City officials praise revised St. John plan for Borders building

New plan retains greater percentage of retail, but still needs variance

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 28, 2013

 Local architect Robert Wood came up with this proposed design for the vacant Borders building on Kercheval in the Village. St. John Providence Health System officials recently approached the Grosse Pointe City Council with a revised plan to create a mix of medical and retail uses in the building.

Local architect Robert Wood came up with this proposed design for the vacant Borders building on Kercheval in the Village. St. John Providence Health System officials recently approached the Grosse Pointe City Council with a revised plan to create a mix of medical and retail uses in the building.

Image by Robert Wood & Associates


GROSSE POINTE CITY — Although most City leaders soundly rejected a previous proposal, a new concept St. John Hospital Providence Health System officials have for the vacant Borders store in the Village was met with a much warmer reception.

Representatives from the health system — which operates St. John Hospital and Medical Center on the Detroit/Grosse Pointe Woods border — presented the City Council Aug. 19 with a revised plan that would divide the building’s 18,366 square feet more evenly between retail and medical uses, with 8,954 square feet for retail along the Kercheval frontage and 9,412 square feet in the back half for medical uses.

The building has a depth of 162 feet, of which 73 feet would be reserved for retail. Hospital officials have included options for two or three retail businesses to occupy the available spaces. The previous proposal — rejected by the council in May — called for almost 80 percent for medical uses and the rest for retail.

The city would normally mandate that 60 percent of the building be retail. Zoning in the Village does allow for office and medical use in the rear 40 percent of a building on Kercheval.

City Council member Jean Weipert called the new proposal “100 percent better” than its predecessor, and praised hospital officials for taking a second look at the building.

“Kudos to you for having listened,” she said. “I’m obviously very pleased to see the increase in retail space.”

City Planner John Jackson, of McKenna Associates — who had warned that the first proposal would cause too great a loss of retail to the Village, jeopardizing the retail character of the district — said the new proposal is a “good-faith effort” and one that would be “easier to market” to potential retailers.

“We’ve spent a lot of time listening and a lot of time adjusting,” said David T. Brooks, the president of St. John Hospital and Medical Center. “We have greatly modified our approach” to the retail plan and the health care office plan.

Taking to heart Jackson’s statement about the demand for 5,000 square feet for viable retail, Richard Abbott, director of corporate real estate/design and construction for St. John Providence Health System, said the revised design would create that kind of space.

“We think this fits in very nicely with the rest of the Village,” he said. Abbott said the larger retail allowance should “create viable retail space,” in keeping with City ordinances aimed at preserving retail in the Village.

This time around, the hospital also enlisted the services of Grosse Pointe-based architect Robert Wood, whose Robert Wood & Associates firm came up with a more detailed rendering for potential retailers on Kercheval, although a final design would likely be amended somewhat once actual tenants were secured for the spaces.

Wood said the current frontage is “pretty tired. … It’s crumbling. It’s not in good shape.”

Recognizing the importance of this site — Wood called it “the bookend of the Village,” located, as it is, at one of the entrances to the shopping district — he said he wanted to create a look that “fits right in” with the historic nature of the community, with a muted color palette and additional windows.

City Council member Christopher Boettcher said he could see some of the community’s French influence in Wood’s design.

“It won’t look brand-new,” Wood said of his design. “It’ll look like it’s been here forever.”

Abbott said the revised concept for the building also helps to ease the transition from adjacent residential to commercial uses.

Despite a reduction in medical uses, Brooks said the budget for renovations would likely be roughly what they anticipated before, in the range of $5.4-$5.5 million.

City Council member Donald Parthum Jr. praised the new design but also expressed some concerns about what types of retailers might be occupying the new spaces, and whether visitors to the medical offices would be healthy and mobile enough to stay in the Village to shop or dine.

Brooks said their estimated 20,000 annual medical visitors was “a conservative” number, and most of them would be able-bodied enough to take advantage of Village goods and services.

As to the type of retailers they’d be seeking, Bob Hoban, president of care continuum at St. John Providence Health System, said they don’t want to put in a retail pharmacy because they don’t want to compete with existing Village businesses, such as CVS and Notre Dame Pharmacy. He said they understand the need to maintain the Village’s reputation, and added that St. John doesn’t operate the retail center adjacent to St. John Hospital and Medical Center at Mack and Moross.

“We recognize that we’re not retail operators … (but) we’re going to be very careful and thoughtful about who we allow in that space,” Hoban said.

City Council member John Stempfle said he was pleased to see an effort to retain a strong retail presence with the new proposal.

“I’m really impressed. … This is a significant improvement from your earlier presentation,” Stempfle said.

Despite the informal council support, the new proposal would still need a variance from the City for St. John officials to go forward.

City Manager Pete Dame said the hospital’s option on the property expires just after the City Council’s regular meeting Sept. 16. As a result, City officials needed to set up a special meeting to review the proposal on a more formal basis.

At press time, the City Council was slated to hold a special meeting and public hearing on the proposal at 8 a.m. Sept. 5 in council chambers.

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