Tenants upset to lose space as Sligh redevelopment moves forward

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A piece of the plan to redevelop Grand Rapids’ historic Sligh Furniture building has fallen into place.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission Thursday approved Sturgeon Bay Holdings, LLC’s bid to add buildings that are both smaller and larger than current city requirements to a nearly seven-acre site bordered by Grandville Avenue, Wealthy Street, Century Avenue and Logan Street SW.

The Grandville Avenue Corridor gateway project would take over all but one corner of the city block. The plans call for adapting the Sligh Building into housing. Developers also want to add a five-story and a six-story building with a mix of apartments and retail space, as well as a standalone one-story building for a cafe. Parking structures are also included in the plans, as are a rooftop garden or restaurant.

Developers said a courtyard in the heart of the development could be used by neighborhood groups for events, as well as live concerts and food trucks.

John Gibbs with Detroit-based developer Sturgeon Bay Holdings, LLC said the aim is to make at least 10% of the 753 proposed living units affordable housing.

“We are very aware of the housing needs in Grand Rapids,” said Gibbs, noting a study that showed a shortage of almost 9,500 housing units.

“We’re very excited about our vision. We think we’re going to fill a big need for housing, both affordable and market rate, in addition to that, we want to make sure that you know we work with the existing tenants in the Sligh building,” he added.

The plans call for removing several structures on the site, including the concrete addition to the Sligh Furniture building, which Gibbs said has some structural problems. The developer said the original Sligh Furniture building will remain intact with a goal of adding it to the National Register of Historic Places, leading to a historic tax credit for the project.

The Sligh Furniture building in Grand Rapids. (March 12, 2021)

Gibbs said the Sligh Furniture building is half vacant. He said Sturgeon Bay wants to “make sure that transition goes well” by giving existing tenants nearly a year to relocate while they improve the Sligh Furniture building.

“And hopefully figure out a way to bring back some of those tenants or find a home for them elsewhere nearby,” Gibbs added.

Several tenants of the Sligh Furniture building opposed the project, saying they haven’t been included in discussions about the project and the reason the building is half vacant is because of decisions by the building owner.

“It’s not for a lack of people wanting to be in this building and do stuff, it’s that they’ve chosen not to rerent to current or existing people,” said Mark Miller with Lost & Found Treasures, an antiques store within the building.

“I don’t even really know what to say at this point — other than we do something that no one else around town does and to lose the space to be able to conduct our businesses along with the other businesses in the area. It doesn’t seem like we’re putting any sort of priority on that as a community,” Miller added.

Another employee of Lost & Found Treasures said the decision will put hundreds of microbusinesses out of work, “the majority of which are minorities that bare the brunt of high unemployment we’ve seen during this pandemic.”

“Ironic that there’s discussion of this being an affordable housing option while simultaneously putting 200-plus businesses out of work,” she said.

“While we acknowledge there needs to be building and green space improvements, there has to be a better solution than this one,” she added.

Grand Rapids Planning Director Kristin Turkelson said Thursday’s decision was only about the size of the one- and six-story buildings and did not include anything about evicting or relocating tenants, which could come up in future meetings with other groups.

Seven of the commission members approved the optional site review request; Ward 2 commissioners Laurence Williams and Paul Greenwald voted against it.

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