Real Estate, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Building a retail-friendly future in Grand Rapids

January 12, 2016
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When people think of downtown Grand Rapids, they think of tall office buildings, large renovated warehouses containing various condos or apartments and great bars or restaurants. Retail isn’t something that comes to the forefront of people’s minds when they talk about downtown.

The future of retail in downtown Grand Rapids rests on two key considerations: mixed-use buildings with first floor storefronts, and bringing residents downtown.

To clarify, many people talk about retail and downtown, but it’s usually the lack of retail options at the center of these conversations.

Large cities usually have major retail corridors within their city center that house every retail need. Shops line the street next to bars and restaurants allowing city visitors and dwellers to walk the street shopping or browsing.

Grand Rapids does not have this and it’s not from a lack of want, but more from a lack of available space. There are no mile-long stretches within the central business district to accommodate a new retail corridor. Instead, we have bars and restaurants speckled across the city and very few shops to browse.

If we want to have a strong retail presence in downtown Grand Rapids, we have to get creative. Now is the perfect time for this creativity as downtown is growing and building. Mixed-use buildings (buildings that house multiple options like residential, office, retail, etc.) are popping up all around the city, including buildings like the newly redeveloped 25 Ottawa next to Van Andel Arena or the currently under construction Arena Place.

This allows retail to take a different route as it tries to solidify itself within the city core. First floor retail is where this expansion can happen. In both new construction and redevelopment, it is crucial that developers see the first floors of these buildings as potential retail locations from the beginning of each project.

As the manufacturing boom continues to spur growth in West Michigan, more and more companies are looking at downtown Grand Rapids as a place where they can do business. More importantly, people are looking into downtown as a place to live, work and play. One of the key factors when expanding a retail market is residential. Residential drives retail. The more people that call downtown Grand Rapids home, the more retail companies will want to open up locations within the city.

When we look ahead to the future of retail within the city of Grand Rapids, there will be opportunities for companies to open up a storefront within the city’s core. Although we do not have the long stretches of space to set up a retail corridor, we do have the opportunity to expand Grand Rapids in a unique way and set it apart from other major cities around the nation. So many people are passionate about Grand Rapids and want to take downtown in new, exciting directions. New retailers will be the leaders.

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