Will DeVos Place Spur Downtown

January 9, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now that the exhibit space at DeVos Place has opened, the fun can begin. The fun will be seeing what develops in the downtown commercial real estate market when more visitors bring more wallets to the city.

Places to stay, places to eat, and places to buy things are the most likely to pop up, and some should do that sooner than others — and some already have. But a sector not expected to gain much from a larger convention center — the office segment — could benefit indirectly someday.

“There are opportunities for lodging, opportunities for eating out, and an opportunity for shopping. I think the long-term effect of that facility opening in Grand Rapids is going to be a significant driver for all three of those,” said Stu Kingma, SIOR and a vice president with commercial real estate firm S.J. Wisinski & Co.

Tom DeBoer, a broker with Grubb & Ellis/Paramount, felt DeVos Place could make downtown more robust and draw more restaurants there. Matt Williams, also with Grubb & Ellis/Paramount, added that retail could also grow there in the form of small shops.

As Kingma pointed out, restaurants began breeding downtown when Van Andel Arena opened in 1996, and eating and drinking spots have continued to do that on a semi-regular basis since then. The Black Rose Irish Pub recently opened on Ionia Avenue, and at least three more restaurants are on the drawing board.

“That has been the immediate spin-off effect,” said Kingma of the restaurants.

“The secondary portion of that has been with the interest in lodging. Jack Buchanan has been spearheading a project to try and locate a hotel on the city and county properties for quite some time and has had little success. However, there has also been a new hotel announced by the Amway group,” he added.

Kingma said the coming of the convention center directly stimulated both hotel projects, like it did for the newest restaurants. The hotel results, however, haven’t been as immediate as those for the restaurants because it takes from two to three years to build one.

“I also think it’s a factor of now that it’s here, there is capacity down there, which will be absorbed. I think it’s anticipated by the time that there is additional hotel capacity, the size of the conventions will have increased to start to absorb that,” he said.

Convention traffic alone probably won’t be strong enough to bring a lot of new retail downtown, as it’s too sporadic. Having more people living downtown, though, would be a primary driver for that type of development, which gained some momentum last year with the conversion of the Peoples Building into condos and the unwrapping of two apartment towers for the Monroe North Business District.

“I think we’re going to continue to see people moving downtown. That, coupled with the convention center traffic, is going to, in the longer run, continue to spur downtown retail,” said Kingma.

As for the office market, little direct positive impact from DeVos Place is seen for that sector. In fact, too many conventioneers too often might send some business tenants out of downtown, if getting around and finding a place to park becomes too much of a chore.

But the convention center might indirectly help fill some lower levels in office buildings with eateries and shops and raise the occupancy rate for the sector. And places to stay, eat and shop should spring up even if DeVos Place doesn’t turn a tidy profit each year.

“I don’t necessarily think that it has to be profitable for it to be an overall positive economic engine for the area,” said Kingma. “Whether at the end of the day that particular facility makes money or not, I think is somewhat irrelevant, as it relates to the number of dollar-spending people that it attracts to the area.”  

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