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City Centre Ramp Replacement


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Proposals in for old parking site

The city received five proposals for redeveloping the high-profile downtown site of the now demolished City Centre parking ramp. The deadline for proposals was 5pm Friday, but details about the projects won't be available until the the sealed envelopes are opened Monday. The city's request for proposals set an asking price of $1.95 million for the site, at the southwest corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue. Preference will be given to proposals providing ground-level arts and entertainment-related retail establishments such as a movie theatre, bookstore, home furnishing store or clothing store. Proposals were submitted by RSC & Associates of Chicago; Rockford Construction of Belmont; Rhoades McKee, a Grand Rapids law firm; and two unknown developers, according to the Grand Rapids planning Department.

Source: GR Press

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This should be an interesting development. I would not expect any significant size, but I would expect a good eight to ten floor mixed use (primarily residential) building. The interesting one is the law firm, that may be a bit larger as there would be a need for more commercial space as well as the required retail and residential.

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The RSC plan sounds great, exactly the kind of mixed use needed to bring people around the corner at all times of the day. I'd like more height, but the variety of elements in the project makes up for it generously.

As for the Rockford proposal, what a dud. Sounds like someone at Rockford forgot that it isn't 1988 anymore. Not only would a drug store be vastly inappropriate for the site and the area (esp. with the "gateway" significance) but also - the parking lot? If it was in the city's interests to spend money (or equity) on parking spaces, it would have fixed the ramp that was there a year ago. Not to mention the fact that Rockford's proposal stiffs the city royally even considering the returned equity.

I'm 110% in favor of RSC.

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Here is the entire article:

Developers tout their ideas for downtown 'gateway'

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

By Chris Knape and Jim Harger

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- The seals were broken Monday on five vastly different visions for what city leaders have billed as the crossroads of downtown.

Now comes the hard part -- choosing a proposal that best fits the city's desires for the site of the former City Centre parking ramp.

How close developers came to the city's asking price of $1.95 million for the 37,000-square-foot lot -- most met or exceeded it -- is just one factor that must be weighed.

"Price is important, but more important is the utilization of the site," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, who got a glance at the proposals Monday.

"The intersection of Fulton and Division is the gateway into downtown, the crossroads," Heartwell said. "Having a gateway structure there -- something that really stands out that is architecturally attractive, creates some community vitality and, perhaps, residential vitality -- is vitally important."

The corner serves as an important link between the Heartside Neighborhood and the city's central business district, said Susan Shannon, the city's economic development director.

"You don't have this amount of vacant property available in the city very often," Shannon said.

The city's request for proposals said it would favor mixed-use plans, particularly those with arts-and-entertainment related retailers, including movie theaters and bookstores.

While some of the projects have similar features, each presents a decidedly different potential future for the heavily traveled corner:

- A proposal by Chicago-based RSC &Associates envisions a $24.7 million modern-looking entertainment complex featuring a jazz club and upscale billiards hall and a two-story bookstore alongside an 11-story condominium tower. Grand Rapids-based Second Story Properties has signed on to help market the proposal.

RSC is offering $2 million for the site. The company, led by Richard Curto, has developed several mixed-use properties in and around Chicago and is planning mixed-use redevelopment of the long-vacant Fort Shelby Hotel in Detroit.

Curto said no tenants have signed on for the project, but several have expressed interest if the project gets the go-ahead.

- The $12 million design dubbed One Fulton Plaza by Rockford Cos. of Belmont and architects Design Plus includes a national pharmacy chain adjoining a five-story condominium building. The offer provides the city with $330,000 in cash and 78 public parking spaces valued at $1.62 million to be deeded back by the developers.



Rockford Chief Executive John Wheeler said his project could be under construction almost immediately.

"We've been looking at this corner for years and years and years," he said. "South of Fulton is where we've invested our heart and souls."

Rockford and Design Plus have been involved in many other high-profile development projects downtown, collaborating on Western Michigan University's downtown Graduate Center, among other projects. Rockford and Chicago-based Pepper Construction recently were named general contractors for Alticor's downtown Marriott hotel project.

- A $29 million plan called City Center Place includes an eight-plus story office and condominium building with street-level retail space. The plan is presented by Division &Fulton LLC, whose backers were not disclosed. The developers are offering $1.18 million for the land.

Commercial real estate broker David Levitt, of S.J. Wisinski &Co., is representing Fulton &Division LLC.

"They are local GR guys," he said, declining to disclose their identities.

All three of the more-detailed projects include a mix of public and private parking spaces to serve tenants and nearby retailers and attractions. Public parking was a key component mentioned in the city's request for proposals.

Two of the proposals were thinner on details.

- Developer and commercial real estate agent Robert Tol proposes using the site for two years as parking and to stage construction of the 14-story, $52 million Park Place condominium tower he is planning on property he owns across the street.

Eventually a mixed-use project with a grocery, apartments, condominiums and offices could be built at the former parking ramp site, although few details are provided.

Tol's offer of $2.05 million for the land is the highest the city received. He could not be reached for comment.

