Architecture & Design, Construction, and Real Estate

A challenging restoration: Bringing life to The Rowe

March 14, 2016
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The Rowe redevelopment Triangle Associates
Workers are redeveloping The Rowe in downtown Grand Rapids, which was recently vacant, into a mixed-used building with apartments, condos and retail. Courtesy Triangle Associates

Grand Rapids has a rich architectural legacy, and The Rowe — originally built as The Hotel Rowe in the 1923 by Valley City Millings Co. President Fred N. Rowe — blends the romance of history with the promise of tomorrow as renovations restore life to 201 Michigan St. NW.

Construction began this summer, and our team is working to execute the vision of the developer, CWD Real Estate Investment, and owner, RDV Corporation.

The finished project will include retail space on the ground floor, one- and two-bedroom apartments on floors three through nine and condominiums on the 10th and newly created 11th floor. The building will also boast a rooftop terrace, an indoor community room and fitness center. The transformation from old to new is not always an easy one, though, and The Rowe has proved to be no exception.

Our team has faced unique challenges in reviving the building’s historic grandeur. This includes the complete restoration of the building’s original brick, limestone and terracotta façade. In order to span across the building’s stone cornice, a custom swing stage (suspended scaffolding) was hung from the roof to wash the historic masonry.

Because The Rowe is located in what was originally the manufacturing district of Grand Rapids, the exterior of the building was coated with 100 years worth of industrial grime. As the swing stage worked its way down the building, each step down required inspection and approval by the project team.

We simplified this process by utilizing drone technology to photograph each level before crews could move on to the next section. To restore the architectural terracotta sculptures, we partnered with Boston Valley Terra Cotta out of New York state, one of only a few firms in the country with the ability to repair antique statuettes. In addition to restoring the exterior masonry, the team will be salvaging the entrance’s original plaster ceiling. The detailed ceiling will also be fully restored to greet The Rowe’s new patrons.

Along with the preservation of the historic stonework, the team had to assess and strategically repair the broken bones of the building’s foundation. The Rowe was partially constructed over an old Grand River canal. Portions of the building’s foundation were elevated on cast-iron columns, and the remainder of the building is supported by the canal walls’ structure. The canal was originally erected in 1835 and was the sole power source for many of the city’s first industries.

In 1925, the canal was closed and a storm water culvert was created to manage residual rising groundwater levels beneath the building. Our team capped and removed the old culvert and installed a network of modern drainage systems to effectively manage groundwater for years to come. We also stabilized the existing fieldstone canal walls and encased the original cast-iron columns (originally installed in 1922) to prevent further corrosion.

The original cast-iron columns extend down to the river’s limestone bedrock six feet below the water table. During excavation, a de-watering system was implemented and displaced 575,000 gallons of water over the course of three months to allow the foundation work to be completed. Working below the water line is quite a feat, and we are very proud of the innovation our team displayed when handling the challenge.

To complicate matters, the location of the existing structure caused significant problems. Because the property lines are so close to the actual building, our team is working with zero lot line construction. This requires an intricate shoring plan coupled with more than 250 cubic yards of lean concrete to ensure the surrounding buildings are unaffected by the deep excavation required for the new elevator pit foundations.

While troubleshooting the installation of new foundation work, crews simultaneously completed an on site and full-scale apartment mockup unit. This proactive strategy provides insight to potential layout and finishing detail issues, allowing the team to address the problems before the whole project advances too far. It also gives prospective tenants the chance to see what a finished apartment looks and feels like.

Today, the foundation work is finished, and the project is entering the finishing phase. Construction on a two story, rooftop addition and parking garage in the building’s courtyard is nearing enclosure. Working from the top down, interior finishing on the apartments has begun. The exterior building materials are being installed on the façade, including terracotta replacement, cast stonework, new brick, metal panels and aluminum glass and glazing window systems. The project is tracking to be completed this coming summer.

We hope the restoration of The Rowe will continue to spur development on the north side of downtown Grand Rapids and draw residents back to this historic area.

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