A Gateway Building

February 11, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — If due diligence goes as expected, John Green and Andy Winkel will take possession of the building at 130 Ionia Ave. SW by the middle of March.

Green, who heads The Elevation Group, and Winkel, who heads Kelwin Properties, are interested in the 11,000-square-foot structure because they feel the building can lead them and their tenants to a good future in a growing Heartside Business District.

Winkel said a new city-owned parking ramp that opened in November at the intersection of

Cherry Street
and
Commerce Avenue
, about a block east of the building, has served as an incentive to buy it. So has the building's location at Ionia and Cherry, not far from Van Andel Arena in the entertainment district, and near the downtown exit of U.S. 131.

"It's kind of a gateway into Grand Rapids for someone coming off the exit ramp. If they get off the exit ramp and turn right, they turn right on to Cherry and, boom, it's right in front of them, right there," said Winkel.

But the available parking and the location aren't the only factors that impressed them. The design and condition of the interior of the building made an impact, too.

"The taller ceiling and the exposed beams — the structure inside the building is in great shape. It shows well. It has been rehabbed in the past, and it looks great inside," said Winkel.

Rockford Construction renovated the building at the turn of this century when it was part of the $60 million Cherry Street Landing project the firm was doing with Sibsco Inc., a real estate development company owned by the Peter Secchia family.

Rockford Development Group sold the building to Huizen Property LLC in August 2002, and The Huizen Group opened EQ3, a European-design furniture and accessories store, on the ground floor. But after nearly six years in the building, EQ3 is moving to the Creston Business District later this month. EQ3 will relocate to

1428 Plainfield Ave. NE
, home to another Huizen Group-owned store called Stones Throw Home Furnishings.

"While we enjoyed being a part of the downtown scene, we realized that growth meant moving the store to a location that fit in with the distinct modern style that EQ3 offers," said Todd Huizen, manager of Stones Throw and a member of The Huizen Group, in a statement.

How many tenants move into the space that EQ3 is vacating, and the type of tenants they turn out to be, will determine how much work Green and Winkel will have to do to the building.

"It may involve adding a storefront entrance or two, and that really depends on how things fall out and what the tenant mix is. If one tenant takes the whole thing, then there isn't too much that we would need to do to it, other than some tenant improvements," said Winkel.

"But if there are three tenants that go into it, then we would be subdividing that space according to what the tenants would need."

Winkel said a couple of potential tenants are talking with them about leasing the space, adding the tenants "would be good for activity in that area."

The building's size is unusual in that it's taller than a single story, but not quite tall enough to be called a two-story. A less-than-one-story floor sits above the first level, and that space has been turned into an apartment, which is how Green and Winkel will keep it.

The 130 Ionia building isn't the first project Green and Winkel have worked on together. They pooled their talents with Doug Kuiker to develop Hopson Flats, a one-of-a-kind student housing complex on

Grandville Avenue SW.

They also recently started work on

444 Bridge St. NW
, a two-story building with commercial space on the ground floor and a much smaller version of Hopson Flats on the second story. That building should be finished in March.

"We have one tenant that is already in there, so we're looking for a second tenant, and the upper level will be an apartment," said Winkel.

Both the

Bridge Street
and
Ionia Avenue
projects are much smaller than the one Winkel is planning at
Commerce Avenue
and
Weston Street
. There he intends to build 60,000 square feet of new construction across two buildings for an estimated cost of $14 million that will bring office space and condominiums to Heartside.

When the Business Journal spoke with Winkel, he stopped short of saying that the Bridge and Ionia projects were easier to do than the larger one he has sitting on his drawing board. Instead, he preferred to say the projects were different in another sense.

"They still are a lot of work," he said of the two smaller projects. "But the degree of risk on those types is certainly less than a much bigger one."

Like the Commerce-Weston project?

"Yes," he said, laughing. "That's right."     

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