Focus, Real Estate, and Sustainability

Tallest Heritage Hill building returns to its mixed-use roots

Oakwood Manor hopes to bring neighborhood together with retail.

December 4, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Oakwood Manor
Developers expect to attract a neighborhood-style restaurant as part of the renovation of Oakwood Manor Apartments. Courtesy XVentures

Chip Bowling is really excited about the Oakwood Manor renovation project.

The president of commercial real estate consultants X Ventures said it’s the most excited he’s been about a project in a long time because of a unique collaboration and the desire to make the building a community anchor.

The project will restore Oakwood Manor Apartments, 547 Cherry St. SE, to its original 1923 construction as a mixed-use building.

Standing at seven stories, it is the tallest building in Heritage Hill and contains 94 apartments. When it was first built, the building had a small grocery store and restaurant on the first floor, but those spaces have been vacant for a number of years, Bowling said.

“The previous ownership took all of the apartments, the amenities and this building to the end of its lifecycle,” he said.

“It’s following the trend of current development trends with multi-use redevelopment — retail on one and residential on the upper floors. But we’re just bringing it back to the original, which was retail on the first floor and residential above it.”

The renovation is being led by the property’s owners, Grand Rapids-based Green Property Management, which is partnering with X Ventures and local architecture firm Lott3Metz.

The ownership group reached out to the other partners to collaborate on ideas, which then came together to go beyond the drawing board.

The interior of the building will undergo a complete overhaul, including a new lobby, common halls and elevator cabs, along with new exterior landscaping. Bowling said although the project has yet to go in front of the Historical Preservation Commission or the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association, once the plans are closer to finalization, the partners will work closely with those organizations.

“They will play a vital role in this project,” Bowling said. “It still is completely contingent on their approval.”

The apartments will be renovated as current leases are up; work already has started on the upper floors. The top floor will feature larger-footprint penthouses.

Bowling said the apartment renovation process sought feedback from current residents, and some have already re-leased and will occupy renovated units.

“They need their buy-in; they want it to be a positive thing for the neighborhood,” said Shelby Reno, marketing strategist at X Ventures, referring to Green Property Management’s involvement with current residents.

“As owners, they’ve gone above and beyond on that. It’s been nice to see the focus. They spent several weeks gathering data to ensure the residents feel they’re part of it.”

Each renovated unit will be unique and will avoid the cookie-cutter apartment feel. Construction crews will work on the apartments one at a time, Bowling said.

Also included is a redeveloped back patio for residents and a carriage house for bicycle storage.

“That was important — this isn’t just a retail play,” Reno said of the renovation. “Everyone has to work symbiotically. We want to share the space, but we also want privacy for the residents. We really want to embrace that downtown lifestyle there.”

The crux of the development is to return the first floor of retail space into an area that serves the entire neighborhood. Bowling said X Ventures is seeking tenants for the spaces, which are ready, and once a tenant is found, the build-out process will begin.

Bowling said the two spaces, which are 4,400 and 2,700 square feet, are perfect for businesses ranging from a “Martha’s Vineyard-esque convenience store” to a pub, restaurant, coffee shop or hair salon.

“We want the retail to be community driven and service a need of the neighborhood,” Bowling said. “We want it to cater to the community and be an asset they can walk to.”

The price for the spaces is approximately $16 a square foot.

The retail spaces will have access to the courtyard of the U-shaped building, including a possible patio for the larger, likely restaurant space.

The courtyard faces Cherry Street, which helps tie downtown entertainment areas with the Cherry Street and Wealthy Street entertainment districts. Those three areas are where Bowling said a majority of people look when going out, and this project will help bridge the gap.

The courtyard is every bit as important as what is inside the building, Bowling said.

“The thought or hope as we continue to move forward is to integrate it with the retail spaces — very much like a deck,” he said.

Lott3Metz has collaborated with upperclassman architecture students at Kendall College of Art and Design on the renderings for the project. “It helps the students’ portfolio for graduation,” Bowling said.

He also said, with the approval of the city, the hope is to make the building available as a community center, where weddings and other gatherings could be held.

He said the partners in the project, including the new ownership group, chose the project because of its central location and ability to be part of the community. The streets around the building have recently been repaved, and the neighborhood is well put together, Bowling said.

“We just want to bring the whole area together,” he said. “All those houses along the street are immaculate; the street is redone and clean. The neighborhood is a combination of single-family homes, multi-unit apartments and businesses. It’s a great advantage to have those things around the development.”

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