In Step With Each Other

October 6, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Ballet Company is taking its next big step with a $6.2 million expansion of its renovated home at the northeast corner of Wealthy Street and Grandville Avenue on the southeast edge of downtown.

The addition will add a 300-seat theater and meet the growth that Michigan’s only professional ballet troupe has experienced the past several years. The project will also give GRBC more space for its costume shop and allow it to welcome more visitors to a larger entrance, lobby and restrooms at what will be the MeijerRoyceCenter for Dance and Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The company will also be able to expand its Dancers’ Theater Series at its new facility.

In all, the work will enlarge the building from the slightly less than 18,800 square feet the Ballet currently has to over 39,300 square feet — more than doubling the current space.

“It’s a very high-profile project,” said Michael Houseman, president of Houseman Construction Co., the firm managing the expansion.

Houseman said there is strong support in the community for the GRBC and its expansion, and much of that backing comes from some of the city’s most noted philanthropists, such as Fred and Lena Meijer, Peter Wege and Charles and Stella Royce.

“They’re all major contributors to the success of the addition,” he added.

Houseman, who started his full-service construction company in 1998, told the Business Journal that work on the project would get going later this month, and subcontracting bids would likely be awarded within the next week. He estimated construction would take 10 months to complete, and he hopes to hand GRBC the key to the building by next June.

“That gives them an opportunity to kind of get the bugs out before their big season starts,” said Houseman.

Although construction hasn’t begun yet, Houseman said his company and GRBC have already faced a few challenges. They’ve had to plan the project around an easement on Wealthy that belongs to the state, time the work to avoid conflicting with a street project set for next year, and work with the city to relocate utilities.

“So it’s been very complex. It has taken a number of people in all walks of life — those on the board of the Ballet, as well as the real estate industry and in the construction and design area — to coordinate all those efforts.”

Design Plus, a Grand Rapids architectural firm, designed the four-story building that will feature a glass façade.

Members of the Downtown Development Authority showed they consider the project a key element of their continuing arts and entertainment strategy for the district, as they agreed to contribute $105,000 to infrastructure work near the construction site. Of that amount, the DDA assigned $45,680 to relocate an electrical transformer and some utility poles that need to be moved so the work could be done. The remaining $59,320 will be spent on making electrical improvements necessary for the project.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler added that

Grandville Avenue
will be reconstructed next year — work that should be going on about the time the GRBC expansion is completed.

“This is a big improvement for the neighborhood,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

Scott Kearney, president of the GRBC board, said the organization was in healthy fiscal condition, as he told the DDA that revenue in 2005 was up by 40 percent from 2004. Kearney said the Ballet did a feasibility study to determine if there was enough financial support for the project, and the report said there was.

“We’re in good shape,” he said. “We’ve been working with the city on this project for a few years.”

The construction cost accounts for $4.56 million of the $6.2 million project. The rest is going toward pre-construction items, a new parking lot and the purchase of nearby property. From 60 to 100 construction workers will be on the site at various times once work gets started, and that work will include upgrading the existing building to make it LEED certified.

“We will be adding some solar panels for solar power to the current facility and putting a new white roof on it, which is also a LEED-friendly measure,” said Houseman.

The Ballet calls the expansion “Stage 2,” as the project comes just six years after the troupe turned an old bus garage into its professional dance facility.

“Since that time, the company has grown exponentially, and as a response to this growth, an even greater expansion is planned,” wrote Kearney in a letter to the DDA.

“Once the project is complete, the company will have added a new state-of-the-art dance facility to its campus, further expanding and enhancing its position as Michigan’s only professional ballet company.”

Expanding the GRBC is also a big step for Houseman Construction, as the firm is entering into its own Stage 2 with this project.

“We were the construction manager for the first phase of this project and we were excited then,” said Houseman.

“We’re even more excited now because of the complexity and the exposure that a project like this one brings, and it’s a good feeling to have our name involved with something that is going to be in the community for a long time.”    

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