Downtown real estate game in play once again

November 25, 2011
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They’re b-a-a-ck.

Speculators are back in a big way as downtown property moves are once again in the midst of transactions.

As the MLive Media Group abandons ownership of its building, 155 Michigan St. NW (soon to be previously known as The Grand Rapids Press), and moves to leased office space near Monroe Center, the plotters are alive again with, in some cases, plans that date back to original planning of the appropriate site for Van Andel Arena.

The location of the building owned by Advance Publications (doing business under ownership of Newhouse publications, which includes such properties as Conde Nast and Fairchild) is in prime territory, and its sale price will be watched with great anticipation, another domino effect for downtown building owners with Class A space to rent. (The aside is why the new media business entity would leave a property it owns and begin leasing space — unless, of course, the sale pays for obligations related to the more recently new Walker printing facility and similar printing plants in Muskegon and elsewhere in Michigan.)

It is perhaps only coincidence that CWD Real Estate Investment is representing the property. Managing Partner Sam Cummings was active in renovating and leasing a number of buildings along contiguous Monroe Avenue in his previous company, Second Story Properties. He is now partners with Scott Wierda and Dan DeVos — hence, the CWD moniker. The trio banded together as Cummings worked feverishly to finalize construction and tenant agreements for the Gallery on Fulton, now home to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

About a decade ago, when Rich DeVos, RDV Corp. and partners bought Olds Manor and relocated its senior citizen residents, plans had leaked of concepts that included use of the Olds, a relocation for the Press and an offer to the U.S. Postal Service to buy its building and relocate those regionally central operations to Amway-owned property at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The speculators note the federal agency operating at a deficit may now be more willing to sell property. USPS has set public hearings in Kalamazoo related to consolidating those operations in Grand Rapids.

Another rumor surfaced that a new performance hall would go in the Olds location because of its proximity to DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall. The Olds, in its former life, was the city’s jewel venue, the Rowe Hotel.

What has already occurred: The north end of DeVos Place was designed to include a build-out of a skywalk across Michigan Street to … well, it’s now the post office and Olds Manor. RDV Corp. owns and constructed much of the office property along Michigan Street in Medical Mile territory, having completed the Michigan Street Development.

The Business Journal recounts below an interview with business leader Rich DeVos, published June 11, 2007, and based on interviews by former sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine staff writer Curt Wozniak, who interviewed DeVos for a feature in the magazine, specifically inquiring about future projects.

Wozniak asked whether DeVos would stay involved in city projects, to which he replied: “No. I’m not involved in anything. Like I said to Jay, ‘I think we ought to just get this thing (the JW) done.’ We still have that old Monroe Avenue hotel site over there yet. We haven’t decided what to do with that. But, you know, that whole block down Michigan Street is changing so dramatically, so fast, that money we put into that old Rowe Hotel is going to be well taken care of. Who knows what’s going to end up on that corner. It could become part of the Medical Mile.

“‘The Medical Mile’ is my name, by the way. It seems to be getting used. … Pill Hill and all that stuff is cute, but it doesn’t ring like ‘The Medical Mile’ does. And as it’s stretched out, it’s become a medical center. And we’re going to have another hotel over there, too, you know — up on the top of one of those buildings will be a 90-room hotel, which we will operate, as well.”

Another hotel atop one of the medical buildings on Michigan Street?

“Yes. There’s going to be a 90-room hotel. You weren’t aware of that? Maybe I wasn’t supposed to say that.”

The Business Journal reported at the time:

Amway Hotel Corp. President Joe Tomaselli told the Business Journal the addition to the Michigan Street Development project is close to final approval between RDV Corp. and project partner The Christman Co. He noted that close-proximity lodging is expected in all major metro area markets with medical centers. Amway Hotel Corp. would manage the hotel. Tomaselli emphasized there is no pending announcement, even suggesting it is, for now, “Street Talk.”

Both Tomaselli and DeVos noted there is a demonstrated need for such housing, especially considering that the Renucci House, next to the hospital, is consistently fully occupied. “It’s just packed out. So we think there’s a real demand,” DeVos said.

That a hospitality component would occupy a portion of the Michigan Street Development has been rumored for nearly as long as its possibility of hosting the MSU medical school expansion, especially with Metro Health Village and Mid Towne Village both aggressively developing retail components.

“Health care is becoming designed in some ways to be more of a retail-type situation,” said Greg Wieland, director of design for URS Great Lakes and the firm’s national health care practice, in an interview with the Business Journal last year. URS is the designer of the Michigan Street Development and has led or participated in the design of several of the adjacent facilities.

“They have the ability, almost like airport design, to provide services that are beyond just the health services. There are needs that these visitors have, and so, consequently, retail-type businesses have found their way into hospitals.”

To explain how this could work, Wieland cited a project he worked on before coming to West Michigan last year: the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in New York. Otherwise an average health care system, the children’s hospital became an industry benchmark with its family-centered design and unusual amenities — including an Au Bon Pain restaurant and adjacent golf course.

Based on the excerpted articles above, those wagging tongues may be on to something.

Holiday treats

The wildly popular Favorite Holiday Recipes newsletter from the Michigan Food and Beverage Association is now available to members and their customers for 2011.

How popular are they? You don’t know what you are missing.

“Each year we are swamped with requests for these recipes,” said Ed Deeb, MFBA chairman and founder. “We fulfill more than 10,000 requests for copies of the recipes which appear in newsletter format.”

The free recipes consist of many holiday favorites published in cooperation with the “Ask Your Neighbor” radio program and menus phoned in or mailed to host Bob Allison or to MFBA. This is the 16th consecutive year the popular recipes have been made available. Call MFBA at (586) 393-8800 to get a copy.

After all, who better than the state’s food and beverage association to spread a little holiday cheer?

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