MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - State and local civic leaders today celebrated the restoration of the new $16 million Grandview Marquette affordable rental housing complex – an abandoned downtown building since 1981 that was formerly Holy Family Orphanage and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and public tours at one of the most eagerly anticipated construction projects in the city of Marquette’s history.
“The Grandview has stood on this bluff in our city – like a rock – pleading with us to give it the new life that it deserves,” said Marquette Mayor Dave Campana. “At the same time, it has been a black eye on our downtown for far too long. The opening of the Grandview Marquette is one of the most exciting days in the past 100 years of Marquette’s history.”
Home Renewal Systems (HRS) of Farmington, one of Michigan’s premier developers of historic properties, spearheaded the repurposing of the 1915-constructed historic orphanage in partnership with Community Action Alger-Marquette (CAAM). The new affordable housing apartment complex addresses a critical lack of affordable workforce housing in central Marquette, the most-populated city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Among the Grandview’s 56 units are 42 units for households earning between $12,000 and $36,000 per year. Rents for these units will range from approximately $301 to $879 per month, depending on household income and unit size. In addition, with support services coordinated by CAAM and long-term rent assistance from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, eight additional units are set aside for homeless individuals and families who will now have a home. Six more units will be set aside with rental assistance for low-income households needing in-home medical services, through a cooperative relationship between CAAM and the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress (UPCAP).
A highlight of today’s event was the story of Jason Wieczorek, 39, a Detroit native whose family moved to Munising when was 7. Wieczorek is an honorably discharged U.S. Navy petty officer second class who has been homeless since June. He was invited to attend the news conference as a special guest of Home Renewal Systems and CAAM Executive Director Amy Lerlie, whose staff helped coordinate his application to become one of the Grandview’s first tenants.
“What makes the rebuilding of the Grandview Marquette Apartments special goes beyond the fact we are providing a safe roof over people’s heads that they can afford and live under with dignity,” Lerlie said. “Equally important is that we are providing people with opportunities that can help rebuild lives, especially for men and women who have served our country with honor and deserve our gratitude and respect.”
Wieczorek graduated from Munising High School in 1997 and enlisted in the Navy to become a “smoke jumper” – a specially trained firefighter – with plans to join a fire department after completing his military service.
During his four-year tenure in the Navy, Wieczorek battled numerous fires in foreign countries and was exposed to inhalation of toxic smoke and other hazardous materials. He was honorably discharged in 2001 and later enrolled at Ferris State University, where he graduated with honors while receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Wieczorek then entered Ferris State’s prestigious pharmacy school.
He completed the first three years of the program, was on track to graduate on the dean’s list and dreamed of becoming a nuclear pharmacist. Wieczorek was even a leader in research efforts that helped develop patents to decrease health risks for people with type 2 diabetes, Lerlie noted.
Then Wieczorek got sick. He started experiencing severe chronic headaches from his time in military service that would leave him incapacitated for days. He ultimately had to leave school. Neurologists with the Veterans Administration are continuing to try to determine a path of treatment for his disability. Now, Wieczorek has $200,000 in student loan debts from his time at Ferris State University.
Realistically, Lerlie said, he will never be able to get a degree from Ferris. After a one-year-or-more absence, the university’s pharmaceutical school standards would require him to re-enroll and start paying again from the beginning of his academic courses, she explained.
“That’s not medically or financially possible,” Lerlie said. “He receives a VA pension of $1,075 a month. His disability makes holding a steady job impossible. The time came when Jason could no longer afford the rent on his apartment at Ferris State. So Jason has been homeless since June.”
Over that time, Wieczorek lived in the woods of the Upper Peninsula. He slept under a tarp when it rained. Occasionally, he stayed on the couches of friends and family.
“But as Jason has told my staff, ‘People don’t want you to stay on their couch for too long,’” Lerlie said.
“Here we have a young man who has dedicated his life to defending our country. His goal in life was to help some of our most vulnerable citizens with their diabetes. But he won’t be able to accomplish his mission unless doctors someday find a solution for Jason.
“Jason – and thousands more men and women like him who have served our country with honor – deserves better,” she added. “Yet Jason never complains about his circumstances. He’s never asked for a handout. He should not have to ask.
“I hope you will all agree with me when I say that the least we can do for our veterans and military personnel is to let them know we will always be there for them here in the Upper Peninsula,” Lerlie concluded.
Wieczorek says he is looking forward to becoming one of the Grandview’s first tenants.
“I applied the first day they began accepting applications,” Wieczorek said prior to the news conference. “Back when it was abandoned, I used to check out the building at night when I was 22 and 23 years old. I think it’s beautiful now, and I’m going to be very proud to live there.”
Today’s ribbon-cutting event and tours offered hundreds of visitors an advance look inside the Grandview Marquette, after which construction activities will resume as the project moves to completion during the next 2-3 weeks. Occupancy is expected about Dec. 1.
The task of transitioning the building from a hazardous urban ruin to downtown Marquette’s newest gem is supported by nearly $13 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and approximately $2.4 million in Federal Historic Tax Credits, both administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. In addition, the Marquette County Brownfield Authority provided support for environmental assessments of the property.
“As an organization that is committed to finding creative and innovative ways to preserve, promote and rehabilitate affordable housing, we are very grateful to the citizens of Marquette for their philanthropy and determination to drive the exciting resurgence of this architectural and historical gem,” said Home Renewal Systems Senior Vice President Shannon Morgan.
Many of the building’s historic features, including its landmark sandstone multistory front porch, were preserved during the renovation, and the building’s original chapel was restored for use by residents as community space. All the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems have been replaced, and the building meets the Enterprise Green Communities criteria for green and energy-efficient substantial rehabilitation projects.
Last year, specialized trades workers completed the painstaking process of removing asbestos and lead paint to prepare for the rehabilitation. Since last summer, work has focused on exterior restoration, replacement of the roof, installation of historically accurate but energy-efficient windows, replacement of all building systems and configuration of the interior into 56 apartments. Workers are currently moving through the building working on finish carpentry and floor coverings.
“In order to qualify for the state and federal tax credits, HRS and CAAM have committed to ensuring that the units remain as high-quality, affordable housing for 45 years,” MSHDA Executive Director Earl Poleski said. “MSHDA is delighted that our collaboration with CAAM and HRS has ensured that the redevelopment meets the design standards for historic buildings administered by the National Park Service.”
Also in attendance at today’s event were representatives of Evansville, Ind.-based Old National Bank and InSite Capital (subsidiary of Chemical Financial Corp. of Midland), the project’s major investors; Wolverine Building Group, the project’s general contractor; and ASTI Environmental of Brighton, the property’s environmental consultants.