“West Side Best Side” is a moniker that has been recently bestowed upon the northwest quadrant of Grand Rapids’ urban core, due in large part to the development and investment that we have seen over the past few years.
In 2014, Colliers International moved its offices from Ottawa Avenue NW to the twelfth floor of the iconic Bridgewater Place building on the west side of the river, and since then we have had a front-row seat (and often times a helping hand) to the recent transformation of Bridge Street and a number of properties north, but the story starts long before that.
In the early 1800’s, the east side and west side of the Grand River were distinctly separate due to the lack of any bridges and archaic transportation methods. Because of this, each side essentially grew as two different cities; with churches, shops, factories, and schools needing to be set up in a relatively confined area, independent of the city’s east side, to service the somewhat isolated community. As such, the original real estate landscape of the area is quite unique.
As time progressed, and the east side became more accessible, the focus shifted to the central business district, and much of the development and redevelopment that occurred took place in what we now call Downtown. Those who had entrenched their families on the west side stayed committed, however much of the business world had their sights set on the other side.
Over time, however, businesses started noticing opportunities to repurpose old or abandoned buildings on the west side and found it far more economically feasible than doing so in the CBD. The former Union High School was made into residential condos and rebranded Union Square in 2006. In 2007, the former American Seating Park converted a portion of the manufacturing and warehouse space into what is now Clark Place Condos. And in 2012, Off Broadway Apartments purchased part of the same business park to convert into lofts.
These types of creative repurposing of buildings have been sprinkled throughout the years, but the transformation of the area really ramped up when Rockford Construction decided to move its headquarters to 601 First Street NW in 2013. The west side was where Mike VanGessel, President and CEO of Rockford Construction grew up, and returning to his roots to help breath some new life into the area became top priority.
Since 2013, VanGessel and Rockford have built a number of buildings on the west side, including their new headquarters, and others have taken notice and are following suit.
Within the last five years, we’ve seen new bars and restaurants open up such as Butcher’s Union, One Bourbon, and Jolly Pumpkin. Additionally, there are cranes in the sky at the former Red Lion site, which is being converted into a mixed-use building.
As we peer out our windows from the twelfth floor, we are humbled and proud of the progress that has been made, and excited for the future of a part of town that has a deep history and a bright future.