Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 18, 2013

Future of Grand Traverse Commons constantly evolving

BY MARY BEVANS GILLETT Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Ray Minervini was a vocal proponent for historic preservation as a Grand Traverse Commons board member in the late 1990s.

He didn't think at the time, though, that he would be the one to take on the property's centerpiece Building 50 until a board member challenged him to come up with a plan.

“He said, ‘If you feel so strongly, why don’t you just do it?'” Minervini recalled.

Minervini thought about it for a year, then developed a vision for a multi-dimensional community. His plan included a road map for reuse of the old buildings that could be implemented “one bite at a time.”

Today, the Victorian silhouettes of the old institution are a Traverse City landmark. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a success story, by all accounts, led by the Minervini Group, which own 63-acres inside the State Hospital’s original 500-acre boundaries. The Minervini Group has rehabilitated 320,700 square feet now being used for housing, dining, shops and offices.

Just over half of the space is residential, with 128 units ranging from studio apartments to 4,000 square foot luxury condos. The remaining 146,000 square feet is divided between offices, restaurants, retail shops and the Greenspire public charter school.

Direct investment to date is estimated at $71,217,200.

But the developers aren't done. The Minervini Group says the project is one third through its full redevelopment.

When completed $192-million will be invested with 401 residential units and 214 commercial/retail spaces.

Ray’s son, Raymond Minervini, is a partner and co-developer in the Minervini Group. He noted the Village plan calls for a layer cake of uses. Implementation moves forward as projects are completed. Market forces such as the economic downturn of 2008 can impact timelines, but momentum continues at a steady rate.

The next phases are underway, beginning with a $3-million renovation of the 13,800 square foot former Chapel. Reminiscent of its original 1885 use as a community gathering place, the second floor will become an event space for weddings, performances, conferences and special events. On the main floor the hospital’s former kitchen is being rehabilitated into a restaurant slated to open in spring 2014. The event space could be in service by this winter.

Cordia senior living is also in the works for the northern wing of Building 50 with completion targeted for early fall 2014. The Cordia plans call for 109 senior residential units along with a courtyard, restaurant and personal services. The living spaces will include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. One third will be designated for assisted living while the others are targeted to active seniors.

The Village redevelopment will reach the halfway mark when the senior living project is completed.

Tax incentives, including brownfield redevelopment and historic preservation credits, were important tools in launching the project and incubating new economic endeavors, but their end is on the horizon. The entire development was designated a Renaissance Zone in 2002, which abated most property, business and income taxes for the zone’s residents and businesses for 15 years. The tax-free advantages begin phasing out in 2015 when the abatements reduce to 75 percent, followed by 50 percent in 2016 and 25 percent in 2017. Beginning January 1, 2018, all properties return to regular tax status.

Historic preservation credits were also eliminated. Current work on the chapel building and the planned Cordia senior living spaces will be the last to benefit due to grandfathering.

“This project would not have happened without tax incentives,” Raymond Minervini said, noting that credits incentivize historic preservation and help offset the higher costs required to rehab vintage spaces for adaptive re-use. He estimates an added $8 to $11 per square foot of space is spent on remediation for lead-based paint, asbestos and related materials originally used in the old buildings.

He also noted the investment returns dividends. For every dollar invested in historic preservation, another $12 is generated in economic activity. The ripples grow with each new phase.

“There is no doubt the Renaissance Zone and tax incentives spurred economic development in those buildings and saved a historic part of our community that would have been lost,” said Doug DeYoung, vice president for government affairs for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Brownfield funds will continue to be available to address specific environmental issues.

Traverse City Planner Russ Soyring said The Village is the epitome of New Urbanism and is often showcased when planners visit the region.

“It is the antithesis of urban sprawl,” he said. “The development is focused on …rebuilding a place for people.”

“It’s not just the buildings, it’s all of the components that are complimentary and compatible…they built a community, and you don’t always find that,” Soyring said.

Ray Minervini said the current development hasn’t changed from the vision he had nearly 13 years ago. He still has the original sketches noting a bakery, a piazza, a restaurant and many of the other aspects that have come to life from the old buildings.

“It is unfolding as we saw it,” he said. “I always said when we could put ‘art on the walls, music in the halls and lights in the windows, the people would come.”

“With the right combination of development, you can take these abandoned, blighted, contaminated buildings …and create a dynamic new place,” he said.