The East Hills Center by the construction firm Bazzani helps define the Grand Rapids neighborhood. Photo via fb.com
Guy Bazzani’s renovation of more than 25 Grand Rapids real estate projects is living proof that collaboration can bring change.
Bazzani, founder of Local First and president of Bazzani Associates, shared his story at the 26th annual University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum Wednesday in the Amway Plaza Hotel, downtown Grand Rapids.
Bazzani’s presentation, “Rebuilding Neighborhoods: The Uptown Story,” told the tale of a 20-year-long building process that has changed the urban landscape of Grand Rapids streets, neighborhoods and business.
It started in 1983 with the renovation of Gibson’s (now Mangiamo!) at 1033 Lake Drive SE, he said, during a chaotic time for those neighborhoods when Bazzani, “wouldn’t drive around the corner I now live on. The last known user of our office was a crack house.”
But Bazzani’s vision linked beautiful architecture with a city and state eager for change, he said. Crime was being locked down and city expansions were happening, he said, meaning it made sense at that time to collaborate with different groups and the get tax credits to fund a local makeover.
“The beauty of Grand Rapids was it wrote a very enlightened master plan,” Bazzani said. “It just took time to get the zoning, essentially the law, to back it up.”
The new millennium ushered in a never-say-never era, he said, as he made notable renovations on Fulton and Diamond streets, which acted as a neighborhood catalyst, leading other stores to open in the neighborhood.
It also brought in pedestrian traffic, he said, which is key to developing economic infrastructure around architectural renovations.
“The success of these neighborhoods is that they were walkable and drivable. That’s why our neighborhoods did better than downtown,” he said. “Even though Grand Rapids would like to be Chicago, it doesn’t have that many folks stacked vertically. They still walk around.”
In 2003, Bazzani Headquarters went into the space at 959 Wealthy St. SE. The renovation received Grand Rapids’ first-ever LEED certification, for its vegetative green roof.
Bazzani’s green innovation continued in 2005 with the East Hills Center on Lake Drive, which he called “one of the most dynamic projects we’ve ever done.”
The facility was approved for reuse by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality after a remediation expense of $520,000. It now houses Marie Catrib’s, and has a vegetative green roof, which won the first LEED Double Gold certification in the United States.
“We feel that the investment in the thermal envelope is static. Once it’s there, it’s in that building forever. That’s where we put our money,” he said. “I see a payback in energy efficiency. You have to design the building as a green building from day one. If you try to remake it as green, it’s going to cost you 20 percent (more). If you leverage every element, you’ll be in the 2 to 5 percent and get that back in to two to five years. Focus on it initially.”
From 2009 to this year, the economic recession caused a gap in the building process, Bazzani said, but in the current financial climate, he sees a push coming to rebuild and build green.
In those first years, however, it was the spirit of collaboration that made the work possible. Bazzani hopes it continues.
“Believe me, I was called crazy,” he said. “Without a history of banker support, (multiple) tax credits all piled together and a lot of guts, none of this could have happened. Back then, the banking rules were fairly loose, fairly liberal. Today it’s coming back.”