Kent County weighs building needs in downtown Grand Rapids

BY Sunday, July 28, 2019 12:05pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County is continuing to study options for the use of its buildings, including the idea of razing a facility at 320 Ottawa Ave. and building a new tower and the sale of 82 Ionia Ave. 

County Commissioners and officials discussed the building options during a July 25 work session. During the meeting, Jim Horman, principal at Grand Rapids-based Progressive AE Inc., presented three options: the razing of 320 Ottawa, renovating 320 Ottawa or retaining 82 Ionia and investing in it. 

82 Ionia Photo: Joe Boomgaard

Horman said more options could emerge with further study, as Progressive AE and county officials are considering the current state of the buildings, redevelopment costs, proximity and ease of service for taxpayers, among other factors. The conversations seem to hinge on whether the county should sell off the building at 82 Ionia.

“This is a point where we aren’t bringing solutions. We have three options to further investigate,” Horman told the commission.

The 17,000-square-foot, three-story building at 320 Ottawa could be demolished and replaced with a new building and parking, funded by using proceeds from the sale of 82 Ionia. The new building could be used by multiple county departments now housed in 82 Ionia.

Horman also described the option to renovate the existing building at 320 Ottawa in combination with renovating space at the courthouse to make more room for the employees housed at 82 Ionia, which would also be sold in this option. 

The third option involves retaining 82 Ionia and updating furniture, equipment and technology to meet county standards. The building has 108,000 square feet of usable space. Currently, 38,000 square feet of the building remains vacant.

The county last assessed the possibilities for 82 Ionia in 2017 when it assembled a subcommittee of staff and commissioners to examine the positives and negatives associated with potentially selling off the building.

Commissioners previously weighed selling the building after the board commissioned a space needs study in 2015. In it, Progressive AE suggested the city should vacate the facility, which is situated in the middle of downtown with onsite parking, and sell it to private developers.

In the past several years, the county has been setting aside funds to help defray the costs of extraordinary capital improvements, which could help fund facilities projects. To date, the county has set aside about $9 million, according to County Administrator Wayman Britt.

The conversations about both 320 Ottawa and 82 Ionia were a continuation of a session commissioners had earlier this month, in which they assessed multiple other building projects.

According to Britt, the next step after studying the options is to prioritize the projects and identify available funds. Staff intends to consider priority order during an Aug. 20 Finance & Physical Resources subcommittee meeting. When available funds are identified, the projects will come before the Board of Commissioners for action.

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