Focus, Construction, and Economic Development

Residential real estate projects on the move in Grand Rapids

June 13, 2014
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It’s going to be a busy summer for Grand Rapids’ residential construction workers and developers.

“Everybody is looking for a site,” said Kris Larson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. “There’s a lot of different kinds of interest for different kinds of housing projects — everything from student housing to luxury sky-rise — but what there isn’t is access to sites to build off of.”

The decrease of available existing space is leading to developers and contractors pursuing more new-built construction in the city, as the demand requires more physical space than what is currently in the city limits for residential units, said Roger Rehkopf, president of Grand Rapids-based Orion Construction. But for now, the sustainable approach is to utilize property that already exists in a way that maintains the integrity of the building and the surrounding area and brings vitality to “dead zones” in the city, he said.

“The increase in downtown living will only help the demographics to bring needed support services to downtown living,” he said. “It’s important to understand that creating a variety of residential opportunities in our urban core is essential to a healthy city. We are moving our efforts in this direction and having fun enhancing the city the best we can.”

Rehkopf’s Orion is one of many local construction companies juggling multiple major projects this summer. Currently, Orion is focused on three significant Grand Rapids residential projects that support a larger, mixed-use concept, he said. Mixed-use projects foster a live, work and play environment, a stable local economy and opportunities to enhance neighborhoods, he said, but they also allow construction companies to “diversify revenue streams and increase the viability of the project.”

Orion’s biggest project — and one of the city’s largest new additions — is the $28 million Arena Place, an 11-story, mixed-used development at the corner of Ottawa Avenue SW and Weston Street SW. The project will hold about 100 residential units upon completion, Rehkopf said. Seven of the building’s floors will reportedly be Class A office space and about 17,000 square feet will be shared between a 10,000-square-foot retail space and a 7,000-square-foot Meritage-owned restaurant on the ground floor. The development also will offer three levels of 250 above-ground parking spaces.

“Orion is now underway with site preparation, demolition and safety measures at Arena Place,” he said. “(Construction on) Arena Place just began this month. We are on schedule and underway with site preparation.”

This month, Orion also will kick off construction and renovation to the mixed-use Seventh Street Lofts building at 600 Seventh St. NW, which will add 25 residential units. In July, Orion will start work on Eastown Flats, a two-building project at 1400 Wealthy St. SE and 1415 Wealthy St. SE that will add about 35 residential units to the neighborhood, Rehkopf said.

Rockford Construction also has been turning heads. Located in the heart of downtown, The Morton — an approximately $21 million, 13-story project at the northwest corner of Monroe Center and Ionia Avenue — will bring in at least 100 market rate apartments to the city and add to the “vibrancy” of Grand Rapids developers’ trend of revitalizing historic buildings, said Mike Mraz, vice president of real estate development at Rockford Construction.

“The Morton represents a different type of urban development,” he said. “So many of the buildings downtown have been renovated and filled. We are excited to be a part of one of the last major renovations on Monroe Center and to breathe new life into a building that has been a significant part of the city’s history.”

Rockford Construction also is preparing to open Living @ 600 Douglas, an approximately $2.4 million apartment complex located at 600 Douglas St. NW that marks Rockford Construction’s first residential project on the west side of the Grand River. This 18-unit residential project will have a phased opening this summer, beginning this month, Mraz said, adding that more than half of the apartments have already been leased.

“There is enough demand that I believe there will continue to be a blend of both renovation and new construction,” he said. “The important thing is to try to understand what tenants want in terms of quality, amenities and location, and to deliver a living experience that best meets their needs.”

616 Development is another major game-changer that has several projects currently in the works.

“We have one project, 616 Lofts on Prospect, that is in its final stages of construction and we look forward to introducing it to the neighborhood mid-June,” said Monica Clark, director of community development at 616 Development. “With several mixed-use developments in the works from many different developers, Grand Rapids will see some great positive growth in the next couple of years. Many spaces and areas will see re-activation and in-fill.”

In terms of what comes next in the residential real estate market, a lot of developers are playing their cards close to the vest, but many seemed hopeful that major projects will soon be underway.

“It’s important to recognize that residential development is just one component of a healthy, growing city,” Mraz said. “Residential developments, large and small, have to work effectively with the retail, commercial and public uses downtown to create a sense of place, support a strong quality of life and promote economic sustainability.”

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