Hidden Treasure in Eastown

I have been out and about with several groups over the past few weeks telling them about a new Bazzani Associates project and I get these blank stares when I mention the project location.  Apparently it’s much easier to hide a 5-story building than I thought.  How can the only 5-story building located for 84 years in a neighborhood not be seen?  Well an Illusionist will tell you the best place to hide something is in plain sight.   Apparently so!

Bazzani Associates have been hired by the owner group to re-develop and lease the retail units on the first floor of 1415 Lake Dr., at the corner of Robinson Rd.

Erected in 1927, the Kingsley Building is the former headquarters of Zondervan Corp. and has been used for paper and document storage for the past 15 plus years.

Zondervan Corp. enclosed the first floor elevation in 1954 when they purchased the property from the original owners, Grand Rapids Storage Co.  So, for the better part of two generations the general public has not seen the first floor exterior of this art deco gem.  For almost 60 years the Kingsley Building has just been a 5-story blond colored wall that thousands of cars would pass daily.  It blended into the background.  Seen but not seen.   In a few short months, this building will be rediscovered.

Over the next months Bazzani Associates will carefully open and restore the first floor.  More than 14,000 SF of new retail space will be available in Eastown.  People will be able to see original features like the plate glaze terra cotta tile, large display windows, the original transom windows over the doors, 16-foot ceilings and many more unique features.   We are very excited about bringing this building back to its original, historical look.   Stay posted for more updates as we proceed forward.

Land Banks Rock: a new tool for reinvesting in our community

The Kent County Land Bank has the potential to be a fabulous new tool for redeveloping vacant properties in Kent County.  As a green urban developer, having chronically vacant properties in neighborhoods impede our revitalization efforts.  They lower property values, invite crime, and can quickly become an eye sore. I strongly encourage everyone to attend the Kent County Land Bank forum on March 23. This innovative idea could be a boon for our redevelopment efforts.  Initially, it was hard for me to be enthusiastic about Land Banks.  After some prodding from a friend, I did some preliminary research regarding this topic.  Now, I am excited!

Over the last 10 years we could have used this redevelopment tool to enhance the success of the revitalization of Uptown.  Today, this tool can help other upcoming Grand Rapids neighborhoods and Kent County communities manage their blighted properties and hold key locations for future redevelopment.  We would like to see other neighborhoods become as vital and successful as Uptown has over the last 5 years.  By having the Kent County Land Bank as a community re-development partner, we can succeed in redeveloping our communities over the long term.

Land banks have been gaining popularity nationwide for their positive impact on reducing blight and reusing vacant properties to help neighborhood revitalization amidst the foreclosure crisis.  Instead of selling foreclosed properties at auction, the County can put them into the land bank and maintain them until they are transferred to developers to be rehabbed and sold.  The land bank provides numerous incentives for developers such as:  title clearance; forgiving back taxes and liens; holding properties tax free during development; providing access to Brownfield tax credits even for properties that are not contaminated; option for Tax Increment Financing (TIF); and ability to assemble properties for large scale development.

The Land Bank could also work as an economic gardening tool.  We could use ours to help grow local entrepreneurs from within our communities.  Second-stage enterprises could use this tool to expand their capacity resulting in increased local employment.  In this way, the Land Bank could be utilized as a socially responsible vehicle to include the revitalization of people as well as properties.

We need this tool to stop the erosion of many neighborhoods caused by the foreclosure crisis.  The land bank could transform Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods by fighting blight and reusing properties for various community needs (i.e. more green space, build density, integrate public transit, etc.).  Many cities hit hard by foreclosures have already adopted this tool.  We can benefit from the experiences and successes of communities that have had operating land banks for a number of years.  These include Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Baltimore as well as Lansing, Flint, Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Detroit.

The Ingham County Land Bank has been successful in reclaiming underutilized properties and historic resources.  They have successfully partnered with for-profit and non-profit developers, real estate professionals and local entrepreneurs to identify new uses and occupants for vacant properties.  We would do well to follow their lead.

The Kent County Land Bank Authority Board (KCLBA) began meeting in June of 2010 and has been working to create founding documents.  The KCLBA has begun to reach out to the public for their engagement.  This upcoming event is the first step to involve others in the task of strategically selecting the properties for the land bank.

The March 23 forum will be held from 3:30 pm- 5:00pm at the Dominican Center (2025 E. Fulton) to educate the public on the specific tools land banks provide and how they can positively affect economic and community development in neighborhoods and communities.  The keynote speaker, Eric Shertzing, will share his insights derived from his involvement with the Ingham County Land Bank.  We’ll all gain a better understanding of this newly created authority and learn how land banks can partner with community development efforts to reuse vacant residential and commercial properties to spur economic and community development.  Kent County Treasurer Ken Parrish will explain the status and next steps for our land bank and how to get involved.  I urge other developers, as well as community leaders, elected officials, city/township planners, nonprofits involved in neighborhood issues, and interested residents to attend.

This new dynamic tool in Kent County provides a great opportunity for strategic development through vacant property reclamation.  For urban developers this event is not to be missed!