This Building's For You

February 11, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although it’s not the “king” of buildings anymore, work on the former Anheuser-Busch bottling plant should be capped this spring. By April, hopefully.

Eric Wynsma of Terra Firma Development LLC and Sam Cummings of Second Story Properties are renovating the two-story, 20,000-square-foot building from which Budweiser was once delivered by horse-drawn wagons and sleighs to local taverns and stores.

The building, which actually consists of three structures tied together under a single roof, is more than a century old. It’s also the last of what once were 10 Anheuser-Busch bottling plants nationwide that is still standing.

“It’s a cool building and it’s a project without a plan at the moment. But we’re hopeful because we’re pretty keenly familiar with historic rehab downtown,” said Wynsma. “Just due to the architectural nature of that building, I think it’ll have a happy ending.”

Located at 72 Grandville Ave. SW, the brick building is marked architecturally by the brewer’s “A” and “eagles” at the roofline and by the Budweiser crowns on the chimney and rainspouts. As for the building’s use, Wynsma and Cummings would like to tap the former bottling plant for the downtown’s growing entertainment district.

“My ideal vision for it is maybe a miniature version of The BOB with multiple venues in it, or maybe some type of a retail use. I could see that being an excellent county-western style bar,” said Wynsma.

“Frankly, it’s too many square feet for most restaurant operators to take the whole building. So we’re probably looking at a mixed-use situation with office on the upper floor, and there are some storage opportunities in the basement for whoever the ground-floor tenant is.”

The work involves removing lead paint and asbestos, and the interior walls. A new roof is going in, along with doors and windows. The hardwood floors and brick walls are being sandblasted, and new heating, cooling and electrical systems are being installed. The idea is to get the building to the point where tenants can easily build-out their spaces.

“What we’ve learned over the years is if you have an old building that needs to be rehabbed and you market it to try to find a user before you spend the money, they’re not going to show up,” said Wynsma.

Their first choice is to lease the space. To help with that, Wynsma and Cummings are offering tenants free cash to help with their build-outs. And they don’t intend to condo the building.

“We feel that building is like a time capsule; it really hasn’t been manipulated over its 100-year history. I think to carve it up in condo space and sell it off in chunks would be the wrong thing,” said Wynsma.

But Wynsma added that they’re not opposed to selling it, if the right offer came along.

“Whenever you see a vacant building, there is a hurting landlord behind it. Empty buildings cost money. So whenever I have a vacancy, it’s either for sale or for lease, whichever happens first, basically,” he said.

Terra Firma is serving as the project’s general contractor. Walsh Construction Co. is doing the interior demolition work and sandblasting. Brian Barkwell of Via Design Inc. is the project’s architect. And the work is on budget and on schedule.

“Originally, it was three separate exterior buildings, and subsequently a roof was put over the top of the three to convert it into one. So when you get inside, there is a courtyard area, and what you’re seeing is what used to be the exterior walls of three different buildings with all the windows and everything else still there. It’s a cool little complex,” said Wynsma.

The courtyard is where delivery men hitched the horses to delivery wagons and to sleighs, which were used for deliveries in winter. The horses weren’t the world famous Clydesdales that Anheuser-Busch features in some of its commercials today. Back in 1904, when the plant opened, the animals were known as draft horses, which was a fitting name for a brewery “employee” then.

Wynsma and Cummings bought the building from Terry Wisner; they closed on the deal early last month. Burge Chemical Products Inc., Wisner’s company, was the only tenant in the building. But Wynsma said Burge Chemical, which had been in business since 1962, has closed.    

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