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Kate Carlson

Kate Carlson

Staff Writer, covers real estate and development and small businesses

 

Twitter: @BizCarlson
Email: [email protected]

Sunday, 03 January 2021 17:30

Putting pieces together in Manistee

MANISTEE — The lakeshore city of just more than 6,000 people is seeing multiple new downtown developments that local officials and investors say are critical for reinvigorating empty storefronts, diversification and emerging better off after the pandemic.

Sunday, 20 December 2020 19:15

Experts divided over future of office space

Through multiple lockdowns and workplace restrictions, companies have altered the way they think about and use their commercial office space because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recent year-end reports on non-residential construction activity softening and a plunging average project backlog are giving West Michigan construction leaders some reason for concern going into 2021.

Zachary Verhulst started Grand Rapids-based PURE Architects in August, about five months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Verhulst — who was named the 2019 Young Architect of the Year by the American Institute of Architects’ Grand Rapids chapter — believes the pandemic will cause a major shift in architecture and design, while social movements over the past year have underscored the need for more diversity in the industry.

The tourism and hospitality sectors took a major hit in 2020 but are expected to slowly rebound in 2021 with positive news about the COVID-19 vaccine. Experience Grand Rapids Executive Director Doug Small is among industry leaders predicting it will take longer than a year for tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels, but a few larger projects on the horizon could provide Grand Rapids with some momentum in the new year. Hotels hit historically low occupancy rates in 2020, and Kent County hit a low in April with an 18 percent average occupancy rate. Occupancy levels are expected to increase in 2021, but are still expected to fall short of pre-pandemic levels.

Ada-based Erhardt Construction Co. focuses on a variety of market sectors — including industrial, higher education, senior living, places of worship, office and retail — and has intentionally diversified to be better positioned when one market slows down. While CEO Ben Wickstrom is concerned about some industry trends he expects to see in 2021, including a shrinking backlog of projects, he is still mostly optimistic about a gradual rebound starting around midyear. He also hopes the pandemic underscores the value of revenue to municipalities that helps drive construction projects, and plans to closely watch productivity on projects amid new worksite regulations.

Born and raised in Muskegon, Greg Maki was the first to open recreational cannabis dispensaries in Muskegon, Ottawa and Montcalm counties. While many businesses ground to a halt during 2020, the cannabis industry continued to grow in West Michigan. Park Place Provisionary in Muskegon, Exit 9 in Nunica, and Edmore Provisionary are open under Agri-Med LLC, and Maki is working on opening more locations in the region.

Ben Wrigley — along with fellow attorney Robert Hendricks — created a specialized law practice in 2013 under the CannaLex division of their firm, Wrigley Hoffman PC. As more adult-use dispensaries open across the state, Wrigley has emerged as a local voice in the cannabis industry to help make sense of frequently changing state and local restrictions for business owners. He has represented numerous clients seeking to start cannabis businesses in Michigan’s medical and adult-use markets, which he says are poised to expand to more municipalities. 

The pandemic pushed local retailers that traditionally rely on foot traffic to beef up their online presence and offer curbside and delivery options — mostly out of necessity to accommodate shopping from home and to compete with online retail giants.

With already thin profit margins, dine-in restaurants have faced the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan, and many won’t emerge on the other side. Some owners — including Jeff Lobdell, president of Restaurant Partners Management Inc. — feel their businesses have been unfairly targeted as state officials sought to stem the surge of cases over the past month. Lobdell owns restaurants across the state, including several in the Grand Rapids area like Bagel Beanery, Sundance Grill & Bar, Beltline Bar, The Omelette Shoppe, Rockwell Republic and Noble Restaurant. Lobdell started the year operating 20 restaurants, nearly half of which have closed at least temporarily.

GRAND RAPIDS — Perrigo Co. plc is seeking a 12-year incentive agreement estimated at $4.1 million in total property tax savings for its plans to relocate its North American headquarters to downtown.

Additional mass closings and staff layoffs in the hospitality industry are expected without additional federal aid for businesses, according to recent surveys by national hotel and restaurant trade groups.

GRAND RAPIDS — The former Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts building in downtown Grand Rapids is officially on the market for $8.7 million.

GRAND RAPIDS — Acrisure LLC expects to complete its new global headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids’ Studio Park in the first quarter of 2021.

West Michigan construction firms saw projects in the hospitality and office industries slow down this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, leaving many to get creative and pivot to industrial and residential markets. 

Sunday, 06 December 2020 17:00

9 Projects to watch in West Michigan

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought ups and downs for West Michigan’s construction industry — activity and competition has increased in areas like school bond projects, while the hospitality and office sectors saw major slowdowns.

K-12 school bond projects have emerged as an increasingly reliable source of work for West Michigan construction and architecture firms, even though some districts opted to delay putting projects to a vote this year because of the pandemic.

State funding uncertainty during the pandemic has been a key factor in the lack of large construction projects this year at community colleges and universities.

The construction industry was one of many that was forced to switch up its workflow and get creative this year with the drastic changes, uncertainties, restrictions and additional safety protocols that were put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

WALKER — Another piece of the puzzle fell into place this week that opens the potential development of a downtown Grand Rapids riverfront amphitheater.

The Michigan Strategic Fund has approved a $10 million COVID-19 relief grant program for small businesses that were harmed by recent state restrictions affecting restaurants and entertainment facilities.

WALKER — After withdrawing its planning application earlier this year to address residents’ concerns, a developer is again pursuing plans for a large scale mixed use housing project at Lincoln Country Club in Walker.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met virtually today with small business owners who received support from a state grant program and discussed the importance that additional federal support would have on their businesses. 

GRAND RAPIDS — Chicago-based Factorial Holdings plans to construct 10 new Burger King restaurants in Grand Rapids over the next five years.

GRAND RAPIDS — Earlier this month, the Grand Rapids City Commission and the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority approved a memorandum of understanding that could result in a new 14,000-seat waterfront amphitheater downtown.

Land banks are emerging as an important resource to help fill the affordable housing shortage communities are facing in West Michigan and across the state.

ALGOMA TOWNSHIP — Jarred Sper is turning 45 acres of his backyard property near Rockford into a rustic off-the-grid camping experience meant to let visitors unplug and connect with nature. 

GRAND RAPIDS — Black Calder Brewing Co. is launching its first beer on Nov. 27, or “The Blackest Friday,” as the new brewery’s owners are calling it.

West Michigan’s construction industry has long faced a talent shortage fueled by a worker exodus during the 2008 recession, stigma around going into skilled trades, and firms failing to recruit a diverse workforce. 

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday called on state lawmakers to extend state unemployment insurance benefits that were previously expanded but are scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. 

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