The View From Afar: Downtown Living Gains Global Interest

July 27, 2007
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The last, but not the least, of Grand Rapids Business Journal reporting for this issue of Commercial Quarterly provides an update on the progress of the Park Row Condominium project in the developing Mid Towne Village. The development on the east end of Grand Rapids' "Medical Mile" encompasses four city blocks for 32 brownstone residences, an interesting "village green" concept and retail, office and medical office space. Both city and private business analysis of the downtown housing market have for the past eight years anticipated that the urban core could draw a variety of downtown residents, from empty nesters to college students and medical professionals, but it was thought those new to downtown living would most likely be drawn from suburban communities within a 15-mile radius. Such has been the case for most of the new condominium projects now completed or nearing completion. But Park Row developers are finding an additional new market tapping on the door: an international market.

Joe Ross, principal in Development Marketing Services Inc., told reporter David Czurak, "For some reason, we're pulling in a real international crowd. That has surprised us because our research showed baby boomers and empty nesters from the suburbs would be buyers. But we're not finding those people." Residents with money on the brownstones include buyers from Taiwan, the Philippines and England, among a significant number of "out-of-town" buyers. As one might expect, physicians are among those making purchases.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reported in 2000 that the opening of the Van Andel Institute drew a rather international market of buyers to the Heritage Hill area, too. It was widely believed that the researchers being hired from around the globe would want to live in close proximity to the labs. That proved to be true, and the Heritage Hill neighborhood was reportedly the recipient of such interest.

The understanding of the impact of the Medical Mile also caught the attention of The New York Times last month when real estate reporter Keith Schneider published a story regarding the "stunning array of buildings" under construction on Michigan Street and the city's "concentrated magnitude of medical research, training and patient facility construction occurring on Health Hill."

Economic development authorities from every point on the globe have made a point of the "competition" in this employment sector, and so, too, did Schneider. He reported that construction executives in New York and other regions indicate only a handful of similar medical developments rival that of Grand Rapids, most specifically at the 20-year, $2.5 billion campus hospital project by the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and the $160 million Oregon Health and Sciences University Research Clinic building anchoring a new South Waterfront district in Portland.

It may "feel good" to be so well noticed or cited by entities outside this region, but the success along the Medical Mile will continue to create an economic domino and new opportunity only by the industrious and entrepreneurial efforts of those building and banking on the future with an open mind as to what is truly possible.

— Carole Valade

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