Mission Complete Downtown Investment Group Dissolves

June 5, 2002
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HOLLAND — As one era draws to a close, another begins for downtown Holland.

After helping to shepherd an unprecedented period of development that saw more than $110 million in private and public money invested in the city’s central business district since 1988, Riverview Development Limited Partnership is folding its tent and selling off several downtown properties to new investment groups.

One of the groups has already moved to carry the torch further. Eighth Street Partners LLC plans to begin construction late this spring on a new three-story office building in downtown.

The project is the first piece of what’s been dubbed the “superblock,” a square-block area on the east end of downtown that Riverview has envisioned redeveloping into a series of retail and commercial buildings.

The superblock could also anchor a new round of downtown investment that may even surpass that of the past 13 years, said Greg Holcombe, an urban planner and a staff member at Riverview.

“There’s a lot cooking. There’s a lot of new energy and new players and there’s a lot of attractiveness,” Holcombe said. “We’re probably on the verge of the next $110 million (in downtown investments) in the next five years. There’s action on all fronts.”

Among the new activity is the office building planned along East Eighth Street. Riverview last month sold one of its parcels to a group of partners who share the goal of developing the business district further.

“We all are very interested in continuing the growth of downtown Holland and taking that next step in moving downtown east,” said Kris DePree, president and co-owner of Focus Properties, a commercial real estate firm in downtown Holland. DePree is also a partner in Eighth Street Partners and says demand is strong for office space in downtown Holland.

“It’s an exciting time,” DePree said.

But that kind of excitement didn’t always exist in downtown Holland.

Like many small-town downtowns, Holland was in trouble in the mid-1980s. Large retailers had moved out and the Westshore Mall was being built on U.S. 31, north of town.

Riverview’s formation grew out of a proposal in the mid-1980s for a new shopping mall just north of downtown. When the developer abandoned that project, the Holland Economic Development Corporation (HEDCOR) was left holding acreage that it had acquired in hopes of bringing the project to fruition.

Out of the episode came the Riverview Advisory Committee, a private-sector think tank consisting of business leaders who explored ways to use the land as a way to trigger downtown’s renewal. The committee also went to work formulating a vision for downtown.

It was during that process that 23 local business leaders — led by the late Edgar Prince, founder of the former Prince Corp. — put up $2.93 million of their own money to form Riverview Development Limited Partnership. Their plan was to buy key downtown parcels and hold them until the “right development” came along that met with the vision being forged. The group’s first acquisition was the HEDCOR property just north of downtown that was once eyed for a shopping mall.

Holcombe describes the group’s initial investment as “patient capital that didn’t need an immediate return and could do more collectively.”

Over the years Riverview also forged close partnerships with the city’s Downtown Development Authority and the MainStreet Committee, which in the late 1980s was undertaking renovations along Eighth Street in downtown. Riverview also took on one project of its own: The Curtis Building at Seventh Street and College Avenue.

Holland city planner Phil Meyer credits Riverview with bringing the private sector into downtown revitalization efforts. Downtown planning and the city’s Downtown Development Authority are much stronger today because of Riverview’s efforts, he said.

“They really rallied the whole community in terms of a common vision for downtown,” Meyer said.

With that vision firmly entrenched and the group reaching a self-imposed limit for its existence, the Riverview partners decided early this year to dissolve and sell their properties to parties interested in taking on the projects envisioned, Holcombe said.

“We’re increasingly comfortable with the new and yet familiar people we’ve been dealing with and said, ‘hey, this makes sense,’” Holcombe said. “We’ve done everything we felt we could do and we’re conveying land to people who share the vision and will carry it forward."

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