Construction, Real Estate, and Retail

Live-work environments and the revitalization of Grand Rapids

March 29, 2016
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It’s no secret Grand Rapids is on the rise. It seems like every week a new article is published about the development of our downtown community, highlighting the strength of our neighborhoods and even the surprising positioning of Grand Rapids as an up-and-coming tourist destination.

As recently as last month, Forbes ranked Grand Rapids as a top city in the U.S. for housing investment. Occupancy rates are at their peak and vacancy rates are at an all-time low. It is also evidenced by the ongoing construction and redevelopment of live-work properties in the heart of downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

As the founder of West Michigan commercial real estate firm, I have seen the rise and subsequent positive effects of live-work buildings in Grand Rapids at the fast-paced and often unpredictable deal-making level. Most everything we’re experiencing downtown in terms of live-work is new construction and the redevelopment of old, classic office buildings.

Looking back just eight years ago, downtown was heavily dominated by office and retail users in comparison to the amount of residential currently hitting the market. Fast forward to today’s environment: Developers are primarily purchasing buildings with plans to redevelop them into mixed-use assets, turning first-floor space into retail and retrofitting the upper floors into office suites and apartment units.

The mixed-use model, in our opinion, is here to stay because of the synergies that exist between the businesses and the residential tenants. Retail tenants enjoy the bonus of a built-in clientele just above their shops. The residential tenants enjoy the added amenity of having office space, eateries, a mix of services and shops an elevator ride away.

Live-work buildings are becoming increasingly popular with employers because they also appeal to recent graduates, from a recruiting perspective. If you would have asked us about this phenomenon eight years ago, rarely in conversation did employers talk about being in a building that would put them in a better position to recruit young professionals.

But now, because there are so many cool projects completed or in the process of being completed, commercial tenants are realizing the value of being a part of these new developments and are flocking to them to help retain their current employees and to attract the young, talented people who are graduating or desire to return home after living in a major city.

When one can live right above where they work or choose an urban-like environment within a mid-size city, the community, the company and the individual all win big-time.

So where are these mixed-use buildings trending in Grand Rapids? In what neighborhoods and districts are these projects most popular? Just about everywhere!

Live-work buildings are popping up in the North Monroe, Arena and Entertainment districts, as well as in Creston Heights, Heartside, Wealthy Street, the west side of Grand Rapids and the Central Business District.

You’ve likely seen a lot of new retail and residential spaces that have surfaced, like 616 Development’s projects in and around downtown. There are many other new and exciting live-work communities on the horizon, ranging from small- to large-scale projects.

Our team is particularly interested in the redevelopment taking place at the Waters Center. You’ll immediately know what I’m talking about if you take The Rapid’s 6 Line or regularly commute down Ottawa Avenue, as this property has been in the midst of a complete overhaul for some time now. The 400,000-square-foot interior is being split, with 200,000 square feet being renovated into a Hilton Hotel and the rest divided between ground-level retail and second-, third- and fourth-floor office suites. The remaining two floors will be dedicated to market-rate apartments. The real cherry on top will be the dual rooftop patios. The hotel patio will be fashioned with an open air, full service bar, fireplaces and a retractable roof.

We truly believe the rise in live-work buildings has something to do with the spark we are all witnessing today relative to the revitalization of Grand Rapids, but not without help. It’s important to acknowledge that this spark was originally ignited years ago by key individuals who unselfishly gave their time and their philanthropic investments to our conversation-worthy downtown Grand Rapids.

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