St. John’s to take over former Borders store

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 25, 2013

GROSSE POINTE CITY — The former Borders bookstore in the Village will be getting a facelift, along with new occupants.

At a meeting Sept. 16, the City Council unanimously approved a special use request and site plan for St. John Providence Health System’s plans to convert the shuttered store — at 17141 Kercheval — into a mix of medical offices and retail uses. The first 45 percent of the Kercheval frontage will be reserved for retail uses, while the back 55 percent will be for medical offices and testing facilities.

Although retail tenants hadn’t been secured at press time, the Kercheval frontage is likely to be divided into two or three retail spaces, based on plans submitted by hospital officials. Actual configurations will depend on the tenants occupying that space.

“We anticipate it will be compatible in size and scale” to surrounding businesses, City Planner John Jackson, of McKenna Associates, said.

Although some residents expressed reservations about the proposal during recent council meetings, City leaders felt this project would be a good fit.

Jackson said the hospital system and the City both made allowances to enable this project to go forward, including the City’s modification of its zoning ordinance. St. John officials, meanwhile, revised their plan, which initially called for only about 20 percent retail and 80 percent medical use.

“The goals and objectives in our master plan call for a more substantial amount of retail. … St. John’s went back to the drawing board and listened to what we said, and the City went back to the drawing board, too,” Jackson said.

City leaders acknowledged that the new use would require more parking.

“There is going to be increased demand for parking from the medical office use,” said Jackson.

To make up for a nine-space parking shortfall, the hospital system has to pay a one-time fee to the City of $81,000 — $9,000 per parking space.

Because St. John’s is tax-exempt, approval of the project was also contingent on an annual payment of $66,000 to the City and the Downtown Development Authority. In his review of the hospital system’s proposal, Jackson noted that the City would lose $19,423 in tax revenue annually, and the DDA would lose $46,608. City Manager Pete Dame said that rate would be adjusted annually based on factors such as the rate of inflation and other state tax rate considerations.

Jackson praised the French-inspired façade by designer Robert Wood.

“The façade that’s being proposed … is going to be just a monumental improvement over what’s on that building now,” said Jackson of Borders’ current pink façade. “Rob (Wood) knows the area well.”

Wood said he knows that tenants might come and go, but he wanted the façade to be something that could withstand those changes.

“It has to be a façade that won’t go out of style,” Wood told the council. “It’s a substantial investment to the Village. … It needs to be community-specific.”

Wood said they’d be using materials like real brick and copper to make sure that the project was “done right” and built to last.

Richard Abbott, director of corporate real estate, design and construction for St. John Providence Health System, said this façade is “an improvement” that is “going to attract substantial, quality retailers” to the available spaces.

He said they’re working with Mid-America Real Estate Group to find retail tenants.

“Who that tenant is is probably more important to us than anyone else … so we’ll be very sensitive to who that tenant is,” said Abbott, noting that St. John’s would be the landlord.

One of the conditions imposed on the project is that urgent care wouldn’t be permitted at that site.

“We don’t feel that use would be a compatible use in the Village,” said Jackson, noting that there are other locations in the City where such a facility might be appropriate.

David T. Brooks, president of St. John Hospital and Medical Center, said that “early on” they considered opening an urgent care facility in that location, but they “dropped that” after negative feedback from residents and city officials.

Some City leaders, including City Council member Christopher Walsh, asked about hours of operation for the medical portion of the building.

Brooks asked officials for “some flexibility” with hours, saying that they would likely need to open around 7 a.m. on weekdays for people receiving blood tests and other tests that might call for overnight fasting. He said at least a couple of nights per week, they’d like to be able to remain open until 9 p.m. so doctors could see patients during after-work hours, with appointments until 8 p.m. As for weekends, Brooks said they’re asking for 8 a.m.-5 p.m., but he said they probably wouldn’t be open on Sundays.

City leaders — who debated various aspects of this proposal over the course of several meetings — said they feel confident that it will be an asset to the community.

“I think when the St. John project is done, it will reset the bar and give our landlords something to (aspire to),” City Council member John Stempfle said.

Walsh called it a “big step forward” for the building, which has been unoccupied since Borders filed for bankruptcy and closed the store in 2011.

“To have an occupant owner is something that I think will be beneficial to the building. … That was a real constructive and positive development,” Walsh said.

Mayor Dale Scrace concurred.

“This is a textbook example of people listening and cooperating, and this is the end result,” he said.