Focus, Construction, and Real Estate

Last major rehab on Monroe Center prepares to open

The Morton is a ‘signature product’ for Rockford Construction in the heart of downtown.

July 31, 2015
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Morton kitchen
The Morton’s residential spaces feature stainless steel appliances, custom cabinetry and designer fixtures. Courtesy Rockford Construction

The last major building redevelopment project on Monroe Center in downtown is almost complete.

As it currently stands, Rockford Construction’s landmark, $34 million project to redevelop The Morton is coming along on schedule and is slated to open this fall.

Once known as the historic Morton Hotel, the rehabilitated building is a mixed-used development that will offer 100 apartments and seven condominiums, as well as office and retail space.

The91-year-old building, which is located at 70 Monroe Center St. NW, was purchased by the Grand Rapids-based developer near the end of 2011 for $5.8 million.

Rockford Construction is the developer and contractor, and Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture is the architect and designer. Additionally, the building will have two or three full-time on-site staff supported by Rockford’s property management team.

Kurt Hassberger, board chairman and president of Rockford Construction, once called The Morton project the last piece of downtown Grand Rapids’ redevelopment puzzle.

When the puzzle is completed, the city almost literally will have its downtown heart put back together again.

“(It’s) the last major building on Monroe Center in total that has been renovated,” said Mike Mraz, vice president of real estate development for Rockford.

“Going on the entire process and working with the state of Michigan on financing, working with the city to help develop the building with incentives and grants … we’re just really proud of the work that can be done. We started working on Monroe Center 12 years ago.”

The focus on being a key part of the city’s pulse makes the building’s tagline seem even more on-the-nose: “Live in the center of it all.”

Here’s what The Morton will look like once the renovations are finished: The 13-story building will feature a total of about 25,000 square feet of commercial space on the first and lower levels; the second floor will offer building amenities and a few apartments; the third floor will contain about 15,000 square feet of office space; and the rest of the floors will be residential, with a 14th floor being added for penthouse condominiums.

“It’s currently 13 stories, and we’re adding a floor right now for the condominiums. They have a rooftop terrace with a shared entertaining space that’s indoor and outdoor. It has a living room, bar, kitchenette,” Mraz said.

“The rooftop is just for the condominiums. There’s a courtyard on the fourth floor, but outside, so the building kind of wraps around it. … I think outdoor space in an urban environment is a nice feature so people can have a different experience, not just inside. But (when they) walk out outside The Morton, they’ve got plenty of amenities in the city: restaurants, bars, banks.”

Multiple floor plans are offered in each type of unit. Morton’s studio apartments, which range from 472 to 617 square feet, will have one bathroom and start at $1,000 per month. Some of them will have the Urbaneer design — a Rockford space-saving brand that includes re-arrangeable walls, rooms and kitchen islands for maximum flexibility.

The one-bedroom apartments, which range from 559 to 690 square feet, also have one bathroom and start at $1,300 per month. Two-bedroom apartments, which range from 899 to 1,148 square feet, have two bathrooms and start at $1,900 per month.

Condominiums range from 1,200 to more than 2,900 square feet.

The apartments will feature amenities such as stainless steel appliances, custom cabinetry, Grohe-designed faucets, 49-inch television screens that are Internet Protocol (IP) and WiFi enabled, Mraz said.

Mraz said there are big plans for The Morton’s second floor. It will include a community room that can be rented out for parties, showers and other events. The room holds about 25 people, he said. The floor also will include a 1,200-square-foot fitness room.

One of his favorite features will be on the lower floor: an approximately 500- to 600-square-foot room where owners can take their pets to play and be bathed.

“People really love animals, and we are pet-friendly and we’re attracting people with pets, so it’s a nice option. We decided to build this pet play area in the lower level so people can play with their pets and they can interact and mingle. Inside there’ll be a wash-bay so people can wash their pets instead of having to wash them in the apartment bathtub,” he said.

“(There’s also) a synthetic turf system hooked up to a sewer line. The owners will still have to pick up after their pets, but there’s a designated area for the animals to relieve themselves. There’s also space to play around.”

Mraz said he got the idea while travelling, when he saw an area in an airport especially for service dogs.

“I was walking by and I was brainstorming for ideas for amenities. I have two dogs myself. And I was thinking, ‘How could we make this building more pet-friendly for residents?’” he said.

In terms of filling the building with residents and tenants, Rockford currently is in the stage of pre-leasing. Rockford is actively working with two commercial tenants — a restaurant and commercial user — but no papers have been signed, Mraz said.

Additionally, the office spaces already are leased, but currently the names of the businesses are confidential, he said.

Apartment leases have been going fast, he said.

“Leasing is going strong. We opened preleasing about four weeks ago,” he said.

The project is on schedule and Rockford hopes to have everything ready for move-in in September — just in time for ArtPrize, Mraz said. There’s a cool and rather impressive aspect to the timing, Mraz said, because in September of last year, Rockford hosted ArtPrize’s Site Lab in the space, making it quite a changeup in just one year.

When all is said and done, Mraz expects the building to be an economic driver for both Rockford Construction and the city of Grand Rapids.

“All in, we’ll probably have upwards of 175 to 200 people living in the building, plus all the retail and office users. It’s a big difference from having an empty building to the vibrant community it will be,” he said.

“We’re really proud of the redevelopment of this iconic building right in the center of downtown Grand Rapids. It’s a signature product for us.”

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