- East Grand Rapids businessman James Azzar, through his attorney at Rhoades McKee, is proposing another parking ramp for the site to support two vacant buildings he owns nearby. He is offering $1.95 million.

The proposal states the parking would allow Azzar to convert his long-empty Keeler Building at the southeastern corner of Fountain Street and Division Avenue NE for use as a hotel. The smaller, boarded-up Kendall building fronting Monroe Center would be converted to residential condominiums.

Azzar's attorney, Robert Shaver, said the parking ramp achieves the city's goal of mixed use by enabling the reuse of two other buildings.

The city will assess the proposals over the next few weeks before deciding which developers to interview, Shannon said. City Commissioners could vote on the recommended proposal by late April.

The plans are available for public review at the development office inside City Hall.

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My biggest question though is concerning the convention center. Ok, so now we have a world class center... but with comparatively inadequate city features to help support it. It has been a complaint from convention organizers. Perhaps you all have already talked about this? The biggest problem, as I see it, is the area directly around the center. A first-time visitor walks out the front doors and is greeted by the stone wall of a parking garage and some of the ugliest buildings in the city (don't get me started about the 60's disaster, 'urban renewal'.)


A short while ago, a proposal was put out to build new city and county gov't offices on a different site and redevelop Calder Plaza with a 25 story hotel, among other things. It was heavily criticized for potentially placing a lump of the cost on taxpayers and I never heard much about it again. What ever happened to it? Can the gov't relocate to the riverfront lot it already owns? Seems to me they could sell the current site at a fortune. I'd love to see the site redeveloped (with the Calder sculpture in the plan) as a tourist-friendly urban park with retail, dinning, and lodging. Are there any more plans for the site in the air?

Great idea, but the implementation was a scam, no simple way of putting it. There will always be probles with Caldar Plaza as it is a public space and getting close to it will irritate some people. It will always be an administrative center, and it will hopfully improve soon. The Fed and State buildings are in desperate need of upgrade (demolition) and it will happen soon. GR is not the 600,000 metro that they were originally desinged for. The City will probably also stick around but the County is out - they have their own land now, Moch's old riverfront plot. I expect the County to move sooner rather than later and to leave the city in a bind. The fed and State complexes should merge and another multi use office building will also probably be be built.

At least this is what the word has been for quite some time. There are plans for the plaza and they go well beyond some random developer looking to rip off the city. I expect soon that there will be some rumblings. This has been planned for a decade.

I have always thought that the comotose Ottawa and Lyon building would make an ideal home for some of the government offices. DeVos has refused to claimed defeat on it and maintains that the proposal has only been stalled.

There is also the vacant (and gorgeous) Olds Manor building and the horrendous, insufficient post office. I thought the post office already bought land near the airport, right? DeVos owns Olds Manor, almost certainly to become a hotel, but I'm sure they want to wait on construction until they can get the post office out too.

Rockford Const. owns the Olds and will most likely make it a hotel. The problem is the Post Office and getting them out. The bigger problem is the Post Office's national funding issues and their building freeze. Years ago they did contract with some land by the airport (their ideal location). However, since there has been a nationally imposed ban on building - they are dman near broke. They won't even accept bids on the land, because no matter what the get. they cannot build - stupid and short sighted government policy, but law. They denied VanAndel and DeVos as this was their 'ideal' location for a convention hotel.

If they could not get it done, no one can. They have more contacts in DC than most high level people in the world. The Post Office will not budge. It is sad, but I guess rules are rules and they need to be consistant.

The GR Press lot is also of great value. They really don't need all the space anymore as they have the new (and impressive) printing building in Walker. They now just have their writers and newsroom in the downtown location. I haven't heard anything, but I'd guess they're waiting for the right offer before relocating to a smaller, more appropriate site.

I could actually see the Press selling. They are bleeding money, have more than enough room in Walker, and don't need the space downtown. To their credit they are staying downtown because that is where they thing they should be. It is noble, and should be applauded that there are actually there because they see the non monetary value in it.

However, there is no reason why they should not sell their land and building and allow a developer to improve the lot. The Press does not have leave downtown if they sell the building, there are other offices that they could easily occupy.

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Ah, so many things to talk about. This is a great discussion.

First- The Proposals -

(Listed in preferred order)

1. RSC - This proposal is by far the best. I am also disappointed by the size. Even another 6 stories would have given some great density to this area. With that being said, it looks like it fits every criteria set by the city. With Second Story Properties involved I am sure this will be a nice development. I am a bit disappointed that the main "tower" is on Fulton and Commerce and not Fulton and Division. I wish they could flip the property. I would like to see some real renderings. It will be interesting to see if they have funding in place. This is my favorite proposal.

2. Fulton and Division LLC - It has some good density, the architecture is something that would be new to the city, and I like the mixed use. It will be interesting to see who is behind this. I think developers should have to reveal themselves when submitting proposals to the city.

