GRAND RAPIDS — In every community, there are a handful of residents who truly delight in showing off their town, enthusiastic guides eager to show visitors the ropes. And while downtown Grand Rapids is a far cry from Manhattan, an afternoon stroll with Donna Dozeman through the streets of Furniture City shows the downtown residential real estate specialist to be committed to her city in a big way.
"I get a lot of colleagues from the suburbs that ask me to show them around downtown, so I walk around with people to get them familiar with the city," explained Dozeman, president of Dozeman Realty Group, a firm dedicated to selling downtown residential units.
A longtime downtown resident herself, Dozeman makes at least one of these treks every morning. She sets out from her Plaza Towers condo at roughly 6:15 a.m. for a walk, in whatever direction strikes her fancy. Even in a downtown that can be walked end-to-end in less than an hour, there is always something new to discover, she has found, especially with all the recent development.
"It's fun to watch; you see the old buildings become new projects," she said. "We run into WOOD-TV early in the morning. You meet people on the street, in the walkways — it's amazing."
She had a bird's-eye-view of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum from her living room window for last month's interment ceremony, as well as a view of the ongoing construction of the new Grand Rapids Art Museum and the JW Marriott hotel, not to mention the occasional fireworks display and many of the city's other signature events.
But downtown living is more nuanced than fireworks and flyovers, Dozeman said. It's the ability to park your car for weeks and walk everywhere you need to go; or being able to walk to any of 17 places (at last count) for coffee within a few blocks of her home. There are two post offices in walking distance. If you know where to look, there are at least a half- dozen places to buy a greeting card, a newspaper, or a plate of mahi-mahi.
On the coldest days, she completes her mile walk without ever going outside, looping the skywalk back and forth from the Van Andel Arena to the Michigan Street end of DeVos Place (through the parking ramp, she noted, as the walkway doesn't quite go to Michigan Street).
But living downtown did not earn Dozeman the right to put "downtown residential specialist" on her business card. Knowing that clients will eventually run into their Realtor while walking the dog or sipping java does inspire trust, but her expertise comes from the sale of hundreds of residential units in the submarket over the decade, likely more than any other Realtor in the market.
After a number of years selling some of the first condominium homes in the city of Holland and in the Grand Rapids suburbs for what was then Westdale Realty, Dozeman was tapped by Amway Real Estate Corp. to lead the sale of the Plaza Towers condominiums after the company purchased and renovated the complex in 1997. She sold those 144 condos in 11.5 months, and in the years since has sold many a second and even a third time.
When Plaza Towers Real Estate closed in the earlier part of this decade, Dozeman became a broker for Skyline Realty in the Amway Grand Plaza, selling and reselling the roughly 250 condos then in the downtown market.
During the condo boom of the past two years, which has served to nearly double — and soon triple — the number of available units, Dozeman was a much-heralded addition to the staff of Second Story Properties, the downtown real estate development firm responsible for current downtown condo projects The Fitzgerald and Hillmount, where she led the company's downtown residential sales and marketing efforts.
"(Potential downtown residents) read about and hear about all these residential projects that are happening in the urban area, but yet they didn't know who to talk to. Who is the person marketing the urban area as a viable place to live?" said Second Story President Sam Cummings shortly after her hire in January 2005.
Dozeman was one of a number of key employees to leave the firm last year. Shortly after Dozeman started her realty company, Second Story partner John Green launched development firm Elevation Group in the fall. She still sells some units on behalf of Second Story.
"I finally decided to go out on my own," she said. "I wish I would have done it five, 10 year ago. When I came to Amway — that was such an opportunity. They had people come in from Atlanta that taught us an awful lot, and I couldn't replace that experience. But after that, I should have opened my own business."
Now a passionate advocate for downtown living, Dozeman bought her first Plaza Towers unit as an investment property, with no intention of living there long-term. Previously a resident of Cascade and the Crystal Spring housing development in southern Kent County, she moved into that unit with her husband, Dale, while seeking a building site for a "big new house." They instead bought a second unit and have lived there ever since.
"It's like it's never stopped," she said of the downtown submarket. "It's evolved into a regular neighborhood where people move in and out all the time. Now you're adding other condo projects too, and you're getting people with different wants and needs."
From both her living room window and through her professional role, Dozeman has witnessed some historic changes in downtown Grand Rapids. As longtime West Michigan residents, her family has a cultural significance beyond the urban landscape. Her father, Don Melvoin, relocated the family to Grand Rapids when she was 8 years old to work as a newscaster for local NBC affiliate WOOD-TV8.