Preparations for Fenton's Cornerstone Project Underway
Developers are securing financing for the estimated $4 million building; negotiations with businesses and restaurants are taking place.
Plans for the new Cornerstone building in Fenton are taking shape, as the people involved carry out their portions of the project.
The first building of what could be three will cost around $4 million, financed by The Saab Group of developers. The Fenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will provide financial assistance, in an amount still to be determined, said DDA Director and Assistant City Manager Michael Burns.
Ghassan Saab, of Fenton, is financing the project, with his father, Khalil Saab, and sister, Elisabeth Saab. The project will have a big impact on the community in which they live, Ghassan Saab said. They recently received approval from Fenton to increase the building from three stories to four stories.
“We’re pretty excited. It’s still not set in stone,” he said. “We are moving toward getting the project green-lighted. It’s not a done deal yet.”
The Saab group is working with private investors and banks to finance the approximately $4 million Cornerstone project, Saab said. They are working with construction companies on cost information for the building. In addition, his family wants to keep the cost for Cornerstone tenants in the same price range as tenants would pay for other locations in the area.
"We don't want anyone to have to pay a premium to be here," he said.
Cornerstone is a public project and needs approval from the city of Fenton, so The Saab Group understands the process might take a little longer than other projects. They are taking their time and don't want to miss any steps, he said.
"It's an important project, so we're willing to go the extra mile for it," Saab said.
The Saab Group has developed shopping centers, including the Lincor Park Shopping Center in Flint Township, which it owns and operates. They have developed other shopping centers in the area, along with the Golf View and Torrey Grove subdivisions across from the Fenton Farms golf course.
The first story will have around two restaurants, and two retail businesses, Burns said. The second through fourth floors will be residential living units, bringing close to 40 additional people downtown.
Stephen Auger & Associates provided the design for the project, for $7,500 (which the DDA paid), Burns said.
“We are still securing tenants to occupy the commercial space,” Saab said.
Most of the tenants have expressed interest, but no contracts have been finalized at this point, he said. Thus, the names of the restaurants and retail businesses cannot be released yet.
The former Republic Bank building will be torn down, and the new building will be constructed at the front of the property near LeRoy Street. There will be enough space left for sidewalk and outdoor seating, if tenants would like to have it, Saab said. Parking will be located behind the building.
The first floor of the Cornerstone building will be 20,000 square feet, with the three floors above it, 10,000 square feet each, he said.
In addition, the apartments on the upper floors will be unique, the newest in the area and in line with the current market rate, Saab said. They will have lots of window space. “They’ll be overlooking downtown with private balconies.”
Jerry Mansour, of Mansour Realty, Inc. of Flint, is assisting with the Cornerstone Project by providing marketing and other consulting services. Mansour receives $3,000 per month from the DDA, for 18 months, Burns said, to put agreements together for the Cornerstone Project. This includes negotiating with businesses to fill the retail and restaurant spaces in the future building. Retail businesses, as opposed to other types of businesses, will bring activity into downtown Fenton, he said.
“We’re really excited about the project,” Mansour said. “There definitely is a lot of interest in Fenton. Fenton is a great place to do business.
There are approximately five prospective tenants with serious interest in the commercial aspect of Cornerstone, he said. Negotiations are taking place for this. And there are several who are interested in the loft apartment aspect of the development, but negotiations for it will take place later, Mansour said.
“The businesses that go in there, we expect will do very well.”
Business owners weigh in
Terry Green, of Billmeier Camera Shop, 100 S. LeRoy St., said he is excited about the project.
“I think that a new building built in the traditional fashion of old downtown will be beautiful, and attract the kind of businesses needed in our downtown that will generate the walking traffic we so desperately need in order to make the downtown district a thriving destination,” Green said.
“With Crust baking company at my back door, the Brewery (Michigan Brewing Company) at the old fire hall and the other surrounding existing destination businesses like The Fenton Hotel, The French Laundry, Yesterday’s Treasures, The Iron Grate and several others worth mentioning including my own Billmeier Camera, we have the beginnings of what I hope to be a booming downtown.”
John Brancheau, who owns The Edge Gallery, 409 S. LeRoy St., with his wife, Terry, isn’t sure about the Cornerstone Project at this point. In downtown Fenton, people are looking at preserving the old, while the Cornerstone building will be brand new, Brancheau said. The old Republic Bank building will be knocked down.
“I prefer to be downtown in this area,” he said.
The city of Fenton owns the former Republic Bank site, on the corner of LeRoy Street and Silver Lake Road, east of The State Bank. The city purchased the land, including the vacant building, for $325,000, Burns said.
In addition, the Fenton DDA now owns the former site leased by Hometown Computers, at 111 S. LeRoy St. The DDA took possession of it during the first week of January, Burns said. It cost $250,000, with the DDA placing $5,000 in an escrow account to help Hometown Computers with its move to a new location.
City officials haven’t decided yet whether they will sell the Cornerstone Project to its developers or lease the property, Burns said.
The first building will bring $120,000 in new taxes per year.
“It will help a lot of different jurisdictions,” he said.
There are many ways cities can assist creatively in development, Burns said. “We’re not the only ones.”
Kalamazoo, for example, has made major investments in its city to revitalize its downtown. In addition, Brighton has invested heavily in its community and downtown, assisting a number of new businesses opening in downtown Brighton.
“It’s not uncommon,” Burns said.
The parties involved are moving as fast as they can with the Cornerstone Project, Burns said. Construction could begin this summer.
However, there are a number of behind-the-scenes issues to address first, he said. “We are in the process of finalizing how the building will be laid out.”
In addition, The Saab Group is working on financing for the project, and there are contracts Mansour is working out with tenants for the building.
Plans are to have three buildings, but the focus is now on the first one, Burns said. Stephen Auger & Associates provided conceptual drawings of the other two buildings as well, though.
Saab said the next phase will probably be a building at the former Hometown Computers location, filling the space next to the Fenton United Methodist Church. The third phase will likely take place between the former Republic Bank site and the Hometown Computers location.
The Cornerstone Project participants aren’t sure what they will do with the third building yet, but it will work with the existing building that includes the Fenton Regional Chamber of Commerce, a dentist’s office and a florist, still in place, he said.