3. Rockford Construction / Design Plus - I was REALLY disappointed by this one. 5 stories? A pharmacy at the forefront? Yuck! The architecture is very much in line with Cherry Street landing, but I would like to something new and bold. I thought Rockford would be the place to beat but their proposal is woefully inadequate. Also, they offered $330,000 plus parking spots? Huh? RSC offered $2 million outright. I think they are out of it unless they can revise their proposal (is that possible). Such a shame for a company that has done such good things for the city. Save the Wallgreens for a different location (Campau, Monroe Center, anywhere else ;)

4. Tol - The funny thing here is he is competing against his partner in Park Place condominiums. (I hope) there is no way the city will accept a proposal to use it as a staging area for two years for Park Place with no concrete plans on what he'd do next (he's a realtor, he'd probably sell it ;). This one goes down in flames.

5. Azzar - This guy has been a thorn in the city's sides and is a slum lord in my opinion. He bought the firehouse on Grandville with the caveat that he must renovate the building. He's done nothing. He has threatened to TEAR DOWN the Keeler building (a fantastic building I might add) due to lack of parking (huh? Get creative, Jonathan Rooks has no problem selling a bunch of high-rent condos with parking in the distance). The proposal stinks. There is no way in hell this happens. I'll strap myself to the construction equipment if they build another parking ramp on the site.

So, hands down, if they have the funding, I think RSC is the clear winner. Now boost it up 5-10 stories and hire a world-class architect and I will be completely happy. :)

Second - The wall

I totally agree with the fieldstone wall outside of city call / county building. It is an abomination. There would be so many ways to redevelop this or redesign it. It looks like Grand Rapids mini-fortress, with a couple of ugly black buildings as the castle. I appreciate modern architecture, but these two need to go the way of the dodo.

Third - Olds Manor

I think you will see Old's Manor get redeveloped rather quickly, with eyes towards a bigger complex when the post office unfreezes their building moratorium. I am sure there is plenty of pressure for the Grand Rapids office to move. #1 - Real Estate. They could make some good money off this out-dated building and clean up their riverfront (see: civic duty). #2 That building looks VERY inefficient. I'm sure a more modern warehouse by the airport with a downtown substation would serve them well.

Forth - GR Press

I think this move is inevitable. After the presses moved, along with all distribution, they are sitting in an awfully big empty building and I'm sure the cost of converting the old printing-press room and distribution facility would be more than it is worth. I hope they keep the white collar jobs downtown, but they should move and make way for progress, now! Plus, it is the third ugliest building downtown (behind the green brick federal building and the Fifth-Third building) ;) The Medical Towers building is very ugly too but it's days are numbered.

Five - The Gallium Group

I don't know the numbers behind moving city hall and the county building, but what I always hated was the city commission's mentality of "it has to come to zero". They then quickly turned around and coughed up millions for the Marriott building. I think this was a case of unfair politics. You watch, the County and City building will move in the next 5-10 years, taxpayers will be caught holding the bag for new buildings and we will have missed out on a world-class designed tax generating hotel. It is obvious that the County is already moving in this direction although they claim their real estate purchase was an investment decision... Whatever! :)

And to all the lurkers who jumped into the conversations. Welcome, and keep talking. :)


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  • 4 weeks later...

Here's an excerpt from the Grand Rapids Press about the proposals that got reviewed yesterday. Oddly, they let the two really stupid proposals get their day in the sun... I would love to know the full details of the RSC proposal. It sounds like the Fulton/Division proposal is not going to happen to mysterious. I think it is being proposed by Bruce Wayne (batman). Why else would they be so mysterious?

The proposals by Tol and Azzar, initially not on the city's short list, were given a full review along with the other three.

The Rockford/Design Plus project is the only one in which developers say they can start construction immediately.

RSC &Associates and Second Story Properties provided the most detailed proposal of the day for their entertainment, retail and residential concept.

"We are in discussions with a bookstore and theater, both of which are locally owned," said Sam Cummings, president of Second Story. He did not name the prospects.

The proposal by Fulton and Division LLC remained the largest, most expensive at $29 million -- and most mysterious.

David Levitt, a commercial real estate agent for S.J. Wisinski &Co., said he could not disclose the company's financial backers or the tenant he said has agreed to take 20,000 square feet of office space in its development -- half of the total office space planned. - Chris Knape - Grand Rapids Press

Does anybody know if the city provides transcripts of meetings like this?


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Here's an excerpt from the Grand Rapids Press about the proposals that got reviewed yesterday. Oddly, they let the two really stupid proposals get their day in the sun...  I would love to know the full details of the RSC proposal. It sounds like the Fulton/Division proposal is not going to happen to mysterious. I think it is being proposed by Bruce Wayne (batman). Why else would they be so mysterious?

Does anybody know if the city provides transcripts of meetings like this?



They must have recorded mintues, but I'm not sure if they are publicly posted like the regular meetings. A staffperson from Economic Development told me today that the city isn't releasing any critiques or responses at this time.

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Thanks Centro. I would love to hear the pitches... I think we can handle the critiques... :) If you here of a way to get access to the transcripts, please let me know.

They must have recorded mintues, but I'm not sure if they are publicly posted like the regular meetings.  A staffperson from Economic Development told me today that the city isn't releasing any critiques or responses at this time.


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