Smith begins ninth project to renovate downtown buildings, adding apartments

By Ralph Echtinaw

Ryan Smith of Gemini Capital Management continues to improve downtown St. Louis with a plan to rehabilitate the building that most recently housed Uptown Treasurers.

City council set a Dec. 6 public hearing for Smith’s request to create an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act district at 201 North Mill (on the northwest corner of North Mill and West Saginaw). Following that, council will likely approve the OPRA district that would freeze the taxable value of the property for up to 12 years.

“My intention is to rehabilitate the commercial ground floor space and build two apartments on the second story,” Smith said.

This won’t be Smith’s first OPRA district in St. Louis. One was created in 2019 for a building just north of Main Street Pizza. Smith rehabilitated the ground floor and built five apartments upstairs. Total cost of that project was more than $400,000.

“My intention is to rehabilitate the commercial ground floor space and build two apartments on the second story.”

Ryan Smith

“I was drawn to and became interested in downtown redevelopment because of the historic nature of the buildings,” Smith wrote two years ago in response to an inquiry by the Gratiot County Herald. “These buildings were constructed in the early 1900s and have some amazing architectural features. But unfortunately over the years many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and been underutilized. Many of the upper levels of the buildings have not been used in 50+ years and are in dire need of rehabilitation. I believe that with proper redevelopment and care we can preserve the buildings for another 100+ years. 

“Furthermore, I am a big proponent for all the local communities in Gratiot County. I want Gratiot County to be prosperous. I want local business owners to have modern affordable spaces. I want the downtowns to be active and vibrant with residents living downtown. I want our communities to have great modern, affordable places to live and work in. I am drawn to these projects in these communities because I think they provide our community an opportunity for growth and prosperity and I want Gratiot County to be successful.”

Smith has done eight similar projects in Gratiot County. 

“Our goal is to rehab the buildings and save them from deterioration all the while creating new commercial spaces on the ground floor and attainable/affordable housing options on the upper levels,” he said via email.

Smith also plans to transform the three-acre site of the former Alma middle school into a “neighborhood” of 40 small apartment buildings.

Electric rate study authorized

City council approved spending $26,930 with Utility Financial Services (UFS) of Holland, Mich. for a study of how the city charges for electricity with an emphasis on efficiency and fairness to customers. 

Such studies are routine, said City Manager Kurt Giles, and the Michigan Public Power Agency recommends doing one every three to five years.

City council last approved an electric rate study in 2017, also by UFS. However, council members declined to approve a 2 percent increase in residential rates in 2021 that the study recommended.

“This is one time we can hold the line a little bit,” Councilman Roger Collison said at the July 6, 2021 meeting.

That was supposed to be the last step in a three-year rate adjustment that would make what residential and commercial customers pay be equal to the cost of maintaining service for them.

Council was first asked to approve the small increase in electric rates in June 2021 and declined to do so. They had just raised water and sewer rates by 10.65 percent and solid waste fees by 5 percent. Then-Mayor James Kelly opined that probably had something to do with council’s decision on electric rates.

“We were increasing everything at the same time,” he said. “And that bothered me.”

Giles expects the new rate study to be conducted in the first three months of 2023.

Mead to Parks and Recreation

Giles told council members that current planning commissioners told him they want Westgate subdivision resident Randall L Mead, 81, to fill a vacancy. His appointment is expected to be made at the Dec. 6 meeting.

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