Exterior Work Under Way On Ex-Lear Plant

August 10, 2007
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WALKER — Now that most of the interior renovation work is done, Avastar Park is getting a facelift.

New exterior panels are going up on what once was the Lear Corp. plant at 2150 Alpine Ave. NW in the Walker Renaissance Zone. At least three, and maybe four, new entrances are also being carved out in the immense industrial facility General Motors built decades ago.

The father-and-son team of attorney John C. Buchanan and developer Jack Buchanan is spending about $19 million to revitalize the sprawling plant’s 750,000 square feet. Part of their investment is going toward applying a new “skin” to the building’s 1960ish façade in order to give the plant a more current look, a key ingredient in the facility’s renovation.

“It was modern on the inside and we’ve enhanced the inside even further, but the outside really had no curb appeal. So it’s important to give it a contemporary look, and that’s our intent,” said the younger Buchanan, also CEO of development firm Blue Bridge Ventures.

Owns-Ames-Kimball is doing the work and it should take the company about a month to attach the new exterior. The new windows have already been installed.

“I think in about a month you’ll see a significant change. There will be at least three new entryways along Alpine. We have the ability to divide the middle building into two facilities and we may end up with a fourth entryway. The entryways may take a little bit longer than the skin,” said Buchanan.

With the new exterior and entrances comes new outdoor lighting. Buchanan said the lighting will make the building pop out at night and give Avastar Park a more dramatic look after dusk. BETA Design Group drew up the new look.

Instead of separating the facility into three buildings, an idea the Buchanans considered early in the project, they decided to keep the plant intact so as not to waste any square footage, and divide the interior into sections. These sections, though, have been walled off in a manner that makes each seem like a distinct building from the inside.

“Masonry walls are going up, completely independent of each other. As we divide it up with separate entrances, docks, HVAC and utilities, everything is going to be completely separated,” said Buchanan.

“As we got into it, we thought we’d tear out a bay or two in order to physically separate the buildings even further, but we realized we weren’t gaining anything. There was no value in doing that.”

Grand Rapids Spring & Stamping has 108,000 square feet on the plant’s north end, and Haviland Enterprises has roughly the same amount of space directly behind GRS&S’s space. The park’s first tenant, Amstore, has the other sections.

But Amstore, a supplier of retail shelving and displays, may vacate 190,000 square feet of the nearly 500,000 square feet it’s currently leasing. If so, Amstore would keep the space on the south end, but leave two 95,000-square-foot sections near the middle this fall.

“We’re working on a couple of prospects for the middle. Amstore could stay, but we’re really looking to find more of a long-term market deal for those sections. Ideally it would be nice if those were combined into one 190,000-square-foot suite, which, again, would have a new skin on the outside, new entryway. Eventually, the office would be redone to whatever a tenant would want. Inside, it’s one of the nicer buildings,” said Buchanan.

The final undertaking the Buchanans have for Avastar Park is to find a developer with retail experience to buy a slice of the property’s Alpine frontage. They’d like to see a mixed-use project get built on the site’s west edge, which is now part of the large parking lot.

“We had a couple of groups that have pursued it, but (they) really haven’t followed through on it. One group was from the Chicago area. They were looking at a mixed-use with first-floor retail and second-floor commercial, and they decided not to enter the Grand Rapids market. There have been some that have looked at some first-floor retail with residential up above,” said Buchanan.

In the not-too-distant future, perhaps as early as next month, the Buchanans will hold a grand opening for Avastar Park. They will use the event to thank everyone who pitched in to help them revive what could have become a deteriorating eyesore. Renaissance Zone status and a brownfield designation made it possible for the Buchanans to buy and renovate the abandoned industrial site.

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