DDA has development guidelines for downtown sector


The Arena South Visioning Plan is a 75-page guidebook that will shape future projects near Van Andel Arena.

The Arena South Visioning Plan was adopted by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority last week and the board will use the 75-page report as a guidebook for projects that are proposed for five parking lots situated south of Van Andel Arena, which is at Fulton Street and Ottawa Avenue.

“This becomes a guiding document for us when we make decisions. The steering committee has approved it. We plan to bring it before the Planning Commission and the Parking Commission,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson.

“I’m satisfied that the interests of the neighbors, especially the low-income residents, have been represented,” said Mayor George Heartwell, a DDA board member.

The mayor expressed a concern whether the plan would displace some Heartside residents when it was presented to the board last month. Heartwell labored in that sector for 15 years and once headed the Heartside Ministry.

As for the plan, it details two alternatives for the development of the Area 1, Area 2, Area 4, Area 5 and Area 6A lots. The report also offers the estimated economic impact of both options if all are developed, and those figures range from $386 million to $650 million. Both scenarios include below-ground parking.

The report also captured the five elements that community members felt were necessary to properly develop the sector. Two of those are creating growth opportunities for business and building small, compact urban blocks that are densely developed and designed for people.

“This included the core city and Rosa Parks Circle, the river, The Rapid station, the Downtown Market, the Grandville (Avenue) area corridor, and the educational hubs of WMU, Cooley, Kendall and GVSU,” said Tom Nemitz, president of Cornerstone Architects, which was a consultant to the plan with Virdis Design and Williams and Works.

Larson said the consultants and the DDA staff put in a “tireless effort” in a short time to complete the design process and the detailed report. “We are receiving a tremendous amount of interest from the development community for our sites,” he said.

So much so that the DDA agreed last week to sell a one-year option for one of the lots, Area 1 on Ottawa Avenue between the arena and Bistro Bella Vita, to Arena Place Development LLC for a nonrefundable fee of $50,000.

The lot carries a price tag of $2.25 million and Arena Place wants to build at least a 50,000-square-foot office structure and an 80-unit apartment building on the site. The firm estimated its construction cost from $24 million to $26 million and expects to create 150 jobs from the project.

The DDA listed the lot for sale in April and Arena Place was the only entity that responded to it. “We’re all about creating an enlivened district and this project is in our sweet spot,” said Heartwell. “I’m quite pleased with this.”

Gary Postma is listed as the resident agent for Arena Place. Postma and John Boonstra founded Orion Construction in 2000 and are the firm’s principals. Former Rockford Construction Co. co-founder John Wheeler joined Orion in 2011 and is in charge of the company’s business development.

Colliers International of West Michigan, a local commercial real estate firm, is working with Arena Place on the project. Larson said the proposed development needs to be approved by the city’s zoning board.

The DDA also awarded a $10,000 building reuse grant and a $2,000 signage grant last week to the Federal Square Building at 29 Pearl St. NW. A portion of the office structure is being renovated into the new home for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., a new umbrella organization for the DDA, the Downtown Alliance and the city’s Office of Special Events.

DGRI is leasing 4,300 square feet of space on the structure’s ground floor and is entering into a seven-year lease with a five-year option. “This will be our new home,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris. “The property owner is entitled to the incentives no matter who the tenant is.”

The organizations are hoping to be operating from the space on July 1.

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