Architects draw up concepts, identify uses for Art Van property

St. Clair County has hired two local architectural firms to come up with uses for the former Art Van building in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

St. Clair County has hired two local architectural firms to come up with uses for the former Art Van building in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

St. Clair County has hired two local architectural firms to come up with uses for the former Art Van building in Port Huron.

County Administrator Bill Kauffman said SyDesign, a Port Huron-based firm, and Infuz Ltd. in St. Clair, are working with two scenarios for the site.

“One was to save a portion of the building as an outdoor pavilion and then reuse the rest of the site,” Kauffman said. “Then they were told to take the entire site and give us another concept using their experience as architects and design professionals. It could be something really crazy.”

Dena Alderdyce, accounting manager for the county, said the purchase orders for the firm’s services were issued in December.

“They have had a meeting or two since then to go over the proposal,” she said. “The concepts aren’t supposed to be completed until the end of January or February.”

SyDesign will receive $6,980 and has four to six weeks to present its concepts, Alderdyce said. Infuz Ltd. was hired for $5,400 and also has four to six weeks.

The county in 2014 paid $560,000 for the Art Van building at 318 Grand River Ave.

“We expect to have those storyboards in late January or early February,” Kauffman said. “We will then be sitting down with the city of Port Huron and the board of commissioners to share this information.”

Shane Hernandez, vice president of design at SyDesign, said the firm was contacted by the county a month ago.

“We gave a preliminary concept of some sketches to them before the holidays,” Hernandez said. “When they asked us, they specified one they wanted to use (with) the original wood frame as an outdoor pavilion.

“Instructions on the second one was to dream up what we wanted.”

Vincent Cataldo, principal of Infuz Ltd., said the firm was contacted by the county’s Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Cataldo said staff members are in the process of creating renderings, but have already broken down what the building has to offer.

“They reached out and asked if we were interested in writing a proposal,” he said. “The main old building is very unique, and we are certainly respecting the existing architecture. The other addition is more utilitarian.”

Kauffman said the county will take the concepts that commissioners and city officials support and go to the community to get reactions from stakeholders and downtown property owners.

“There we can find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. Then we’ll sit down and analyze what some of this will cost (and) what we will be able to afford,” Kauffman said. “This is something that will continue to grow and evolve over probably the next 10 to 12 months.”

At that point, the planning commission will begin developing estimates and identify funding opportunities.

Board Chairman Jeff Bohm said there’s no guarantee the county will choose one of the concepts.

“When we’ve done projects in the past, we engage more than one architect for a preliminary type of design because everybody has different ideas,” Bohm said. “If you find somebody with a concept consistent with what you are looking for, then you would progress.”

One of the ideas is to save part of the building as a multi-use pavilion, Kauffman said.

A structural engineer found the building was “structurally sound.”

“We thought if we tear this thing down, we might be wasting what could become a viable asset to the community,” Kauffman said. “So, we decided to take a look at whether or not it is feasible to save this building and reuse it for some purpose.”

Kauffman said potential uses for a pavilion could be an artist market, a farmer’s market and an outdoor concert venue.

It also could be a covered ice rink in the winter, he said

“We don’t know what’s going to be put into it,” he said. “There are a lot of uses out there, but the key is what the community would like to see the property used for.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 18, 2015)

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