Schools Bring Cool Project Downtown

December 9, 2002
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BELMONT—Rockford Construction Co. will manage the renovation work for the new Thomas Cooley Law School downtown campus, while Design Plus has already drawn up the plans for the buildings, the parking deck and the skywalk that the alliance between Cooley and Western Michigan University will deliver.

Work should begin next month once the construction schedule is finalized.

But according to Cooley President Don LeDuc, the school will lease two structures, plus make an addition to one of those, and then occupy a portion of another building.

All three buildings are part of the Cherry Street Landing project, a 10-property, 3-block, mixed-use development started by the Rockford Companies three years ago and located just south of the Van Andel Arena.

“They’re looking at the whole east half of the Cherry Street Landing main block, bound by Oakes, Commerce, Cherry and Ionia,” said Rockford COO Kurt Hassberger.

Work will likely begin first in the Western Michigan University Graduate Center at 200 Ionia SW, where a build-out for a pair of Cooley classrooms and a few offices is set to be done on the fourth floor. Cooley will lease the space from WMU and will begin classes there in time for the fall semester. Two 60-seat classrooms are planned for the Graduate Center.

Cooley will fill the six levels of 38 Oakes SW, a building that once belonged to the H.H. Cutler Co. The school will add about 25,000 square feet to the existing 50,000-square-foot structure and create a new entryway that will resemble one at a Cooley building in Lansing.

Construction on the addition should start next fall.

The building’s lower level and first floor will be home to the school’s law library, which is slated to be finished in a year. Temporary offices will also be built on those floors until the upper levels are done. Classrooms and permanent office space will be carved out on the second and third floors. That work should be done by the fall of 2004.

LeDuc told the Business Journal that one classroom will be built as a courtroom.

The remaining floors at the Oakes building, levels four and five, will be renovated as the need arises. But it’s hoped all the work there will be finished by October 2005.

Renovation work will also be done to 121 Commerce, a four-story structure known as the Durfee Building. If Cooley doesn’t use all the available space in the building, the law school could sub-lease some of it.

LuDuc said the construction plan calls for a new two-level parking deck to go up on a vacant lot at Commerce and Cherry, just north of the WMU Graduate Center. The design also includes an enclosed skywalk that connects the Cooley buildings with WMU and the parking deck.

Not only are potential law students and the two schools likely to benefit from the project, but downtown businesses could also see a boost. Plus the project could add another credible reason for creating an entertainment district along Ionia Avenue, part of the Landing effort.

“This is a very cool project. We’re talking about bringing hundreds of students into the area,” said Hassberger.

Cooley will lease 38 Oakes and 121 Commerce from Rockford Property Management. Rockford has its headquarters in Belmont, while Design Plus is located on Ionia SW.

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