Construction and Real Estate

Developer builds $3M Heritage Hill apartment complex

December 19, 2013
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616 Development plans $3M apartment complex in Grand Rapids
The interior of the former Bethlehem Church in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill neighborhood, prior to being redeveloped into 616 Lofts on Prospect. Photo via 616development.com

Converting a historic place of worship into an apartment complex doesn’t happen every day. Neither does finding part of someone’s house buried on the construction grounds.

But one local noted developer has been doing just that since August — and found just that shortly after beginning the conversion.

616 Lofts on Prospect

Grand Rapids-based 616 Development has spent the past four months turning a distinctive neo-Gothic structure, the former Bethlehem Lutheran Church, into 616 Lofts on Prospect in Grand Rapids, at 253 Prospect Ave. NW, at the corner of Prospect and Crescent.

When the work is completed, which is expected to be next spring, the building will offer 22 market-rate apartments, a fitness room and a community room in one of Grand Rapids’ most unique residential districts, Heritage Hill.

The rents are expected to range from $800 to $1,450 a month.

616 Lofts will begin pre-leasing the units a few months before the project gets done.

“So probably in early 2014, we’ll start pre-leasing,” said Derek Coppess, founder and leader of 616 Development. “We already have a lot of organic interest in the building.”

Heritage Hill conversion

The conversion of the vacant church into a mix of studios, one bedroom and two-bedroom apartments is costing 616 about $3 million to do.

At this point, the units are being framed. The framing of the four upper-level apartments and two units in the basement is done.

“We’re starting to really get after that,” Coppess said. “We’re still on schedule to open in May of 2014. We’re starting to build that floor in the sanctuary and that’s going to be two different levels. It’s really been fun to be a part of it.”

Part of the fun came when the firm found a portion of a house in the parking lot.

Apparently, the home was destroyed by fire in 1905, and Coppess said the work crew came across the house’s foundation while working on the parking lot, which will have 26 spaces.

“We found the foundation,” Coppess said. “We were a little surprised. It was just a hiccup, and we got that all taken care of. The parking lot is in, and we wanted to get that in before winter, because our tenants are going to move in this spring.”

Other work going on includes cutting the window openings and roughing in the power and plumbing for each apartment. And the firm is waiting for the steel to arrive for the building’s new floor system.

Grand Rapids-based Lott3 Metz Architecture designed the renovation, and 616 Development has hired specialty subcontractors to perform the work, due to the one-of-a-kind nature of the building.

“We have a lot of unique stained glass that we need to preserve,” Coppess said. “It’s been a different kind of deal.”

Neighborhood development

The project is a bit different than the others 616 has done.

This one is strictly a residential development in a residential neighborhood. The others have been on commercial blocks, and the housing units have gone on the upper levels, and in most cases, a business has leased the ground floor.

But despite that difference, Coppess said he and his “tribe” haven’t looked at the project differently.

“I think we saw similar things that we’ve seen in a lot of the buildings we’re doing right now and have done in the past, which is just a beautifully over-built historic structure that is functionally obsolete,” Coppess said. “It was doing nothing, in this case, for the neighborhood other than becoming a nuisance.

“So like every other project you look at, you wonder what you can do with it, and this one was really no different. And I think as our city grows, it will be the neighborhoods: The neighborhoods will become more and more critical and will become opportunities for developers like us.”

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