those efforts have been all-age condominiums or apartments, not just those for so-called active seniors.

"We see this community as supporting the Village," said Sandra Jouhet of the Velmeir Cos., the Michigan-based development partner of CVS Corp., which owns the former Jacobson's on Kercheval.

The building has been empty since Jacobson's left town following bankruptcy proceedings in late 2002.

CVS and Velmeir have spent the past 18 months trying to figure out what would be a good fit for the city, said John Youngblood, Velmeir's attorney.

Market studies ruled out hotels, he said, while shopping trends don't seem to support second-floor retail anymore. The obvious choice -- short of another department store, which proved tough to find -- was condominiums, he said.

"What we're trying to re-create here is Birmingham, quite frankly," Youngblood told more than 100 people gathered at the meeting, which was moved to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial to accommodate the crowd.

His comparison drew groans and hisses from the crowd, which complained that the development would crush the Village'sretail appeal.

"I'm happy I can buy jeans at the Gap, but I'm tired of having to go to Somerset to buy my kid's shoes," said Susie Farrell, 36, a Grosse Pointe resident, referring to the Somerset Collection in Troy.

Farrell echoed many residents' concerns that the 80,000-square-foot retail chunk would be chopped down to an estimated 40,000 square feet.

Velmeir officials said the condominium space would be about 150,000 square feet; about 10,000 of that would be a community center.

The development, which would grow to four stories, would feature 80 to 90 condos measuring 1,000 to 1,800 square feet. The units are expected to cost between $400,000 and $700,000.

That price tag drew gasps from the crowd gathered Monday.

Sue Garr of Grosse Pointe Park said she'd prefer a development for all ages, not just seniors.

"Seniors -- and I'll be one of them very soon -- don't want that institutional feel. They want 30-year-olds living next door to them," Garr said, then dropped her voice to a hush. "They don't want to feel old."

Contact AMBER HUNT MARTIN at 586-469-4904 or [email protected]

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