Rockford Wants To Build Ballpark Downtown

October 16, 2008
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If Rockford Companies CEO John Wheeler has his way the renovation of an eight-story building at 35 Oakes Street SW will not be the last project in the firm’s $100-million-plus Cherry Street Landing development.

“The next move is a ballpark and an amphitheater downtown,” he said.

Wheeler revealed his final piece for Cherry Street Landing at this morning’s session of the University of Michigan Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum being held at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Wheeler has targeted the city-owned parking lots, known as Area 4 and 5, for the 8,000 to 10,000 seat baseball park. The lots are just south of Van Andel Arena on Oakes Street SW between Grandville and Ionia avenues.

These are the same parking lots that a metro Detroit developer wanted to buy from the Downtown Development Authority for a multi-screen movie theater, retail spaces and condominiums about two years ago. But that deal fell through.

“This is a much better use (of those lots),” he said.

Wheeler said the ballpark would become the new home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, which currently play at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. Wheeler said he hasn’t talked yet with Whitecaps CEO and Managing Partner Lew Chamberlin about moving downtown.

But he did tell the Business Journal that they will offer to purchase the remaining debt on the park from the Whitecaps, so the franchise can make the move. Then Wheeler said he would like to see area colleges play their games at the park in Comstock Park.

Wheeler said the project also provides the outdoor music venue that the Convention and Arena Authority has been interested in owning. The CAA has been considering building an amphitheater in Millennium Park and chose a parcel in the park that was the closest to downtown where the arena and DeVos Place are located. Wheeler felt having the outdoor music venue downtown would fill all the CAA’s needs and he wants the board to oversee the facility’s daily operations.

Wheeler said he would be speaking with as many interested parties as possible, including the Grand Action Committee, the DDA, the Whitecaps and the CAA, in the coming months to gain support for the ballpark and amphitheater. He said that baseball and outdoor music concerts would further identify the district as the place to go for entertainment and would help to draw more residents downtown.

Rockford is getting set to renovate the former Heartside Manor into 42 market-rate studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments on the seven top floors and fill the ground floor with services that would be dedicated to the tenants. The company is investing $4.5 million into the project.

Cherry Street Landing has over 500,000 square feet of renovated space, all of it just south of Fulton Street between Market and Division avenues. The company has been developing the project for a dozen years.

When asked how much has been invested in Cherry Street, Wheeler said, “It’s well over $100 million.”

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