GR’s growing pains not uncommon


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A regional look at downtown growth by the real estate firm JLL found Grand Rapids is not alone in its growth or issues caused by the influx of people.

In a report titled “Great Lakes Full Circle,” JLL looked at eight downtowns in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, including Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Across the Great Lakes region, JLL Research Analyst Harrison West had evidence of a lot of downtown activity, so he wanted to quantify it for potential clients.

“There’s a lot of activity and clients are coming to us saying, ‘I’m hearing about all this activity in downtown Detroit,’” West said. “We want to be able to show them and quantify information into easy-to-read stats and a map of what’s happening.”

To compile the information, West relied heavily on demographic and employment information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Activity was collected through various media reports and JLL brokers on the ground.

West said the movement back to downtowns largely is driven by younger generations of workers desiring a different live-work-play environment than older generations, and companies are recognizing the trend. The JLL report found large-scale private investments focused on residential and mixed-use development. The reuse of formally obsolete properties increases tax bases, allowing cities to reinvest in themselves, resulting in improved mass transit, infrastructure and public space, the report said.

Those improvements help attract residents and businesses, West said.

“As the younger generation is moving into their careers, they’re drawn to the urban lifestyle, and the companies are tailoring their strategies to attract that,” he said. “It creates a vibrant environment.”

In Grand Rapids’ 2.7-square-mile downtown, JLL found $1.2 billion in investments since 2012, with 14,000 residents and 48,000 workers. Among the residents counted in the report, 63 percent are under the age of 36.

In many of the categories looked at, Grand Rapids is smaller than all other markets except Ann Arbor. Grand Rapids does have more residents downtown than Louisville and Columbus but far fewer than Detroit, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and about 3,000 fewer than Ann Arbor.

“Each market is a little bit different in terms of population size,” he said. “But the investment dollars are substantial, and there are a lot of projects completed and in the pipeline.”

From 2012-16, JLL found 26 projects totaling $386.5 million were completed. Currently, the report lists 12 projects worth $334.2 million under construction and another 13 planned projects with project investment of $497 million.

Of those projects, 34 were residential and 13 office developments.

The use of “full circle” in the report title hints at the cyclical nature of real estate and the potential demographics could shift back to the suburbs.

West said many of the cities featured also are figuring out how to deal with the influx of cars from more workers and residents.

“It’s certainly an issue in Detroit and often a concern of potential clients moving there,” he said. “Detroit has found a way around it with the streetcar line. Parking certainly is a concern in a lot of these markets, but cities and businesses are getting more creative.”

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