American Seatings Phase I Moving

April 4, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Without any marketing so far, Brian R. Winkelmann said last week that lease deposits already have been placed on a large number of apartments in what’s called American Seating Park.

Winkelmann — president of Winkelmann Architects and architect of record for Bridgewater Place — told the Business Journal that of 67 available apartments in the west wing of the American Seating factory, 60 are under lease.

He said they are opening for occupancy this week.

Winkelmann — the project architect who also designed the renovation of The Boardwalk (the Berkey & Gay factory on North Monroe Avenue) — said that’s just for starters.

He explained this is merely the end of Step I in Phase I of a $28 million project by American Seating LLC — a creation of American Seating Corp. and Pioneer Construction, the general contractor

The project is transforming American Seating’s original 25-acre manufacturing complex into a mixed-use campus featuring apartments, corporation headquarters and general office and commercial uses.

Winkelmann explained that American Seating Park is taking form in a City of Grand Rapids renaissance zone west of the river. The zone is bounded by Seward and Broadway Avenues and Seventh and Ninth Streets.

The first phase of the project entailed the renovation of American Seatings’s 1923 building (a four-story structure facing west toward Seward) and its much longer 1928 addition (paralleling Ninth between Seward and Broadway). The two buildings form an L.

The older building has 120,000 square feet of space in which Winkelmann designed 67 three- and four-bedroom apartments, plus a number of two-story lofts.

Workers last week were putting finishing touches on the upper-floor apartments and on the west exposure’s roofed deck that extends nearly the 400-foot length of the building.

The deck, which is landscaped, was constructed atop the structure’s rail spur.

That’s the first step of Phase I in American Seating Park.

The second part of Phase I, due for completion in about three months, deals with the newer 200,000-square-foot building that sits at a right angle to what now is an apartment complex.

The main floor of the larger building has a 23-foot ceiling. Thanks to its big, arched windows and the sunlight streaming through them, the long, vaulted room is reminiscent of many of the nation’s old railway union stations. Winkelmann designed the main floor as a wide-open, airy space for American Seating office workers.

An adjoining single-story addition, where workers currently are sandblasting away lead-based paint, will serve as a suite of executive offices.

The second story above the main is designated for leased office space or commercial uses.

The top two stories also will feature 1,600-square-foot, executive-size apartments, some of which Winkelmann is custom designing for renters who already have entered leases. Like the main floor office space, the other units in the second part of Phase I won’t be complete until later in the year.

Phase II of the project will involve rehabilitating the firm’s old power plant, which sits on Seventh Street, into a restaurant and pub serving the entire complex.

By the time that project gets underway, the corporate staff and officers of American Seating will have moved into their new offices from the firm’s original building, which lies on the north side of Seventh Street.

That building also is to be converted into an apartment complex in the project’s third and final phase.

According to Winkelmann, once completed, the American Seating Park will be about 75 percent residential and 25 percent office and restaurant space.

The project is the second renovation in which Winkelmann Architects has worked with Pioneer Construction. The two firms collaborated on the much larger Berkey & Gay renovation.

Pioneer kicked off the American Seating project 11 months ago when it began removing asbestos, old roofing, wiring and plumbing from the structures.

Last week the company’s workers were sandblasting lead-based paint out of what will become the executive office suite.

In terms of total area, the American Seating project is about 70 percent the size of The Boardwalk and will have only a fourth as many apartments.

The project also has been much easier, according to Pioneer spokesmen, because American Seating had maintained the structures very well over the years and the buildings originally were incredibly overbuilt. The floors, for instance, were not wood, but poured concrete slabs supported by concrete pillars.

By contrast, the hodge-podge of Berkey & Gay buildings not only were much older, but also had been vacant for a half century and had only marginal maintenance.

Moreover, the American Seating project has ample parking and didn’t require construction of a multi-level parking garage.

The American Seating complex originally was a vertically integrated operation that powered itself and even manufactured its own steel and fabricated parts from them.

During World War II, the firm stopped making furniture and retooled to manufacture bombs.

Other recent projects in which Winkelmann and his group have been involved were the Union Station, Herkimer Hotel and Lenox Apartments, both managed by Dwelling Place, and the Grandville Avenue Houses, a complex of homes on Grandville Avenue.    

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