In The Offing: Park Place Condo

October 8, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The design of Park Place is as much about environmental concerns as it is about the style of the building, the lifestyle of its tenants and the desire to create an identity for the neighborhood.

Park Place, a structure that would be home to 150 upscale condominiums, is about to be officially proposed for the southeast corner of Division Avenue and Fulton Street — a spot that some have referred to as the heart of downtown.

Property owner Bob Tol, commercial real estate developer Ray Kisor and architect Vern Ohlman want to build the 10-story structure, which would include two floors of parking and 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, on the site of the vacant Junior Achievement building and a surface parking lot that lies just to the east.

The condos would range in size from roughly 900 square feet to about 2,400 square feet, with the average cost for one running about $360,000.

The $32 million project also contains lifestyle amenities, such as a rooftop garden, a pool and a fitness area, for its targeted buyers.

It is a massive project, an effort that covers 292,000 square feet.

When asked about the design, Ohlman leaned toward calling it “Timeless Traditional.” But he stopped short of doing that in a conversation with the Business Journal last week.

“The design is really based on the idea of complementing both ends of Monroe Center with the Grand Plaza Hotel, the old Pantlind Hotel portion, and that particular architectural style, plus the core market that the building is aimed at,” said Ohlman, chairman and senior designer at Design Plus.

The partners feel their potential core market are those who enjoy urban life and want a pedestrian lifestyle, meaning they favor tradition over anything contemporary and prefer to walk to everywhere they can.

“The top of the building gives it a sense of being completed. I mean, some of the modern architecture tends to look extruded, like a piece of machinery, where this has a top, it ends,” said Ohlman, who was honored with the AIAGV Lifetime Achievement Award for his design work earlier this year.

“On the top, we have some trellises, rooftop gardens, and those sort of things for the reasons of sustainability and energy conservation issues such as stormwater detention and heat retention.”

Ohlman said when a roof isn’t green, in the environmental sense, heat escapes from a building and raises utility costs. A green roof, however, reduces the heat load, which in turn lowers charges for heating and cooling in a building.

Ohlman also designed Park Place in a U-shape with the legs of the U parallel to Division and Sheldon avenues. He then put a court within the U and gave it a southern exposure for maximum sunlight.

“That court also has a green roof for a terrace, a swimming pool, a lounge area and a fitness area, as well,” he said.

In designing the building, Ohlman used the entire site; wall-to-wall, as he said, and that helps give the structure an urban look. He went through a number of design styles before settling on the one he chose.

He said he began by looking at more modern architectural approaches, but felt none of those would fit the conservative market that pretty much defines design in the city.

“In a certain sense the styling is really to communicate a sense of timeless quality,” he said.

“It has a brick exterior and metal roofs and it has detail about it that really begins to speak to what most folks in this area think of as quality construction,” he said.

Despite all the work he has put into the project, Ohlman still hasn’t finished designing the building, calling what he has completed the concept design.

He said there was work to be done on the site and the condition of the soil. Then he said they would be ready to approach the Historic Preservation Commission about razing the former JA building.

“There is no guarantee that they will approve that and so I’ve got due diligence to do before I get to the point where I’m going to call it a final design,” he said.

“We would very much like to get started with construction in the fall of 2005, and 18 to 20 months later would be the soonest there would be any occupancy.”

The partners chose the name Park Place for their project not because they get together on the weekends to play Monopoly, but because the building would be near Veteran’s Park and the smaller greenspace that is home to the city’s Civil War monument.

“What I am trying to do by naming it that is to identify the Veteran’s Park area as a neighborhood. Because I really think that living in downtown Grand Rapids means that you are living in an identifiable neighborhood,” said Ohlman about the nearby churches, library, Civic Theater, restaurants and shopping.

“Someone who is interested in an urban lifestyle, which in my mind is a pedestrian lifestyle, can live, work, and play as a pedestrian,” he said.

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