Monroe Center To Get A Facelift

June 2, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — After having renovated about 1 million square feet of building space downtown, Rockford Companies is getting ready to undertake another renovation project.

This time the Belmont-based developer, builder and property manager has partnered with Lee Kitson, David Lubbers, and Paul Belden IV to create Belford Development LLC. They plan to revive eight small two- and three-story buildings on the south side of Monroe Center that run east from Ionia Avenue to the building owned by local artist and architect Gretchen Minnhaar at 49 Monroe Center.

Rockford Development Group COO Kurt Hassberger told the Business Journal that the project is in the design stage and a starting date for construction hasn’t been set yet.

“The whole area is in the Renaissance Zone and under the terms of that agreement most of the buildings are required to have housing on the second and third floors. But there may be some space for office,” he said.

For that block of Monroe Center, part of the former pedestrian mall, Hassberger said they are hoping to fill at least the ground floors with retailers, tenants that would be spared from paying most personal property and Single Business taxes through 2012.

“That is clearly a goal. It has been a long-term goal of everybody that has been working downtown and we’re hoping that maybe the Renaissance Zone will be a final push to get some more retailers down there,” he said.

The few that are there are planning to stay, including a Chinese restaurant and a wig shop. Hassberger said condos are tentatively in the works for the floors above Yen Ching at 57 Monroe Center.

“There are eight buildings in all, but they’re all real small.”

Over the past seven years, Rockford has rehabbed a long list of downtown structures. A few of these include the US Xchange building, the Design Plus headquarters, the Western Michigan University Graduate Center, EQ3, the Peck Building, Kendall College of Art & Design, Ferris State University, and the Arena Station, current home of the Margarita Grill.

Rockford is also working closely with the DeVos family to reconstruct a number of buildings on Commerce and Ionia avenues in the Cherry Street Landing project, along with some on South Division.

They may also venture into some new construction on Ionia, just a block east of the Van Andel Arena. The idea is to turn that section of downtown into an entertainment center that would be anchored by the arena and The BOB and serve as a draw to conventioneers a few blocks away at DeVos Place.

Rockford has an option with the Downtown Development Authority for the Area 3 parking lot on Ionia. Now that the Historic Preservation Commission gave the firm a green light a few weeks ago to raze the Milner Hotel at Oakes and Ionia, Rockford may exercise its option on the lot, which is across Ionia from the decaying hotel.

If the company does grab the option, three two-story buildings could go up on the lot, with another similar four-story one being built on the Milner site. The cost to take down the Milner has been estimated at $300,000. Rockford also has plans to renovate up to four other buildings near the Milner.           

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