Allegan's Brady lot developers meet with public

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

The selected company looking at developing the corner lot at 101 Brady Street, next to the historic iron bridge, said their vision is to make a destination boutique hotel and restaurant that is not only a downtown anchor but also frames the riverfront—rather than obscures it.

The city has entered into a “period of exclusivity” with CL Real Estate of Peru, Ill., to discuss development of the lot. A meet-and-greet was Wednesday, April 3, at Griswold Auditorium, with about 25 people in attendance which included city council and committee members along with a few residents and business owners.

“The key word here is conceptual draft—things still need to be ironed out,” said city manager Joel Dye. “The city still has to do a Phase 1 and 2 environmental study, the developer will be doing a market study and continue talks with the MEDC before any further vision can get underway.”

Nathan Watson, CL Real Estate general manager introduced himself, director of finance Jackson Powell who is also the elected treasurer of the City of Peru, and Michigan development associate Brent Cohen, a Hillsdale alumnus who introduced CL Real Estate to their first opportunity in Michigan.

Cohen now manages the Michigan office in Hillsdale, which oversees an $8 million Keefer House project in downtown Hillsdale.

Working with the city’s Tax Increment Financing Authority, the renovation project is turning a 134-year-old hotel, closed since 1965, into a 32-room boutique hotel featuring three storefronts and a restaurant. Set for completion in 2020, the Michigan office is now seeking other investments in the state. If the city sells the lot for the development, they’d like to get started in 2021.

Watson said CL Real Estate is owned by husband and wife Inga Caras (the “C”) and Peter Limberger (the “L”), serial entrepreneurs at an age where they wanted to create a family investment company and focus their life energy and resources on Midwestern small towns.

CL Real Estate has also invested $3.4 million in The Lone Buffalo brew pub for Tangled Roots Brewing Company, a flagship commercial craft brewery based in Ottawa, Ill. Another adaptive reuse of historical property, the project increased sales and helped spawn other investments.

“We look for projects that are opportunities in small towns that are fun, interesting and creative,” Watson said. “We focus on high-quality design as a way to create something that will last over 100 years; is transformative to the area; and transforms attitudes of people who think no opportunity exists there.”

Watson said his company was introduced to the project and were presented with the city’s site vision that could be easily figured out through the request for proposals. 

“We saw a town that was very charming with a historic architectural commercial stock—a character we look for—and with a large institutional presence,” Watson said. “There’s a real reason for a hotel to be here but there isn’t one.

“To respond, we came up with some concepts, but there could be other concepts as well.”

The concept focuses on great vistas of the iron bridge, the river and riverfront boardwalks.

A draft conceptual drawing depicts a four-story building with residential and/or hotel rooms with upscale accommodations for corporate or tourist visitors to occupy 40 to 60 rooms, depending on a market study determination.

The ground floor, with ground to ceiling windows, would have little to no retail room since the restaurant or café, event center and hotel office is foreseen to occupy its entirety. The vision is for a small event center for 125 to 150 with room service.

The second floor on up could be largely a red brick façade—material that matches the context around it, yet contemporary.

“We haven’t answered parking yet, but if we did a boutique hotel we know that parking does not have to be on premise—we really don’t perceive parking on the lot,” Watson said. “We could look at subgrade parking, which is one of the things we’ll have to explore.”

The rooftop would be considered for more activity whether it be a bar, dining or other public space.

Built to the corner sidewalks of Second and Brady streets, it would free up Mahan Park next door, leave the tree line and open areas facing the boardwalk.

Taking comments from the public, Rosie Hunter said the property is very desirable because the city made it that way and she would hate to see a new development obscure the riverfront. She asked the developers to listen to residents and incorporate their ideas into the project.

“I want it to be something we can be really proud of,” she said.

Paula Mintek, a member of the city’s public spaces commission, said she heard from many people with concerns there was a possibility the building could increase from four stories to six stories.

“There’s concern the height will not be aesthetic to scale,” she said.

Watson said he did not foresee going five or six stories and felt the market would be robust enough to support four stories. At the same time he suggested no height restrictions because it could result in missed opportunities.

Mintek also said many people in the area have expressed a desire for more condominiums in town, which was a possibility as a mix with overnight stays in this project.

“I was a bit scared when I heard the number of rooms,” she said. “I don’t think that number can be filled except for a few weekends and I don’t want the hotel to struggle—is it possible to do a smaller boutique hotel and more condos?”

Watson said that is what they are hiring an expert to determine through a market study. That study is expected to kick off in a few weeks and will take six weeks to complete. Condominiums or extended stay rooms would be separated from the hotel with a break in the building that leaves a view to the riverfront in between.

A hotel property management company would be hired to operate the business while the developer maintains ownership. Watson said the development could employ about 50 people.

Jason Watts asked developers what their status was on a Kaskaskia Hotel project in LaSalle, Ind.

Watson said the Kaskaskia Hotel, built in 1915, is a $27 million project in downtown LaSalle, Ill. With a population of 10,000, it was a huge undertaking for its population density.

CL Real Estate purchased the historic property in Dec. 31, 2015, and pursued investors from China through the federal EB-5 program, which lets immigrants apply for U.S. residency if they invest in a commercial enterprise that adds to the economy.

Because of changes to the program, there was no longer a demand and the developer is in the process of securing capital stock. While the 100-room hotel is being renovated into high-class rooms, they are utilizing historic tax credits, new market tax credits and other avenues in its restoration and have invested $1.7 million in preservation alone. He said historic adaptations take much longer and are more complex.

Matt Adams asked about funding for Allegan. Watson said the MEDC has blazed a trail for projects such as this and every tax incentive available would be reviewed.

Lou Thierwechter said he would like a perspective of what the hotel would look like from the riverfront. Those conceptual drawings haven’t been designed yet.

Thierwechter suggested some kind of interactive reflection of the riverside be considered in the design.

A few more public meetings will be held before going to council for action, said the city manager. Dye reiterated an environmental study has never been done on the property and the city must do its due diligence before further discussions can be considered.

“Which is shocking because the property has changed hands from the public to the city and back again many times,” he said.

Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at vransbottom@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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