City Center Lofts ‘A Diamond in the Rough’ Project Now a Shining Catalyst in Downtown Benton Harbor

There was a lot of excitement at the crossroads of the Benton Harbor CBD tonight, but the most effervescent personality on the scene was Benton Harbor City Commissioner Mary Alice Adams, who ceremoniously cut the ribbon from the incredible restoration of what is now known as the downtown loft building.

Commissioner Adams joined Cressy Commercial Real Estate Chairman and CEO Chris Fielding and Cornerstone Alliance Chairman and CEO Rob Cleveland at the corner of Main Street and Pipestone where, as Adams said, “I just came from seeing some of our jewel polished, and I mean it looks like a rough diamond like the aftereffects of finding something in quicksand, pulling it out, polishing it and watching it shine! “

For Fielding and his team at Cressy Commercial Real Estate, it was truly memorable as he said: “It’s an exciting day! We now have 16 market-priced units at a good price, and we have two commercial spaces that should attract businesses here. We had a good interest in commercial spaces and residential units, in fact we already have nine rented out and we haven’t even finished (with construction) yet. So this is the pivotal moment at the corner of Main and Pipestone to see a building do not demolished but be remodeled and brought back to even better than its former glory.

I asked Rob Cleveland from Cornerstone to talk about the incredible collaboration that made this all possible, and he responded by saying: clean up some of the brownfield and the cost of demolition. That was the first step we needed to get, approval from the town of Benton Harbor. We were able to get that. We had to get approval from the state of Michigan, and we were able to get it, and when you put all of that together, that provided enough resources and tools for Cressy Commercial Real Estate to get the project done. He adds: “This building required a rehabilitation cost of a million and a half dollars and it is difficult to recover in any market. Nonetheless, we are here today, almost three years to the day since we last spoke to Cressy, and they have made a commitment to do so, and here we are celebrating.


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The payoff was certainly not without risk either. Fielding says: “I don’t know what was behind the multiple layers of the facade, I remember the day they sent me a photo after removing the first two exterior panels, and when we saw the brick facade and the brick elements behind it. , we were so excited. He goes on to admit, “It didn’t get better from there, but there was hope for the building. The brick was in good condition. They had painted it, which we just repainted and pasted, but it was very exciting. It certainly had some surprises in store for us inside. You’ll notice that every steel beam here, from basement to roof, is brand new, and this is the first time in probably 15 years that the roof has been dry. So it gave us a hard time, but we survived. We’re not done yet and still face all the challenges of the job market and supply chain issues, but ultimately it all falls into place and we’ll be done within the next few weeks. “

Cleveland was also a little concerned with what the peeled layers might reveal, but adds, “We knew we were inside, we could see behind the metal siding, and we knew the brick was there and intact, and while that we also knew it was going to take some remodeling and rehabilitation, it was costing more than we thought as often as it was, but it looks amazing. The end result is awesome. Looking at the building with obvious awe, Cleveland says, “We have the original facade and it has been restored, and so when you pack it up with the new storefront, which was just put in place last week and we’re going to keep seeing more. I believe the new coating is coming this week. So, by next week, we’ll start to see some of that continue. It’s just an incredible ending to a very difficult project.

Cleveland says they certainly didn’t go blind, acknowledging, “Very rarely you get a really easy project. Very rarely you get a project that is a green field where you just build a new building. This does not happen very often, which is why we have to use these tools. That’s why we need to get partnerships from city, county and brownfield authorities because it takes all of these layers of tools to make a real deal.

Interestingly, no two apartments in the building are the same, to which Fielding said, “Absolutely. We didn’t want a cookie-cutter project. We wanted to go back to the historic nature of the building and making sure we capitalized on the windows and placed the windows where they needed to be, and not based on what was the cheapest way to do it. So he created plans really unique floor. We have added lofts to each unit to increase the square footage and give people a better quality of life, so we think this will be a product that will do well in the market.

Much of the ground floor of the project is set aside for commercial or retail space, and Fielding says, “We have a potential prospect for the smallest of spaces, the 1,100 square foot space just below. around the corner, and while we ‘A few people pored over the larger area of ​​around 2,400 square feet, no one has offered us a proposal yet, but we think once the building is finished and there will be activity in this area, people will be jumping. We have faith. We know they will come, and if they do, then we will look to capitalize on the momentum and continue to look at Benton Harbor and the partnerships we can create to invest more.

Regarding this ground-level commercial space, I asked Cornerstone’s Cleveland if there was anything they would particularly like to see targeted for this space, to which he replied, “Yes, definitely. Commercial space was tough before the pandemic, it’s definitely going to be harder after the pandemic, but we are working with potential users, Cressy obviously has tenants in other areas, and we would like to see a lender be it a bank. or a credit union that can serve the community of Benton Harbor. He further explains, “Probably not a full-service bank, but at least one place that has customer service, maybe an ATM, someone they can interact with to complement what Huntington TCF is doing on Main Street. . So another lender would be ideal to be here. I would also like to see maybe some kind of catering establishment. When you team up with what Commissioner Adams was talking about with more housing, the city announced that it was going to do another project right here on the block, on our corner. So when you start adding flats volume, I think it takes over another grocery store or a little bodega or a deli or that sort of thing. We would like to see something like this.

Fielding made it clear that he wanted people in the community to be builders on the project and residents of the building, and he was asked how he went about building those relationships, which he did. replied, “Well, ironically, I spent 12 years here doing workforce development. I originally ran the Youth Build program and Bridge Academy here, so I already have connections with many young people in the community and have reached out to partners in the area with the Mayor’s office, Cornerstone Alliance and ended up getting three or four. workers on the project who stayed with us. They therefore obtained a permanent position within our firm. He adds: “It’s awesome. Hope this is the start. I hope this is the catalyst that people start to look for saying, “I can do more than one unit. I can do more than two units, I can invest millions of dollars in downtown and people will support it. ‘ People have to start seeing the positive things that can happen and watch what happens after that. “

Commissioner Adams called the whole project ‘wonderful and incredible’ and added: ‘I think all I’ve seen and heard of the Brownfield conventions is that the young people are going back to their city centers, after their parents moved years ago. Across the country, they are returning to their downtown areas, and what I just saw with my own eyes is exactly what these young people want and want. She then admitted, “Now, I might not be as young as the ones I’m talking about, but I would move into one of these apartments in a minute. I’m serious. It’s clean, and the price isn’t bad, in fact it’s very doable and you are right in the heart of downtown. Now we need to get the State Theater up and running for entertainment. “

Asked how the project could be a catalyst, I asked Adams what she would like to see going forward and she didn’t hesitate to say, “More! Also, and not just with the activity of the city center, I think we need to look for funding and partnerships to start in the city center as well, and in fact I found someone in Ghana with nice developments and in fact one that I met lives in Canada and she will be making a presentation at our next Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting.

Clearly, the City Center Lofts have great potential to continue the rebound of downtown Benton Harbor. Stay tuned.

About Joshua M. Osborne

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