At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, public hearings were held for two new developments in the downtown area with developers of both projects seeking Brownfield status for their projects. Like many recent developments, the developments will incorporate a mix of retail stores, office space, and condominiums and provide what developers claim will be an important addition to the economic vitality of downtown Grand Rapids.
The first hearing addressed a planned development at 45 Ionia called “The Tall House.” The project is being touted by the developers as a way to create a “heart for downtown” that would cater to and attract the first wave of new urbanites and would fit into the “cool cities” development model. The $27 million development will be nine stories and consist of an underground parking structure, retail suites, office space, and condos on the third through ninth floors. According to the developer, the Brownfield status is needed in order to offset the $2 million in additional expenses being incurred by building the project in downtown Grand Rapids rather than the suburbs. Mayor George Heartwell questioned the developers about whether or not they would conform to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards for sustainability since the city passed a resolution earlier in the meeting that requires new city buildings to adhere to LEED standards, to which the developers replied that they will be unable to achieve LEED certification. In a response to a question from Commissioner Rick Tormala about whether or not the project will include low-income housing units, the developers responded that while housing units are “not technically low income” they are very affordable at $200,000. Tormala also asked if the developers had gone to the Heartside Neighborhood Association and Heartside Business Association to which the developers responded that they did not. Tormala was able to get a verbal promise from the developers that they would consult with the Heartside community but he cautioned them not to describe $200,000 housing as affordable. Following concerns about the project from the Mayor and Commissioners Tormala, Jendrasiak, and Dean, the project was approved unanimously.
The Commission, despite developers’ failure to consult with the Heartside Neighborhood Association and Heartside Business Association, also approved a second development project at the intersection of Ionia and Williams. The development, which would consist of one floor of retail, two floors of offices and condos, and five floors of hotel rooms, would feature condos selling for $300,000 or more according to current plans. Moreover, the developers, while trying to achieve LEED certification, are unsure if they will be able to obtain certification due to the size of the project. Once again, the vote in favor of approving the project’s Brownfield status was unanimous.
Following the second hearing, Tormala told Susan Shannon of the City of Grand Rapids Economic Development office to make sure that from now on developers consult with neighborhood associations before advancing their plans, but given the Commission’s apparent willingness to “rubberstamp” downtown development, it remains to be seen whether or not this will actually happen.