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More than 40 properties, including popular taco shop, eyed for demolition in Grand Rapids
By Garret Ellison | [email protected]
on March 03, 2013 at 4:35 PM, updated March 04, 2013 at 7:45 PM

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Description: Grand Rapids properties eyed for demolition
This long vacant party store at 316 Wealthy Street SE is among more than 40 buildings in Grand Rapids being eyed for demolition this year using state blight elimination funding harnessed by LINC Community Revitalization and the Inner City Christian Federation.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — More than 40 buildings in Grand Rapids — including a popular neighborhood taco spot and a historic but vacant South Division movie theater — are being eyed for demolition this year using state blight elimination funding harnessed by a pair of local nonprofits.

LINC Community Revitalization and the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) together received nearly $725,000 in late February from a $15 million state grant program that’s funding the razing of “blighted” properties in more than two dozen Michigan communities.

The money comes from a $97 million settlement Michigan received last year as part of a lawsuit with banks accused of questionable foreclosure practices during the housing crisis.
The blight program is administered jointly between the Michigan Department of Human Services, the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority (MLB) and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Out of the funding pot, LINC received the substantial majority of grant money sent to the Grand Rapids area — $682,500 for razing dozens of Southeast Side residential properties in the Madison Square area, as well as roughly a dozen commercial properties along the South Division Avenue and Grandville Avenue SW corridors.
Surprisingly, one of the Grandville Avenue properties included on a prospective list of addresses in LINC’s grant application with the state is the Taquiera Tacos El Cuñado, a Roosevelt Park neighborhood taco shop known for its authentic fare.

Another property on the list is a lot attached to the old 4-Star Theater building next to Popeye’s Chicken in the Burton Heights Business District along South Division.

The smaller funding chunk sent to Grand Rapids, $41,868, is going to help the ICCF clear land for the Wealthy-Jefferson Development Initiative, also known as Tapestry Square,southeast of Division and Wealthy Street, where construction of the new Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy public school is under way.
Jonathan Bradford, ICCF director, said the organization is hoping to demolish three boarded-up homes along Sheldon Avenue SE and a vacant former party store directly across from the Mary Free Bed hospital parking ramp on Wealthy Street SE.

“If these buildings had any kind of economic viability and could be an anchor in a large-scale revitalization, we would do it,” said Bradford. “Because of what’s around them and their condition, it just doesn’t work.”

One property, 439 Sheldon, is the last structure on a block of properties assembled by ICCF for the Tapestry Square development, a neighborhood revival project bringing new housing, retail shops and a full-service grocery store to the area.

Along with the Downtown Market project and the Baker Lofts development across Division, Tapestry Square is part of the expansion of the greater downtown southern "gateway" area. Bradford said the other two properties marked for demolition on Sheldon would be razed to make way for additional parking and expansion of the new charter school.

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A rendering of the completed Tapestry Square development.

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The Tapestry Square Development by ICCF.  

Farther south, LINC is eying several vacant commercial buildings along Division and Grandville avenues and Hall Street for demolition, as well as a substantial number of boarded up homes and apartment buildings around Madison Square area.

Many of the residential properties were built in the early 1980s as part of the failed Madison Square Housing Cooperative, and have been eyed by LINC and other area housing nonprofits for demolition for several years. Poorly constructed and designed, the cooperative properties have been the subject of legal maneuvering and paperwork shuffling for years.

They are currently owned by MSHDA through the state’s Asset Management Nonprofit Housing Cooperative.

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MLive file photoBoards cover the windows and doors of several apartments on Umatilla Street SE eyed for demolition. The homes are owned by Michigan Housing Development Authority.
The various lots on Umatilla, Gilbert and Cass streets, among others, would be leveled for green space, redeveloped as lower-density housing, or otherwise held for future redevelopment, said Stephanie Gingerich, LINC real estate development director. Lots held for green space would be made available to neighboring property owners to combine to make a larger lot, she said.

Jeremy DeRoo, LINC executive director, said the organization still has some due diligence to finish in regards to the final list of actual demolitions. Some of the residential properties are currently occupied and he said part of the process would involve relocation of those people. DeRoo expressed surprise to discover that Tacos El Cuñado, 1342 Grandville Ave. SW, had been included on the list and said “it’s not our intention to displace any business.”

It’s not clear how the property landed on LINC’s list, he said. The addresses submitted in the grant application were gathered internally by LINC staff and submitted by neighborhood partners. The property is listed in the grant application as possibly being combined with the next door lot, 1350 Grandville, after demolition.
The taco shop owners were not immediately available for comment. The place gained some notoriety after it was featured in a Grand Rapids Community College-produced television episode with Secchia Institute chef instructor Angus Campbell.

DeRoo said the 4-Star Theater’s inclusion on the list was part of an earlier exploration of revitalization of the property that fell through. He suggested demolition of that structure, a hulking vacant building that dates back to the days of neighborhood movie houses, “probably would not happen.”

He said it's possible LINC might have to return some of the grant money if there is a significant reduction in the number of demolitions versus what is proposed on the list.

Neither LINC nor ICCF has submitted formal applications for the demolition work with the city, although project timelines included in the grant applications call for the work to be completed this year.
Suzanne Schulz, city planning director, said the city Planning Commission must approve the property reuse application before signing-off on demolition requests that would leave vacant space.

“Historically, that has been a significant issue for neighborhoods, particularly related to the expansion of parking lots,” she said. “That’s the purpose of the rule.” Due to an increase in new construction approval requests around the city, Schulz said the applications would need to be filed this week to be heard by the commission before April.


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