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Kent County is revisiting plans to consider selling a building it owns at 82 Ionia Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids. Kent County is revisiting plans to consider selling a building it owns at 82 Ionia Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids. MIBIZ FILE PHOTO

Kent County again weighs selling 82 Ionia, plans building projects

BY Sunday, February 02, 2020 06:30pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Among various other projects this year, Kent County officials again are assessing whether to sell a facility at 82 Ionia Ave. and construct a new building elsewhere in downtown Grand Rapids.

The county continues to consider its options to move out of the 82 Ionia building, which includes possibly constructing a new building on its Fuller campus on the northeast side of Grand Rapids, or on Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids across from Calder Plaza. Once any new building is completed, the county would then relocate its employees at 82 Ionia and sell the property. 

Officials will discuss the county’s downtown presence later this year, while the Board of Commissioners recently approved nearly $18.7 million in other building projects that will be funded with money set aside in a strategic capital fund. The other projects include a new building for fleet services, an office and visitor center for the parks department and a new North County Campus.

“We’ve been very frugal about our expenditures, so we’ve been able to predict the need for these and not have to go out and bond,” said Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt. 

The county has identified about $19 million that it could use for these projects in its strategic capital fund. 

“The hope is we will have enough of the research done, we will have spent the quality time I’ve felt we needed to put into this to really accommodate needs now as well as in the future, and make sure we have the most economical plan moving forward,” Britt said.

Downtown presence 

County officials have been assessing whether to sell the building at 82 Ionia since at least 2015, when a space needs study suggested that the facility, which is situated in the middle of the downtown business district and includes parking, should be vacated and sold to private developers.

“At one point, we were near selling that building, but held off because we weren’t on the same page within the board as far as where we wanted to go with the services and programs,” Britt said. “Now we’re back at it; we think we have a better idea of where we want to go with this, but not completely yet.”

One option is moving some services from 82 Ionia to 320 Ottawa Ave. NW, which currently houses the county’s I.T. department. Britt called this the likely option, but it would require expanding 320 Ottawa, and the estimated cost of such a project remains unknown. 

“The current footprint (of 320 Ottawa) would not allow us to plant the prosecutor’s office in totality,” Britt said. “There’s a family operation there too, and we would want to make sure we keep those together. That means we would need to have something larger.”

If the county does opt to sell 82 Ionia, the move could open up some new opportunities downtown, said Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. The building is near two key downtown corridors along Monroe Center Street and Division Avenue, and repurposing the adjacent surface parking lot also poses some new possibilities, Kelly said.

“When you think about that corridor and trying to continue to bring life into it as a retail street, I think anything that happens at 82 (Ionia) has the potential to have a pretty big impact on Monroe Center,” Kelly said. “Given that they have that parking lot, it’s something to think about. I think all the surface parking lots downtown have the potential for a higher and better use.” 

Britt expects the county Board of Commissioners to sign off on a plan in the next couple of months. 

Other projects 

Because of the Great Recession, Kent County postponed several capital projects, including new parks offices and a new building to house the county’s fleet of vehicles, as well as the establishment of a North County Campus.

“Now that we’ve rebounded, we’ve been able to get back in a better position to be able to go back and do those projects,” Britt said. 

Commissioners voted to allocate $12.5 million for a new North County Campus that will be located on 14 acres of county-owned property at 17 Mile Road NE, near U.S. 131.

Plans for the site include a substation for the sheriff’s office, a clinic for the health department and additional space for other county services as needed.

Meanwhile, the parks staff currently works out of two trailers at 1700 Butterworth Ave. SW that are in need of significant repair, Britt said. County officials proposed an 8,000-square-foot parks office and visitor center at the site that includes a workspace and storage building and other site improvements for a cost of $2.68 million.

A similar situation exists with fleet services, which has operated in a 6,500-square-foot building on the county’s Fuller campus at 701 Ball St. NE. 

When the building was constructed, it handled 35 vehicles, but now serves 290 vehicles, Britt said. 

“There have been 44 vechicles added in the last six years,” he said. “It’s really outgrown the current location.”

Kent County is currently assessing constructing a 16,100-square-foot building for fleet services, a project that will cost $3.5 million.

The next steps are for the county Board of Commissioners to consider and approve each of the projects, which Britt expects to occur in the next couple of months. 

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