Commercial Offsets Dismal Residential

February 12, 2007
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The number of building permits issued in Grand Rapids and its suburbs was generally lower in 2006 than 2005, building officials report.

New residential construction was down considerably, but construction overall was buoyed by commercial development, at least in some areas, they say.

"New homes were down significantly," said Butch Visser, building official in Cascade Township, which saw 69 new single-family home permits, 11 new commercial permits and 21 commercial alterations. "Our commercial was up some, and overall we had about the same number of permits."

A similar scenario occurred in the other areas for which he oversees permits: East Grand Rapids, and Ada, Grand Rapids and Lowell townships, although Lowell Township does not include much commercial or industrial development.

"Our commercial is doing really good," added Jim DeLang, chief building official in Wyoming, where new commercial permits jumped from 10 in 2005 to 26 in 2006. He attributed most of the commercial growth to areas along the Gezon Parkway, at M-6 and Wilson Avenue, and along the M-6 and Byron Center corridor, which encompasses Metro Health Village. However, new single-family home permits in Wyoming sank from 130 in 2005 to 77 in 2006, DeLang said. He's optimistic that housing will rebound, however. "It's not as bad as other communities. It's coming around," he said.

Neighboring Byron Township saw commercial permits hold steady, issuing 46 in 2005 and 44 in 2006 for new and remodeling projects. Mobile homes sales there surged from 18 in 2005 to 49 in 2006. A single new office permit was recorded each year.

For 2006, Gaines Township reported three new commercial permits, three additions and 18 alterations, but no industrial activity.

Kentwood was unable to provide a report due to software problems.

Last year, the city of Grand Rapids issued 29 permits for new business construction and 213 for business remodeling. One permit was released for new factory and industrial, while the city saw two factory/industrial additions and three remodels. Permits were issued for 203 new one- and two-family housing units and 839 housing remodels.

Walker saw a big jump in commercial remodels and additions, from four in 2005 to 27 in 2006. New commercial recorded an uptick from nine to 11. Industrial additions and remodeling also saw a jump from three in 2005 to 22 in 2006. New industrial construction permits dropped from six to three. Total commercial and industrial permits dropped by four, from 136 in 2005 to 132 in 2006. However, permits for new single family homes in Walker plunged from 101 in 2005 to 57 in 2006. The city reported no multi-family permits issued last year.

To the east in Plainfield Township, housing starts also sank from 212 in 2005 to 93 in 2006. However, non-residential building held steady. The township let permits for nine new commercial and two new office buildings, compared to two and three, respectively, in 2005. Some 36 commercial additions and remodels, compared to 42 in 2005, received permits. Nine office additions and remodels, plus two medical buildings, were recorded to 2006, up from three in 2005. In the industrial arena, the township permitted two new buildings and six additions or remodels in 2006, an increase from no new industrial and just one addition/remodel in 2005.

Overall in Kent County, housing starts dropped to 1,635 in 2006 from 1,988 in 2005, according to Builder Track, a publication based in Ada. However, the publication reports that apartment starts were up to 240 units in 2006, compared to 132 units in 2005, but still less than half of the units built in 2002.

John Doherty, CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors in West Michigan, said those among his 500 members who responded to a year-end survey said 2006 was a little better for business than 2005.

"2006 was at least as good or better than 2005 for most of our members," he said. He said most expect to hold steady or increase their business volume and profits for 2007.    

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