Updated: Wednesday, 23 Jun 2010, 11:37 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 23 Jun 2010, 10:03 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Grand Valley State University filed paperwork this week in Kent County Circuit Court seeking to condemn a former warehouse near its downtown campus and force a sale through eminent domain.
"We think that it's not really free enterprise, the way we look at it," said Ed De Vries, who owns the building with his brother.
The more than 80-year-old former A&P warehouse along Front Avenue, south of Fulton Street, sits in the shadows of the GVSU campus.
"We believe this project is of public interest," university spokeswoman Mary Eilleen Lyon told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday. "It will create hundreds of construction jobs and then later, permanent jobs."
GVSU plans to use the site for a new building for its fast-growing Seidman College of Business.
"It will also be a very vibrant part of the city," Lyon said.
The university has been talking with the De Vries family about the property for years, she said, and they have been discussing this specific project since September.
Discussions focused on renovating the existing building, but Lyon said the university has concluded it presents issues that cannot be resolved, including ceiling heights and support structures.
GVSU now is offering $2.34 million to acquire the building and the land, a price the De Vries family says is not fair.
Lyon called the eminent domain move "a last resort for us. But we do believe, in the end, it will be a fair outcome in terms of price."
If a court allows the eminent domain process to continue, a sales price would be negotiated.
De Vries' son, Mike De Vries, contends the university's current offering price does not take into account the true value of the land, income from cell phone towers and other factors.
"And we really want to have all those items addressed," Mike De Vries said.
So, why doesn't the university pick a different site?
"This site is ideal for the Seidman College of Business," Lyon said. "It's within eyesight of our campus."
Nearby parking lots are needed for their current use, the university spokeswoman said, and building parking structures would be expensive and a poor use of taxpayer funds.
So, is this a legal use for eminent domain? We asked a Stanford University law professor who specializes in property law.
"The only real serious limit on that is whether it is a public use," Professor Mark Kelman told 24 Hour News 8. "And there's really no doubt that an educational use, whether it be for a secondary or elementary school or for a public university, would be a public use."
GVSU doesn't even need to prove a public benefit, Kelman said. Under the law, schools and universities are considered infrastructure just as roads and highways are.
The case now sits in Kent County Circuit Court.
Ed and Mike De Vries still hope to sit down with the university rather than going to court, they said.