GRAND RAPIDS — Close collaboration between developers and neighbors has helped bring a pair of proposed redevelopment projects closer to fruition in Grand Rapids’ burgeoning East Hills neighborhood.
The two projects on critical sites in the area demonstrate this collaborative effort, according to neighborhood sources. For example, each project has gone through multiple iterations where the neighborhood and the developer continue to work together closely to shape the final product.
Residents and other stakeholders said those efforts are reflective of what has made the neighborhood successful over the last decade in its development efforts and assisted in making the East Hills area attractive to new housing, restaurant, retail and office uses.
“I think we have a significant tradition of projects working better when (developers) are working with the neighborhood,” said Ted Lott, a principal at Grand Rapids architecture firm Lott3Metz Architecture LLC and an East Hills resident who helped the neighborhood with some of its planning projects. “I know of many places where that doesn’t exist. That community-wide effort is unique and in these cases, it’s produced better results.”
The proposed redevelopment of sites at the corner of Cherry Street and Eastern Avenue — a former drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility — and of a 1.26-acre site at 1059 Wealthy Street — a former McDonald’s restaurant that was converted into a strip mall — speak to this collaboration, said Rachel Lee, executive director of the East Hills Council of Neighbors.
That’s particularly the case with the 1059 Wealthy project, she said. The site’s would-be developer, Grand Rapids-based Green Cane Properties LLC, showed plans to neighborhood residents at a meeting last January, but the proposal was met with significant concerns. Neighbors took issue with the building heights and the over-abundance of surface parking lots included in the project.
“The biggest thing was that the concept wasn’t clear, but now it’s much better defined,” Lee said. “(The developers) listened to the neighborhood. It’s really smart for a developer to get with the neighborhood before going through a huge design process.”
After hearing the neighborhood concerns, Green Cane switched architects and went back to the drawing board, Principal Jerry Marogil told MiBiz.
Plans for the site now include 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, 9,000 square feet of second-floor office space and up to eight apartments on the third floor facing Wealthy Street. Row-type residential units would be built along parallel streets Calkins Avenue and Freyling Place. The site would offer approximately 55 parking spots.
When Marogil and his brother, Joe, bought the property in 2012 for $416,800, they didn’t want to put redevelopment plans in place right away. In working closely with the neighborhood, the partners decided now was the right time to take on the large development project, he said.
“When we closed on the property, we saw how much interest the community had in having it redeveloped and we started thinking maybe this is the time,” Marogil said. “We had this opportunity and we decided to at least explore all the options.”
The redevelopment, which is expected to cost $5 million to $10 million, still requires approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. Green Cane principals say they hope to demolish the existing structure and break ground on the project by spring of next year.
Likewise, Grand Rapids-based development firm Cherry Street Capital LLC worked closely with the East Hills neighborhood for its planned redevelopment at the southeast corner of Cherry Street and Eastern Avenue, the site of the former Project Rehab.
“It’s interesting to see how all these neighborhoods have developed on their own,” said Joel Kamstra, a partner at Cherry Street Capital. “East Hills has passionate neighbors and we’re looking for neighborhoods with that strong dynamic.”
Cherry Street Capital’s proposal for the site includes constructing two new facilities, renovating two existing buildings and an addition to the building at 200 Eastern Ave. The developer plans a mix of 32 market-rate rental units, 17 condominium units and the renovation of a building that will be preserved for light commercial use, most likely as offices, Kamstra said. Cherry Street Capital also plans to include underground parking at the site.
The company hopes to break ground on the $15 million project in the early summer and expects approximately 15 months for construction, Kamstra said.
Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture LLC is serving as lead designer on both the Green Cane and Cherry Street Capital projects.
Senior Design Architect Randy Pease noted that the residents and neighborhood association have worked closely with developers over the years in a way that has shaped the area.
“They’ve played an active role in the continued development of their neighborhood,” Pease said. “They’re interested and involved, and I think that’s to their credit.”
BECOMING A MODEL
The kind of mixed-use, urban development occurring in East Hills has spread in recent years to other neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. For example, developers such as Rockford Construction Co. Inc., Orion Construction and 616 Development LLC all have numerous projects at various stages of development in areas such as Creston, Belknap and the West Side neighborhoods.
As those areas go through their own growing pains, stakeholders in the East Hills neighborhood stress that collaboration between residents and developers remains critical for getting the best projects in the right places.
“You don’t have to give it away — patience is important,” said architect Lott at Lott3Metz. “The deal on the table today may not be the best for the neighborhood.”
Lott added that a neighborhood needs to understand the challenges a developer faces and not micromanage the project, particularly when it comes to obtaining financing.
“At a core level, a developer knows his business and will make the calls that are right,” he said. “An unprofitable project is a loss for everybody.”