Terra Firma Going Grand

April 4, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — With its office at

600 Monroe Ave. NW
, Terra Firma Development is firmly planted downtown.

But not just at its home base, as the firm has spread its roots south.

Partners Eric Wynsma and Jay Carll are redoing four buildings on Grandville Avenue just a Kenny Chesney-length ticket line from the Van Andel Arena.

"In my opinion, I think this Grandville corridor will be the next thing to really kick. I think Monroe North has done what it's going to do. I don't see west movement yet and I certainly don't see anything going up the hill," said Wynsma.

"This is what I think is going to be the next neighborhood, and I'm certainly voting on that happening with my checkbook, if you look at the buildings," he added.

The four structures at 206, 208, 212 and 216 Grandville have a combined 150,000 square feet. Three have five stories, while the fourth has three stories. All are partially leased. In fact, 61 percent, or 91,000 square feet, is leased.

Corporate Color has the basement, first and second floors at 206, along with the second floor of 208 for a total of 20,000 square feet in both. That situation may change, though, as the imaging company is looking for more room. Corporate Color owner John Randall sold both buildings to Terra Firma.

Shippert Photography and an office tenant are in the building, too, which is actually 206 and 208 combined. Wynsma said only the third floor is vacant.

"Those two were already combined. We're condominizing those two buildings and we're selling condo office space," he said.

Architect Brian Barkwell of Via Design drew up the renovation for 212 and 216, which are also being combined into a single building for leasing purposes. He designed a large and illuminated glass entrance for the building and Wynsma is looking for retail tenants to move into the ground-floor space.

"We have a tenant for the basement, the second and the third floors," he said.

That tenant is a new business set to occupy 40,000 square feet. Downtown Self-Storage plans to open shop there as early as later this month or as late as early next month.

Bill Barnett owns Downtown Self-Storage. He and Carll, as Stor-U-Own LLC, built what may be the area's first commercial condominium that offers storage and office space to small businesses. They've put up four buildings with about 25,000 total square feet at 8138 E. Fulton St., just north of the Grand River and east of Pettis Avenue in Ada Township.

Barnett is betting that many new downtown residents are going to need a convenient place to store their golf clubs, snowmobiles and other precious stuff, and Downtown Self-Storage will be the only storage business downtown.

A drive-in entry will be built on the south end of 216 that will lead into a covered and temperature-controlled area where customers can unload their things for storage. A large freight elevator will take them and their items to the second and third floor. Larger items, like cars, can be stored in the basement.

The top two floors of the combined building will likely be turned into residential condos. Wynsma said he wasn't certain whether Terra Firma would renovate those levels or if the firm would sell the floors to a residential developer. One of Wynsma's plans has condos ranging in size from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

Wynsma said a number of developers eyed the buildings as a residential structure, or a residence with some office condos. But none went ahead with the idea because there wasn't enough nearby land available to build enough parking spaces to support either concept.

"The entire complex is really 150,000 square feet. With 150,000 square feet, you need probably 200 parking spots, and that isn't achievable unless you're going to spend $4 million on a ramp," said Wynsma.

But stored goods don't need a lot of parking spaces and Terra Firma recently bought a lot from the city to support its project. It has room for 21 cars and sits next to 206 Grandville. The firm also owns a lot across Grandville from the buildings, along with a smaller one down the street. The company has over 40 spots in all, and Wynsma felt those spaces would offer enough parking for two floors of condos.

"We've done demolition throughout the whole building. Everything has been removed," said Wynsma of the 212 and 216 Grandville buildings. "It's a clean shell. We sandblasted the entire complex. We're done with them"

CB Richard Ellis is handling the leasing for all the buildings.

Terra Firma also owns 180 Monroe Ave. NW (see related story, page B6) and 168 Louis Campau. The firm owns 44 Grandville and has 72 Grandville SW under contract. When the deal on 72 Grandville closes, Terra Firma will have possession of six buildings within a few blocks of each other on Grandville Avenue.

"I think it's the most logical path for the next wave of downtown renovation. The highway access is great. I like Grandville a lot," said Wynsma. "I think it's more attractive from a marketing standpoint."   

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