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Sunday, 15 November 2015 22:15

Mid-rise development brings ‘connectivity’ to neighborhoods, development expert says

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One of two buildings under construction by Third Coast Development at the northeast and northwest corners of Michigan and Union streets that consist of ground-floor commercial or retail space with market-rate apartments above One of two buildings under construction by Third Coast Development at the northeast and northwest corners of Michigan and Union streets that consist of ground-floor commercial or retail space with market-rate apartments above COURTESY RENDERING

DETROIT — Mid-rise, mixed-use development can go a long way toward creating increased, transit-oriented, dense neighborhood development.

That’s according to Cherise Burda, the executive director of the Toronto-based Ryerson City Building Initiative, who spoke last week at the Urban Land Institute of Michigan’s Real Estate Forum in Detroit.

While Burda spoke specifically about a flight to mid-rise development in Toronto’s neighborhoods and near suburbs, the trend could have an impact in Grand Rapids — and in some ways already is.

According to Burda, the downtown core in Toronto has largely been built out, so now the city is exploring how to bring mid-rise development and density to its neighborhoods.

“How do move outside of that (downtown) core? How do we move on our avenues and our main streets and our transit corridors to create more density in the neighborhoods and then getting into the fabric of established neighborhoods?” Burda said. “There’s a role for some of this stacked townhouse and other infill projects.”

Grand Rapids developers such as Third Coast Development have taken that strategy to heart, particularly in some of the company’s under-construction and proposed developments along Michigan Street, east of The Medical Mile.

The developer currently has two buildings under construction at the northeast and northwest corners of Michigan and Union streets that consist of ground-floor commercial or retail space with market-rate apartments above.

“It just makes sense to us that you take a group of social animals — humans —put them above the things they need on a daily basis and you’ll get them walking the streets and creating a vibrant community,” said Third Coast Principal Max Benedict. “It’s always been our stance that’s what we’d like to see for the corridor and that position has been reaffirmed by the Michigan Street Corridor Plan.”

The plan Benedict referred to calls for future development along that particular stretch of Michigan Street to be primarily mixed-use in nature.

The addition of ground-floor retail in neighborhoods, championed as of late by many urbanists in the Grand Rapids area, has long been a challenge for many developers, according to Benedict, who said it often wound up being a money-losing venture because of low rents.

Third Coast Development, however, plans to gross about $20 per square foot for its 5,600 square feet of commercial space, making it a profitable venture for the company.

While the developer remains in talks with a number of potential users, Benedict said they’d ideally like to see at least some of the space taken by a restaurant, since that kind of use goes a long way toward getting people out on the streets.

To Burda, it’s important for developers to be intentional about the kind of ground-floor retail developments they’d like to see in their projects, and they need to keep in mind the needs of the neighborhood.

“(Mid-rise development) helps to create that connectivity between neighborhoods and keep that sidewalk alive,” Burda said at the ULI conference. “Developers don’t necessarily think about the retail uses until after the building is done.”

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