Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Retail

Entertainment district could take on a retail identity

Analyst sees a current project adding businesses, sales and new characteristics.

December 15, 2012
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Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series looking at retail potential in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Ionia-Commerce corridor is at downtown Grand Rapids’ southern edge, stretching south from Fulton Street to just past Wealthy Street in much of the Heartside Business District.

It has clearly established itself as downtown’s entertainment and restaurant district, largely due to its proximity to Van Andel Arena, a creation of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority and Grand Action Committee. Supporting anecdotal evidence to that claim is the recent opening of the revived Grand Rapids Brewing Co. at Ionia Avenue and Fulton Street.

But Robert Gibbs, owner of the Gibbs Planning Group in Birmingham, Mich., who was hired by the DDA to conduct an analysis of retail in the downtown sector, felt the corridor will soon take on another identity — that of a regional shopping destination —because of another DDA and Grand Action creation.

“The southern block of the corridor is about to experience a significant revitalization when the Downtown Market of Grand Rapids will open in 2013. The market will offer fresh and prepared foods and likely have a regional draw, creating a demand for additional specialty retailers, restaurants, residential and office development,” wrote Gibbs in his report to the DDA.

The market is a $30 million development the DDA and Grand Action are building on 3.5 acres along Ionia Avenue near Wealthy Street. When finished this summer, the market will have six buildings with a total of 178,000 square feet of space. It’s a project that made a strong impression on Gibbs.

“The Downtown Market is a mixed-use concept that combines facilities for food production, food retailing and restaurants, outdoor seasonal farmers and crafts market, produce distribution, craft studios and health education and events. A 4,000-square-foot commercial kitchen will house a kitchen incubator program and provide hourly rentals to entrepreneurs, as well as support catering for events in the market,” he said.

“The tenant mix will also include produce, seafood, flowers and a variety of ethnic foods. Tasting rooms for wineries and beer makers will complement several restaurants that feature Michigan food and drink,” he added.

Gibbs said the surrounding businesses will increase the market’s appeal to a broader trade area, as well as provide better support for nearby residential neighborhoods and employment centers.

Even with the corridor gaining the market, Gibbs still saw the sector building on its current trademark. He projected the district could add from 15 to 18 new businesses across 58,220 additional square feet. He felt the corridor could support another 37,360 square feet of space for new restaurants, with 20,860 square feet going to retailers. It’s the only sector of the four where Gibbs saw more growth in places to eat than in places to shop. From 10 to 15 of the new businesses could be restaurants. Joining those could be a specialty grocery store and a wine shop.

“These stores can cluster around the new Downtown Market opening next year,” he said.

Gibbs pointed out that the corridor’s trade area is potentially large, encompassing a 4-mile radius from Ionia and Commerce avenues. The trade area has 144,000 residents in 52,800 households with a high average household income of $49,200.

“The new commercial can generate up to $27 million in annual sales by 2017. This demand also could be supported inside of or with the expansion of existing Ionia businesses,” he said.

Besides the new Downtown Market and the arena, other traffic generators Gibbs cited for the corridor were Cooley Law School, Western Michigan University, Grand Rapids Ballet, the Amtrak station and The Rapid Central Station.

Next time: East Fulton Business District.

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