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Furniture factory could get upscale look

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Furniture factory could get upscale look

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

By Chris Knape

The Grand Rapids Press

The old brick walls of the John Widdicomb furniture factory in Grand Rapids could be transformed into an upscale office complex for more than 500 people under an $11 million redevelopment plan.

The project calls for renovation, new construction and demolition in a block along Seward Avenue NW between Fourth and Fifth streets.

The West Side site is adjacent to the Basilica of St. Adalbert and the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center, a charter school.

"We're working with (the school) to make sure whatever we do will be helpful for the school and not just for the development," said Bob Israels, who purchased the Widdicomb complex in 2002.

Israels, the owner of Israels Designs for Living, said he has a technology company that may lease the south factory building if he gets the tax credits he needs to help cover construction costs.

Israels is seeking Brownfield status for a portion of the complex.

Israels would not name the prospective tenant, but said it has about 250 employees in the Grand Rapids area with plans to add another 150.

The company is considering an alternate site in Utah for its expansion plans, Israels said.

Israels already refurbished the northern portion of the old factory complex between Fifth and Sixth streets along Seward.

He is moving his company's corporate offices and downtown store from their current home at 226 Pearl St. NW. That transition is expected to be completed by March.

The new phase of redevelopment is centered around a near-twin unrestored 160,000-square-foot building to the south.

Plans call for that portion of the factory to be expanded by up to 90,000 square feet to accommodate the technology firm or other tenants.

A two-story parking garage is planned on the site near an old wood kiln and storage buildings that would be torn down.

A distinctive skywalk that connects the two factory buildings over Fifth Street would be preserved and restored.

Israels said the work could be completed by mid-2006.

The Brownfield designation would make Israels eligible for a Michigan Single Business Tax credit worth up to $990,0000.

The site is designated a Michigan Renaissance Zone, meaning its owners and any tenants will pay virtually no state or local taxes for business conducted at the site until 2011.

The Brownfield tax credit expands the tax savings because it can be applied to other businesses not located in the Renaissance Zone.

The additional tax breaks are necessary because of environmental contamination and the high costs of redeveloping the site, versus building on an undeveloped site, Israels said.

Rick Chapla, who leads the city's Brownfield authority, said the Brownfield-related tax breaks reflect challenges of the project and the declining value of Renaissance Zones.

"Bob represents very creative design and redesign and reuse approach to a couple of problem properties," Chapla said.

A public hearing on the Brownfield request will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 as part of a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting.

The Widdicomb site is just a few blocks from American Seating Park, another former furniture factory in a Renaissance Zone that has been renovated for offices, apartments and The Stack, a restaurant and nightclub.

Israels' Pearl Street building is expected to be incorporated into or demolished to make way for a new 300- to 400-room hotel being planned by Alticor Inc.

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