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The site of the former Stockbridge Pub, as well as the vacated Lexington Avenue, shown here, are key components of a proposed mixed-use development on Grand Rapids’ west side. The site of the former Stockbridge Pub, as well as the vacated Lexington Avenue, shown here, are key components of a proposed mixed-use development on Grand Rapids’ west side. PHOTO: Nick Manes

Developers eye vacant West Side Grand Rapids site for mixed-use project

BY Tuesday, May 31, 2016 04:34pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A long-vacant part of Grand Rapids’ burgeoning West Side neighborhood could soon become the focus of a new development project.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the matter tell MiBiz that developers are ramping up plans for a new mixed-use project at the three-way intersection of Bridge Street and Stocking and Lexington Avenues, previously home to the now-closed Stockbridge Pub.

Grand Rapids-based developer Rockford Construction Company Inc. owns the land in question through various subsidiaries, including one that successfully got the city to vacate an adjacent section of Lexington Avenue to broaden the scope of the project.

Business owners in the neighborhood, who asked not to be named, said an executive from Rockford Construction showed plans for the site — including drawings for an “urban village” with housing and commercial components — during a community meeting.

The site sits in close proximity to numerous other Rockford Construction developments, as well as a host of newly opened and in-planning retail and restaurant businesses.

For its part, executives at the development and contracting firm said they continue to work to identify options for the property.

“Rockford has been in conversations with West Side neighbors and businesses to determine the most desired use in this area of the community,” Rockford Vice President of Communications Jennifer Boezwinkle wrote in an email to MiBiz. “Obviously there is a lot of interest, with the addition of New Holland Brewing, Fulton Place, the Lofts on Alabama, and other projects that existing businesses are doing.”

Beyond that, however, executives at the company remain mum on details of the project.
“There is nothing we can share at this time, but we are working hard to connect the interests of potential site users with the needs of our neighbors,” Boezwinkle wrote.

While Rockford Construction has quietly bought large tracts of land in the West Side neighborhood over the last several years, the company has said publicly that it doesn’t intend to be the only developer in the area.

To that end, commercial real estate industry sources tell MiBiz that Grand Rapids-based Inner City Christian Federation, a nonprofit housing developer, has an interest in developing the former Stockbridge site.

ICCF President and CEO Ryan Ver Wys said the organization has “no property under contract currently but we continue to evaluate opportunities and explore partnerships for developing mixed-income housing.”

“ICCF has been working with neighbors, organizations and other stakeholders on the West Side for the last few years to see if we can assist in meeting the significant need for more affordable housing opportunities there,” Ver Wys said in a statement to MiBiz.

Executives at Rockford Construction confirmed that the two organizations have discussed development of the Stockbridge site, but it’s unclear what a potential partnership between the two organizations would look like or who would own any finished project.

“We are currently working with ICCF, and others, to find opportunities to bring much needed affordable housing to our city,” Boezwinkle said in a follow-up email. “Whether that happens through our development expertise or our construction capabilities would depend on the specific needs of the project.”

Rockford Construction has a history of partnering with other development firms. As MiBiz reported in 2014, Rockford Construction and 616 Lofts LLC jointly acquired property on Alabama Avenue, just north of Bridge Street. 616 Lofts is in the process of developing housing on the site, with Rockford Construction serving as the contractor.

The company has also partnered previously with other developers whose core business is building affordable housing.

While neither of the parties offered a timeline for their plans at the Stockbridge site, commercial real estate sources familiar with the matter said a proposal could go before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission in the coming weeks.

While activity seems to be coming to a head at the Stockbridge site, Rockford’s push to develop the area has been happening for quite some time.

In August 2014, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved a request by Bridge and Stocking LLC — a Rockford Construction subsidiary registered to company Chairman Kurt Hassberger — to vacate Lexington Avenue, a vacant but public right-of-way, from Bridge Street north to First Street NW. Vacating the section of street opened the project to a significantly larger development footprint, rather than just a triangle-shaped piece of land.

West side neighborhood organizations MiBiz spoke with seemed pleased that developers are now targeting the vacant, once the home of Duba’s Restaurant and later The Legend Restaurant. However, they concede that challenges could still arise that would make an affordable housing development difficult.

“Rockford Construction has done a lot in this community and has great business practices and listens to the community,” said Annette Vandenberg, interim executive director of the West Grand Neighborhood Organization. “But it’s a hard balance to build something affordable and make money.” 

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