Focus, Economic Development, and Sustainability

Extra planning commission step creates better project

Orion Construction’s riverfront development sets example for future.

December 4, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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River's Edge
The River’s Edge development in downtown Grand Rapids will incorporate two “fronts” on the building, a traditional one facing the street and one that faces the Grand River. Courtesy Orion Construction

Orion Real Estate Development’s proposed River’s Edge development took a little extra time to get approval from the Grand Rapids Planning Commission.

The mixed-use apartment project along the Grand River at 1001 Monroe Ave. NW garnered extra attention during its initial appearance at the planning commission meeting Oct. 22. Commissioners saw it as the first new-construction development along the river and wanted to make sure it sets a good example of how to utilize the river for future developments.

The item was tabled until Nov. 12, when an updated plan for the site was presented and approved to move forward. Initial plans showed public art on the river side and a small restaurant on the Monroe Avenue side.

“They worked with us very quickly to come up with ideas for a better building that everyone liked,” said Ryan Wheeler, Orion’s development coordinator on the project.

“The total square footage increased a little, and there are expenses associated with that, but in the long run, it is a better building that will serve the people that live and visit there even better.”

The $8 million, five-story, mixed-use project is slated to have 34 apartments, with parking and a restaurant on the first floor. The plan remained largely the same except for the additional square footage because of the slight expansion of the restaurant.

The extra step in the planning commission process did not have much of an effect on the project’s timeline, Wheeler said, and construction should begin in spring 2016 and finish in spring 2017.

The updated plan helped activate the river side of the development, with the restaurant patio wrapping around to give diners a view of the river. The update makes the project better overall, Wheeler said.

“The planning commission was seeking a more active use on the river side of the building,” Wheeler said. “We responded by taking the restaurant space that was along the Monroe side of the building and wrapping it around the entire south face of the building, then turning the back to the north, as well, with an outdoor seating area.”

Along with the updated restaurant, the public art on the river side of the building will remain. That helps satisfy specific ordinances that dictate active use or mural work to make the building more attractive from the river. Commissioners liked the artwork shown at the first meeting, and the panels, which feature fish jumping, were retained in the plan.

On the site currently is a one-story office building that will be razed for the new development. The parcel is surrounded by a public park, which made it attractive to Orion, which purchased the site for $1.3 million last year.

“There is nothing like it in Grand Rapids,” Wheeler said. “It’s also in a growing part of the city; the North Monroe area is developing quickly into a desirable part of town.”

Orion is happy with the design provided by Grand Rapids firm Progressive AE.

“Our hope going forward is the river becomes more of a focus in Grand Rapids and that active uses like restaurants on the river become more common,” Wheeler said. “It is a great opportunity to be able to develop a more contemporary building on the river.”

Currently, most buildings along the river have their backs turned to it, but with many projects in the works to reinvigorate and refocus on the Grand River in downtown, it’s important to ensure buildings interact with the river, Wheeler said.

“Riverfront developments now have the challenge of creating two fronts on their building,” he said. “We are utilizing the river by creating a 10-foot public easement to the river to enhance public access to the river, lining the building with river-themed art, and creating a restaurant space that will allow people to sample some of the local tastes of Grand Rapids while in sight of our (city’s) namesake.”

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