Downtowns New Oldest Corner

March 12, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Terra Firma Development has recently removed a million pounds of junk from the top three floors of 180 Monroe Ave. NW.

For Terra Firma principal Eric Wynsma, that means he has seen three full dumpsters of trash leave his building, the Campau Square Building, every day for a month.

But Wynsma and his investment partner, Jay Carl, know that with the interior gutting done, and with work on the renovation of the four-story building at Monroe and Pearl started, they are on to something big.

“If you total it up, I think it’s more than $150 million worth of investment within 300 feet of this building,” said Wynsma. “So, with those new projects we kind of consider this to be the new corner of downtown.”

Terra Firma bought the building in January from Delta Properties because of all the new investment being made within a few blocks of 180 Monroe. DeVos Place, the new Grand Rapids Art Museum and a new hotel proposed for Pearl Street by the Amway Hotel Corp. drove the firm’s decision to buy the building.

The plan is to convert 180 Monroe into loft-style office space. More accurately, the plan is to convert 180 and 182 Monroe into loft office space, as the two buildings were joined at the structural hip in 1978 when its current façade was added.

But Terra Firma will separate the buildings and offer space at both with rates starting at $11.50 per square foot. Wynsma said a few tenants have already inquired about space. He has roughly 25,000 square feet for lease. CB Richard Ellis is managing the leasing.

The building opened in 1853 and a report from 1979 indicated that the structure is the oldest commercial building downtown.

Pre-construction research revealed that the original brick was too far gone to be cleaned and used as a façade. So a new façade will be placed over the original brick after the current brown-brick façade is removed. New windows, similar to the size and type that were popular in the 1940s, will be installed. High-gloss varnished wood will be added to the storefronts.

“It’s a dark building right now. There isn’t much light in there, so we’re going to really brighten things up,” said Wynsma.

“I think the exterior work will be done by June and then we will have a lot of interior work, as far as the tenant build-outs are concerned. We have two or three of what I call good prospects, but nobody has signed up yet,” he added.

Ryan Dykhouse of Dykhouse Construction is the project’s general contractor. Ken Dixon is designing the interior work, while Brian Barkwell of Via Design Inc. is doing the same for the exterior. Mercantile Bank is providing the financing for the $1 million project.

Terra Firma applied with the Downtown Development Authority for reuse grants last week, submitting one for each building. If the DDA approves both, the firm could get up to $50,000 for each building that can be used for exterior and utility work.

“We’re also hoping to use historic renovation tax credits. We’re exploring that; it’s not a given,” said Wynsma.

The ground floors of both buildings are occupied. Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar and Roly Poly Sandwiches are open and will remain so during the renovation — which, by the way, is the first of its kind for Wynsma in roughly six years.

Terra Firma was an original partner in the Brass Works Building, an award-winning office renovation at 648 Monroe Ave. NW, when it opened in 1998. But since then, Wynsma has been more involved with industrial projects. He owns about 600,000 square feet of manufacturing space, including Renaissance Zone property at 2000 Oak Industrial Drive.

“That market is real bad right now and the office market is not good, either,” Wynsma said. “But the prime location at this corner, Monroe and Pearl, can make up for some weaknesses in market conditions.”    

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