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The Riverside Elementary redesign moves forward into assisted living

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The Riverside Elementary redevelopment project appears finally to be moving forward, after a long series of delays. The city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority approved the project for tax breaks on Thursday, June 5, 2014. Vista Springs, LLC estimates it will cost them $6 million to redevelop the property.

Lou J. Andriotti, President and CEO of Vista Springs told Mlive he plans to turn the 60-year old former public elementary into a 43-unit luxury assisted living facility. The retirement center will focus on health and wellness and will feature a day spa, a performing arts community theater, a community center, fine dining, and an outdoor courtyard and cafe. Rates for occupants will vary according to how much assistance residents will require.

The idea of conversion was first proposed by G.A. Haan, a Harbor Springs development company, in early 2012. At that time, the Creston Neighborhood Association gathered a concerned group of Riverside Gardens neighbors to discuss what Gerald Haan’s plans were and how they would affect the neighborhood. Some neighbors reported break ins that had occurred in homes surrounding the now vacant school. Others were concerned about the potential for additional noise or light that might come from a converted building. Many agreed that an assisted living facility was one of the best possible converted uses, much more likely to be disruptive to the calm neighborhood than apartment complex would be.

Since that meeting, however, the building has continued to sit vacant, and the neighbors wondered if anything would ever be done about it. Last winter at least eight windows were smashed, and it appeared that the building might have been broken into, perhaps repeatedly. These windows were boarded over, but glass remained in the grass, which was only mowed occasionally (as in the winter it had been plowed).

It’s unclear as to why G. A. Haan passed on the project or why it sold the property to Vista Springs last winter when only a year ago it received the go ahead from Brownfield Redevelopment Authority itself. But neighbors are excited to see some project and hopeful that a functional and well maintained building will add more vibrancy to the neighborhood, along with the 50 new jobs Vista Springs estimates it will produce.

It’s interesting to note that Vista Springs has previously converted another former Grand Rapids public school, Taft Elementary into an assisted living retirement center. Many of these elementary schools were built to accommodate the needs of a burgeoning generation, the Baby Boomers, in their formative years. Some of them will now shelter them in their retirement. Everything comes full circle, it seems.

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