Passionate about downtown Grand Rapids

December 24, 2009
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Most already know him as an accomplished developer with a passion for urban projects. But what many might not realize is that John Green also is a brewmeister.

Green, Locus Development principal, has joined the founders of Founders Brewing Co., Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, as a partner, and the taps are flowing.

“The business is going exceptionally well. The move to the new facility was critical in allowing the company to expand and meet the demand for our product. We have grown from 5,000 barrels a year to 20,000 barrels a year in just under two years’ time,” said Green, who chairs the brewer’s board.

“Our tap room has grown significantly and offers a unique opportunity for people to try out new beers as we play with them.”

All the growth has happened since Founders moved into a vacant warehouse at 235 Grandville Ave. SW. Green and Andy Winkel, his partner in Locus Development, bought the building and converted it into a bigger brewery and larger tap room for the growing microbrewer, which had run out of production space at its original location in the Brass Works Building.

The brewing company is now facing a problem that many businesses probably would like to have, especially in the current economy. Founders has been brewing so successfully that it has again run out of production room. But instead of moving this time, the company will expand its current home.

“We just ordered some new tanks that will take us to 30,000 barrels — up from the 20,000 that we’re at today, and with that growth, we will have already filled our production space. So we will be forced to construct a new addition onto the production facility,” he said.

Founders Brewing will expand its operations into the parking lot that sits directly behind the company. Green and a few others own the lot, which covers 1.3 acres. Design work will get underway in the very near future, and Green said the plan is to begin the expansion late next year or in early 2011.

Green, who turned 39 this year and was honored recently by the Business Journal as one of the area’s 40 youngest and upcoming entrepreneurs, is a Grand Rapids native. He lives in East Grand Rapids with his wife, Deanna, and their three children: Ainsley, Alyssa and Glenn.

“Deanna is the backbone of our family and she allows me to do what I love to do. In addition to managing a busy household, she works part-time as a high school counselor at Forest Hills Eastern and is president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling, the state’s counseling association,” he said.

Like Deanna, John has a busy life. Outside of work, he serves as a vice president for the John Ball Zoological Society and is on the Downtown Alliance board. He also is a member of the Grand Valley State University Leadership Committee and the Interurban Transit Partnership Master Plan Committee.

After earning an economics degree from Indiana University, Green went to work at a money management firm in downtown Chicago. Five years later, he became the company’s chief financial officer. But he and Deanna didn’t want to raise their kids there, so they came back to Grand Rapids, where Green got his start in commercial real estate.

That happened when he met Sam Cummings, who then owned Macroe Properties and now is a principal in CWD Real Estate Investments. They hit it off and started Second Story Properties together. Six years and many projects later, Green left Second Story to form his own company, the Elevation Group.

While running his firm, he ran into Winkel, a Portage native who owned a development company here named Kelwin Properties. They found they shared the same zeal for urban projects and did a few together, including the Hopson Flats project that became housing for college students. In April 2008, they merged the Elevation Group and Kelwin Properties into Locus Development LLC.

“It’s working extremely well,” said Green of his partnership with Winkel.

“Andy and I are both very passionate about downtown Grand Rapids and we want to work on projects that make a significant impact on our community. We’ve been fortunate to surround ourselves with a very professional and qualified staff, and each of our talents are complementary to each other. We have great synergy and a deep personal friendship, as well.”

Green and Winkel currently are working on two projects downtown, one new and the other a renovation, and both are likely to make the significant impact he mentioned. Thirty-Eight is a $26 million, mixed-use, two-building development going up at 38 Commerce Ave. SW, at the intersection of Commerce and Weston Street.

The completed project will offer 68,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space in the two structures. The residences, mostly apartments with a few penthouse condos, will go into the Commerce Avenue building, while the office spaces are slated for the Weston structure. Retail will occupy the ground floors, and both buildings will be LEED certified.

“Thirty-Eight is exceeding our expectations, which most people find surprising in this down economy. We were fortunate to get our financing in place before the recession really took full notice. We are on schedule to have the project completed March 1 of 2010. We are in budget,” said Green.

Some office tenants are already signed, apartments have been leased, some condos are under contract and negotiations are going on with a restaurant.

“We feel we have a project that will really change the way people think about parking ramps and mixed-use developments in downtown Grand Rapids and throughout the region.”

The ramp will stand seven stories tall, have 360 spaces and be out of sight, as it will nestle behind the buildings. Parking Services is funding the $10 million ramp; the department has been a partner in the project.

“I worked closely with John and with Andy in the first mixed-use development in Grand Rapids in which a city-owned parking ramp is fronted by a private liner building,” said Pam Ritsema, Parking Services director.

“John has a keen sense of what type of development is needed downtown and he is able to navigate the complexities of working cooperatively with the city. Downtown is a better place because of his vision,” she added.

Integrated Architecture designed Thirty-Eight. Pioneer Construction has directed the work, which hasn’t always been easy because of the tight urban footprint.

“They’ve risen to the occasion and have done a great job,” said Green.

The second project is a historic renovation of the Flat Iron, a four-story, 12,000-square foot building at 102 Monroe Center NW. Locus Development is turning the structure, which really is three buildings that have been combined into one, into office space with retail going into the ground floor for a $4.5 million investment. The project will be LEED certified; construction is expected to begin this spring.

The build-out for Cinco de Mayo, a restaurant going into the former Herkner Jewelers space downtown, is already underway and targeted to open in January. Orion Construction is managing the renovation. Tom Nemitz of Cornerstone Architects is the designer.

“Tom’s great. I had a good experience with him at The Fitzgerald and a handful of other projects downtown, and I feel he is one of the premier architects dealing with the adaptive reuse of historic buildings,” said Green.

Nemitz has worked with Green for the better part of a decade. Their relationship goes back to when Green was at Second Story with Cummings.

“John truly understands the many complexities of development and property management and he has the knowledge to address and navigate well through those complexities. I have found him to have a passion for urban revitalization — both renovation and infill construction,” said Nemitz.

“I also feel he understands the roles of the professionals that make up a development team and allows each to do what they do best, while staying involved and knowledgeable to guide the team to a successful project. He is also a great guy to work with,” he added.

Green also understands the need he and Winkel have to keep moving forward. So despite the economic conditions that have sent a number of proposed projects to the sidelines, at least temporarily, don’t be surprised to learn in the near future that Locus Development is getting ready to start another one.

“We have a few other projects now that we are working through the predevelopment stages,” he said. “I would say all but one of those are in the downtown area, and, again, we are committed to downtown Grand Rapids.”

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