Redevelopment hopes reignited for former Lexington School in Grand Rapids –

by: Christa Ferguson

Posted: / Updated:

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A photo Common Wealth Development, Inc. submitted to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission shows the former Lexington School at 45 Lexington Ave. NW in Grand Rapids.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A developer is hoping a third time will be the charm for redeveloping Grand Rapids’ historic Lexington School into affordable housing.

At its last meeting, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission unanimously approved a special land use request by Common Wealth Development, Inc., which is the third developer to step forward with a plan for the property on Lexington Avenue NW near Veto Street.

Common Wealth Development wants to repurpose the school into 23 apartments for senior living.

The developer plans to renovate the building to historic standards “so it will look essentially like the original school building back from 1915,” said Jonathan Nesberg, vice president of development for Common Wealth Development.

The site proposal also calls for a new three-story addition with an elevator. The top two floors would contain 16 apartments. The first floor would feature parking and a multipurpose community space with a library and computers.

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A conceptual rendering submitted by Common Wealth Development, Inc. shows the proposed addition to the former Lexington School for a senior housing development.

Nesberg told News 8 the development will include 24 one-bedroom apartments and 15 two-bedroom apartments. Leases would be restricted to people who are 55 years or older and make 30% to 80% of the area median income.

The project hinges on state approval of low-income housing tax credits. Nesberg expects to hear the state’s decision in December or early January.

“Common Wealth is very successful in receiving these awards,” he told News 8 Tuesday. “Certainly it’s not a guarantee, but we don’t move forward with a project if we are not at least comfortable with it getting funded.”

No one spoke out against the proposal during the commission meeting.

“I just want to thank these guys for finally getting something done across the way. I know it’s been a challenge for developers,” said John Schowalter, who owns the old firehouse across the street.

“I’m excited also for the possibility that this project will come to fruition. (I’ve) been hoping that something will happen with this school for a long time,” said planning commission member Laurel Joseph.

It’s been nine years since Grand Rapids Public Schools agreed to sell the historic school to Ojibway Development, which was approved to convert the property into apartments and a park. The park eventually came to fruition, but the housing development fell through.

In 2015, Brinshore Development took a second crack at redeveloping the site, with a plan similar to the current proposal. However, Brinshore’s vision was never realized.

Nesberg found new hope for redeveloping the site based on new state scoring for projects that weren’t previously funded.

If the housing tax credits are approved, Common Wealth Development will then pursue historic tax credits for the project.

If all goes well for Common Wealth Development, renovations at the former Lexington School would start in July 2022 and the project would wrap up in September 2023.