Newsmaker Condos Downtown

January 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — This year's diverse wave of condominium developments in downtown Grand Rapids is creating the largest addition of permanent residents to the commercial core in the modern age.

Over 1,000 units were introduced to downtown Grand Rapids in 2006 among 10 projects by eight separate developers. All but one of those, the 11-story Tall House at

45 Ionia Ave. SW
, are currently under construction.

Leading the charge is Parkland Realty Inc., the sales and marketing arm of Parkland Properties, which this year closed on 120 units between the nearly sold-out Union Square (180 units, 600 Broadway St. NW) and The Boardwalk apartment-to-condo conversion (230 units, 940 Monroe Ave. NW).

"It's completely changed the neighborhoods and the community," said Jonathon Rooks, Parkland president, crediting community support and his partners for the success of the two developments.

Joe Ross, co-developer of the Park Row Condominiums at Mid Towne Village with Kegle Construction, attributes the residential growth to the growth of industry in the larger downtown market. In his case, the adjacent Medical Mile health care corridor on

Michigan Street
has driven the success of his 33-unit project, located in the heart of a medical office park.

"This wouldn't be happening if men with a lot more vision than I weren't driving the growth," said Ross, who also pointed out the contributions from philanthropists such as the DeVos, Van Andel and Meijer families.

At least one development occurred with little aid from the community, as Moch International's Icon On Bond (118 units,

538 Bond St. NW
) is nearing completion despite neighborhood opposition and doubts from virtually the entire business community.

"When they finally topped off the building, I got to go up on the roof and take a look around, and it was just an unbelievable feeling knowing the amount of work that went into getting to that point," said Joe Moch Jr., of Moch International.

Icon On Bond sold 14 units during the generally slow holiday months. With half of the complex sold, it hopes to begin moving residents in by April.

Most of the major developments have seen brisk sales, particularly in the highest and lowest price ranges. With nary a unit priced below $200,000, River House at

Bridgewater Place
(207 units,
337 Bridge St. NW
) has inked binding purchase agreements for 121 of its 207 units.

"All before anyone could actually see the building," said Daniel Wert, River House project manager and representative of Robert Grooters Development Corp., which also created

Bridgewater Place
. When the project is complete, it will be the region's tallest building.

Second Story Properties, one of the firms central to the revitalization of the downtown office and retail market, is currently transforming the former YMCA building at 33 Library St. NW into The Fitzgerald (45 units) and converting the Hillmount (100 units, 505 Cherry St. SW) apartments into condos.

"This is the culmination of what my company has been working on for 15 years," said Second Story President Sam Cummings. "When we first started in Grand Rapids in the early 1990s, our goal was to see residential as viable. It started with rental, and look what we see now. … Back then, it was like putting a rock uphill; now as a Grand Rapidian, I'm incredibly proud — there are a lot of new players in the market and it's an exciting time."

The Hillmount has sold with "great velocity," according to Cummings, with 60 units sold and 40 already occupied. The Fitzgerald, still in the presale period, started slow, but saw a run at the end of the year. With four sales during the last week of December alone, half of the project is now spoken for.

Cummings noted that for many years the downtown residential market has been incredibly underserved. Perhaps the most significant factor in the recent wave of development is that each project is so vastly unique, including super luxury high-rise (River House), adjacent medical office space (Park Row), terraced gardens on the Van Andel Arena strip (Tall House), tax-free living (Union Square) and Bohemian simplicity (Hillmount).

With the surge in capacity, the question is consistently raised as to whether the market can support the growth. Jay Fowler, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, isn't worried.

"I don't think we're looking at an overabundance of condos," he said. "I think there is a pent-up demand; there hasn't been many brought on board the last couple of years."

That the city's condo supply has suffered is painfully true. There have been only 10 condo developments of any significance completed in the downtown area since the practice was created nearly 30 years ago. Only 16 units came onto the market in the decade after the 140-unit Plaza Towers high-rise on

Fulton Street
was completed in 1991.

However, there has been a distinct industry response to the current wave of condos, as it appears that Tall House, if it breaks ground this year as planned, will be the last development of any size for a number of years. Other projects announced recently have curtailed their plans, most notably Two West Fulton, as Second Story Properties has indicated the 80-unit development will now likely be apartments.

A Busy Year For Condos

Downtown developments actively sold or under construction in 2006.

Union Square 600 Broadway St. NW 180 Completed Parkland Properties
Cherry Street Lofts 143 Cherry St. SE Completed Virgin Soil Development
The Boardwalk* 940 Monroe Ave. NW 230 Construction Parkland Properties
The Fitzgerald 33 Library St. NW 45 Construction Second Story Properties
Icon on Bond 538 Bond St. NW 118 Construction Moch International
Hillmount* 505 Cherry St. SW 100 Construction Second Story Properties
Park Row Michigan Street  NE 33 Construction Kegle Construction
River House      337 Bridge St. NW 207 Construction Robert Grooters
Eldorado * 510,
516 Lyon St. NE
13 Construction Cannon & Co.
Tall House 45 Ionia Ave. SW 93 Marketing Tall House Enterprises

*Apartment-to-condo conversion. As a result of its nearly complete renovation, Cherry Street Lofts is not identified as such.

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