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Controversial Grand Rapids land swap deal pays off for city

FGRP Edit:  if you are interested in this project, join the Facebook group Green Heritage Hill

By Jim Harger | The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners who once questioned whether they
were getting shorted in a real estate exchange with Kent County were
smiling today.

The city is among the winners after real estate developer Ed DeVries
entered negotiations and offered to buy the former county Department of
Human Services building at 415 Franklin St. SE, they said.

DeVries also agreed to sell the city the Development Center
building. He’s been renting it to the city for the past decade. When
the deal is completed, the city will spend $100,000 less per year at
1120 Monroe Ave. NW, commissioners said.

“This is a win, win, win, win situation,” said 1st Ward Commissioner
Walt Gutowski, who opposed the original deal to take the DHS property
from the county in exchange for five parcels the county needs for
parking at its new headquarters.

“This is the closest the city could get to having its cake and
eating it, too,” said 2nd Ward Commissioner David LaGrand. “Frankly, I
did not expect us to get as good a deal as we got.”

Here’s what each party gets out of the deal, which will close next year:

• The city will get possession of the Paul I. Phillips Gymnasium,
which was part of the DHS property. The gym is home to several
recreational basketball programs that were run jointly by the city and
county.

• The city also gets a large parking lot from the county along
Pleasant Street, east of Madison Avenue SE. The lot, once used by DHS
employees, is considered future green space for the Heritage Hill
Neighborhood.

• The city also will buy the Development Center, an office building
it rents from DeVries, for $4.2 million. The three-story structure is a
one-stop center for developers and property owners who do business with
building inspectors, planners and code enforcement teams. The building
also has other tenants that the city hopes to keep.

The city will borrow the money to buy the center through
low-interest bonds available through the federal government’s “Build
America” stimulus program.

• DeVries, who specializes in revitalizing old buildings, will buy
the former DHS building and a parking lot along Franklin Street SE from
the city for $402,600.

DeVries said he does not know how he will redevelop the three-story
building that served as Grand Rapids Christian High School until the
early 1970s.

• The county will get five vacant lots the city owns across the
street from its new DHS headquarters. County officials need the lots to
expand parking.

“Those lots were of high value to the county and of low value to
us,” said Mayor George Heartwell, adding that he was grateful to county
officials for their “good spirit” in working out the complicated deal.

Commissioner James Jendrasiak, who represents the 1st Ward, voted
against the deal, saying he would have preferred to see the city
relocate its Development Center to a former auto parts store it owns
along Market Avenue SW.

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