Preliminary plans for former Art Van building released

The former Art Van building, 318 Grand River Ave., is seen vacant Thursday, April 23, 2015 in downtown Port Huron. St. Clair County purchased the building one year ago for $560,000. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

The former Art Van building, 318 Grand River Ave., is seen vacant Thursday, April 23, 2015 in downtown Port Huron. St. Clair County purchased the building one year ago for $560,000. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Preliminary plans for the former Art Van building in downtown Port Huron include a pavilion, outdoor seating area and parking.

County and city officials Thursday narrowed down concepts for the property at 318 Grand River Ave.

“Whether the facility ends up looking like these concepts, I couldn’t tell you,” said St. Clair County Administrator Bill Kauffman. “We need to look at the potential costs and funding sources. We’re also looking at costs for demolishing the existing building if none of these concepts are approved.”

County and city officials met Thursday to look over concepts for the property.

“Right now that is all it is. It’s just an idea,” said Port Huron City Manager James Freed. “It will be interesting to explore what type of grant funding can come out of this. Anything to draw tourists and visitors is always welcomed.”

It has been nearly a year since the county purchased the 46,800-square-foot building for $560,000. It’s been four months since the county hired two architectural firms to come up with concepts for the building.

SyDesign, a Port Huron-based firm, and Infuz Ltd. in St. Clair, were asked to come up with plans that included an outdoor pavilion or amphitheater, as well as a design of whatever they thought could work well in the downtown. SyDesign was paid $6,980 for its two renderings, while Infuz Ltd. was paid $5,400.

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One concept by SyDesign would add an additional 30 parking spaces south of the proposed pavilion that would join with the East Quay parking lot. In a concept by Infuz Ltd., angled parking spots would be added along Fort and Michigan streets.

Because those concepts involve city streets, Port Huron would need to be in on the discussions.

Freed said the city is intrigued by the ideas. With both renderings connecting the county property to the city’s East Quay parking lot, Freed said the city will make sure any improvements made to the downtown parking lot will join well with what the county does.

How much the project could cost has not been released.

Kauffman said the price range for the concepts is considered to be “reasonable.”

“We have looked at all of (the renderings) and realized some of these are unbelievably ambitious,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about a project publicly unless we are confident the project can happen. The last thing we want to do is talk about a concept when we have no idea what it’s going to cost or how it will be paid for.”

Board Chairman Jeff Bohm said there is no set deadline for choosing a concept, but says it is high on the county’s priority list.

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“There is no given timeframe, but I have no intention of having that building sitting there for another year,” he said. “I hate to put a timeframe on this, but there’s no reason we can’t make a decision on what we should do with this building in the next three months.”

According to Bohm, the county is looking at potential funding sources including the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and individual donors.

Funding the project will play a large factor in what happens to the property.

“The county is not looking to go it alone on this project,” Bohm said. “This thing needs partners. If there is no support, I will talk to the board about just a demo situation.”

The concepts will next be shown to the county commission, city council and community.

Kauffman has said the pavilion could be used for an artist market, a farmer’s market, an outdoor concert venue and as a covered ice rink in the winter.

“If you create a destination, there is going to be increased parking demands,” he said. “However, we also know if the site is not in use Monday through Friday, during regular business hours, then additional parking is going to be open.”

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 April 23, 2015)

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