Riverfront Plaza Adds More Space

March 30, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The project is a dichotomy of sorts. On the one hand, it may have involved the smallest land transaction ever recorded downtown. On the other, it likely was the largest office construction project to go up downtown in recent memory that wasn't built exclusively for medical tenants.

And it's all but done.

Lori Tanis, who manages the RiverfrontPlazaBuilding at

55 Campau Ave. NW
, said the major tenant is in, as the certified public accounting firm of Crowe Chizek leased levels three and four of the five-story expansion. The project, though, won't be fully completed until a drive gets built this summer.

"It will be a nice drive with greenery, but it won't be finished until August," said Tanis, who also manages the three-story OldtownRiverfrontBuilding, directly north of RiverfrontPlaza at

85 Campau Ave. NW

And the expansion of Riverfront Plaza won't be greatly overshadowed by Alticor Inc.'s towering JW Marriott Hotel and parking ramp, which are going up next door, because the project added 50,000 square feet to the 64,000-square-foot building.

The added space is significant to the office market. So much so that the new addition is larger than 44 of the 82 other downtown office buildings listed in the Building Owners and Managers Association of West Michigan annual occupancy survey.

As for the property purchase, the Oldtown Riverfront Land Co. paid the Downtown Development Authority $1,844 nearly two years ago for 42 square feet on the site's southern edge. It's a strip that stretches for 141 feet, but is only 5 inches wide at its widest point. The transfer of the rail-thin parcel may make it the smallest property deal in downtown history.

When the Business Journal reminded her of the tiny transaction, Tanis laughed and said, "Details."

The top three levels of the project have resulted in new office space, while the two lower levels were made into a parking garage with room for 27 cars. But those spaces weren't enough to replace all the parking that was lost to construction.

"We're actually parking in the lower levels of the new Alticor ramp, as well" said Stephen Fry, president of Concept Design Group, which designed the Riverfront expansion.

Spaces in the new Alticor hotel ramp were needed because the expansion took place on a portion of the surface lot that tenants at RiverfrontPlaza and Oldtown Riverfront had used for 20 years. Part of the Marriott ramp is being built on it, too.

"I think we have roughly 100 parking spaces in that ramp, as well. Our parking area underneath our building serves as access into the lower area of the Alticor ramp. So the RiverfrontPlaza and the OldtownRiverfrontBuilding haven't lost any of the parking it had before," said Fry.

"There will also eventually be parking all along the front faces of the OldtownRiverfrontBuilding between the new ramp and the existing building," he added.

Tanis said only the fifth floor of the expansion has space for lease and it's ready to be built out. A total of 27,000 square feet is available in the building, and Tanis said she is willing to divide the space into smaller pieces to accommodate firms that don't need that much square footage.

Tanis owns a portion of RiverfrontPlaza and the Oldtown Riverfront. Her father, John Myaard, bought Oldtown in the 1970s, which was quite a gamble back then because that part of downtown wasn't exactly in the high-rent district. He improved the building and added an atrium. Then in 1984, he and other investors built RiverfrontPlaza

"The two buildings are joined together with a beautiful atrium," said Tanis

Another owner of RiverfrontPlaza is Visser Brothers, and the construction firm served as the project's general contractor. The expansion took less than a year to build.

Designing the project, though, had some sticky challenges that mostly came from the site, which is on a developed urban block that is undergoing even more development with the JW Marriott Hotel. The site is also tight because the east bank of the Grand River is just to the west of the building.

"We had to spend a lot of time coordinating with the people from Alticor, because, obviously, we're in this project together. With the existing buildings against the river and with the ramp between us and the public street, together we worked to ensure that we met all the building codes and the fire access issues," said Fry.

"One of the reasons our parking structure is two stories high is not only to allow us to move full-size moving vans through that structure, but also to have the ability to move fire trucks in there to meet fire code requirements. We effectively created a street through there."    

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