Uptown Village Up And Running

August 4, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although Uptown Village is completed, the project’s owner doesn’t seem to be even remotely done with the area.

“We see a lot of potential here,” said Dave Allen, executive director for Lighthouse Communities.

“We envision Uptown Village as the next piece to the puzzle in creating a healthy, thriving community in this neighborhood,” he added.

Lighthouse Communities and Rockford Construction, the project’s management firm, unveiled Uptown Village through grand opening festivities last Friday. The $3.6 million development at 350 Wealthy St. SE consists of six new townhouses and a new 24,000-square-foot, three-story building.

The townhouses, designed as affordable housing, were finished in May and are occupied. Eighteen apartments have been built on the three-story structure’s second and third floors, nine on each, while 8,000 square feet have been set aside on the ground floor for commercial use.

Twelve-foot-high ceilings and wood-framed windows give the apartments a historical look and feel.

“All the apartments in the development are low income for the next 30 years. That’s so it doesn’t gentrify. That’s the point of the whole project,” said Allen.

The townhouses and the multi-use building were built on about 1.5 acres at the corner of Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue. Uptown Village also has 3,200 square feet of green space and a landscaped playground. The construction challenge was to squeeze a quality development onto a relatively small parcel near a fairly busy intersection.

“It was a challenge. We had to tear down the existing homes on the south side of the lot. There was an elevation grade there, too, so we had tear out the retaining walls and put up a fence all the way around it,” said Marty Schults, the Rockford project executive who directed the work with Rockford project manager Ed Wyngal.

“Luckily, between the townhomes and the three-story, there is quite a large parking and green area that we were able to use for staging. But it got more difficult as we finished the site work, and there is no place to park on the street. The neighbor to the east, the Wealthy Street Market, was nice enough to allow us to use their parking lot,” said Schults.

“This has been a challenging project, with a lot of changes and modifications being made to fit the tight urban setting,” said Wyngal. “Fortunately, we’ve been on jobs like this before, and with an owner like Lighthouse directing the project, we knew it would be a success.”

LouAnn Bryant, leasing director for Lighthouse Communities, said the retail space has already drawn interest from two potential tenants. She said last week that owners of a day care center and a restaurant have made inquiries about the space and toured the building.

The restaurant has expressed an interest in the corner unit, while the day care center was interested in the rest of the ground-floor space. But as of last week, Bryant said, neither had signed a lease.

Uptown Village emerged from a community needs assessment conducted in 2000 by Lighthouse Communities and the Baxter Neighborhood Association. The study revealed two needs. One was for affordable rental housing. The other was for commercial space to serve the residents and complement the businesses along Wealthy Street.

Lighthouse Communities spent a few years searching for the right site and bought the Village property two years ago. Tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority were an essential part of the overall financing for the project, which is bringing a new energy to the area but is not intended to extinguish the vitality that already exists there.

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