Construction and Real Estate

Orion hunts down major developments

Firm is involved with Arena Place, Venue Tower and Gateway at Belknap, among others.

October 30, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Gateway at Belknap
The mixed-use Gateway at Belknap project features 88 apartments, retail and restaurant space. Courtesy Orion Construction

Orion Construction is making its way through a host of projects, including what is shaping up to be a major downtown anchor.

Arena Place recently held a topping-off ceremony, which placed the highest structural steel beam on the 11-story development. The project is now being enclosed with a glass exterior by Glass Design.

With the building enclosed before winter arrives, construction crews are building out spaces for corporate tenants Miller Johnson, Domoregood and Meritage Hospitality Group, as well as The Wheelhouse restaurant. A model apartment was completed at Twenty 5 Ottawa for leasing partner DTN Management to prelease the 100 apartments in the project.

Retail tenants for the ground floor spaces will be announced soon, according to Orion spokesperson Jason Wheeler. All but one location is taken.

The parking garage with more than 280 spaces is finished, he said.

As Orion finishes up one major downtown project, it’s gearing up for another one — virtually right across the street.

Fences are up around The B.O.B.’s parking lots as site work is in progress to ready the Venue Tower site for groundbreaking, Wheeler said.

An official groundbreaking date has not been set as the firm finalizes a financing package and makes sure the site is fully ready for construction, he said.

Concept Design is working on the design of the Venue Tower; designs for the concert venue and beer garden already are completed.

“It will be more edgy than anything else in downtown,” Concept Design President Steve Fry said. “It’s intended to be in this active area and for people who want to live in the space with the energy of the arena and performance space.”

Outside of downtown, Orion began demolition and site work in the Belknap neighborhood for its Gateway at Belknap project. The three-story, mixed-use project will see 88 apartments, retail and restaurant space.

It’s a project that almost didn’t happen, but by working with the neighborhood and city, Orion was able to preserve the culture of the neighborhood while developing it for the future. The firm expects completion next fall.

“If it had not been for the feedback and genuine interactions with the Belknap neighborhood association, the planning department and the city of Grand Rapids, this project would have been tabled,” Orion Real Estate Solutions President John Wheeler said.

“Orion came to the neighborhood with a proposal and with compromise. This is an exciting project for us. This area is rich in Grand Rapids history. Some of the homes had fallen into disrepair, but we didn’t want those isolated pockets to deter folks from wanting to live in Belknap.

“Our focus for the Gateway at Belknap is to deliver a complementary development to the area that will create employment and residential opportunities.”

The Belknap project is similar to several projects Orion recently completed in Eastown. The company finished the two-building, mixed-use Eastown Flats in August, which includes 35 apartments and two retail spaces. The buildings occupy what were a vacant lot and an old carwash.

Next year, Orion expects to begin Fulton Square. The project also is a two-building development, at Fulton Street and Carlton Avenue NE. One building will be a four-story building with restaurant and retail space on the lower level and 27 apartments on the upper floors. The other will be a three-story townhouse facing Carlton Avenue with 20 residential units. The development will have 76 parking spaces.

Orion also has worked with several Michigan colleges on creating residential projects, including Baker College in Port Huron, Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University.

The Baker College project was a 40,000-square-foot building with 49 beds in 17 apartments for the Baker College Culinary Institute. It was the third Orion project for Baker College since 2013.

The project at GVSU was dubbed “The Grand Village,” a 20-acre site with 10 houses for Greek-life organizations. The project features 265 beds in 10 homes.

In East Lansing, Orion partner Walbridge Construction is working on a $120 million, 1,280-bed project for Michigan State University students. Walbridge also is involved with the Arena Place development. The MSU project is on track for 2017.

“Orion is evolving and truly honing in on our specialties and strategic goals for the coming years,” Orion Construction President Roger Rehkopf said. “This is, in part, because we’ve embraced our wood-framed expertise and our ability to deliver multi-unit housing on tight timelines like we see with university work.

“We’re certainly busy in other markets, but we continue to improve and produce quality housing for our clients. These make a significant impact on a community’s ability — or a university’s ability — to better support their functions and support their own growth.”

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