This is one of several new structures in the W. Eight Street block of development costing $30 million to $40 million. Slated for completion in spring 2019, the building will include an 11-screen, 500-seat movie theater, HopCat brewery, specialty bakery and another restaurant. Rendering Courtesy GDK
Walking westward along W. Eighth Street from the core of downtown Holland, visitors will move through a bustling business corridor and onto a city block lined with shells of large buildings.
They’ll see dozens of workers dressed in neon colors and hear the disorderly sounds of construction.
Those half-constructed buildings belong to the West Eighth Development, a partly finished $30-million to $40-million project covering the whole block between S. River and Pine avenues and W. Ninth and W. Eighth streets.
The project, which will create dozens of residences and house a movie theater and multiple businesses, accounts for a major piece of the investment that has poured into downtown Holland over the past year.
All that investment fits into a collective vision to keep downtown relevant that began more than 30 years ago.
A work in progress
Holland’s revitalization began in the late 1980s, sparked by investments from businessman Edgar Prince and his wife Elsa.
After saving the historic Tower Clock building, Prince had a role in the large streetscape and storefront façade enhancement project on Eighth Street, as well as installing the snowmelt system, which runs heated water from power plants through pipes underneath 5 miles of downtown sidewalks, keeping them clear of snow and ice.
Amy Sasamoto, Holland DDA coordinator, said the snowmelt system still plays a big role in bringing people downtown throughout the year, not just in the summer.
The Prince investors, parents of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also purchased and refurbished several downtown properties, Sasamoto said.
Much of the work was in response to fear that people would be drawn away from downtown toward the suburban Westshore Mall constructed in 1988. The mall was popular at first, though people continued to visit the active downtown, Sasamoto said.
The mall was eventually “de-malled,” she said, into an outdoor strip mall renamed The Shops at Westshore.
Sasamoto said the quaint appearance of the current downtown is thanks to much of the work that took place nearly three decades ago.
“We had certain entrepreneurs and philanthropists that just poured their heart and soul into downtown Holland, and you can see it,” she said.
While other downtowns are revitalizing after perhaps suffering at the hands of suburban retail activities, Holland has remained steady, said Jenna Elswick, senior planner for the city of Holland.
Another boom of development has hit downtown Holland, starting with Geenen DeKock Properties’ purchase of a city parking lot about three years ago, Sasamoto said.
Additional businesses have moved in, such as Big Lake Brewing Company, at 13 W. Seventh St., or are on their way. Sasamoto said there is 0 percent vacancy for downtown ground-level commercial space.
The vacancies of recently completed residences disappear almost immediately.
Micki Janssen last year opened the 12-unit residence Maxel Flats after the $1.5-million renovation of a warehouse property at 124 E. Sixth St.
Janssen said she did not have to advertise the property; people inquired before it was finished, and the last two apartments were filled within a month after it opened.
“We’ve got people that are clamoring to live in downtown, and we really didn’t have the places for them to live,” Sasamoto said.
Chuck Geenen and Doug DeKock, owners of GDK for more than 30 years, are the individuals behind the West Eighth Development.
The owners have developed more than 7 million square feet of real estate in the area and the U.S., but their hometown project — steps away from the company office — seems to have a special meaning.
“When we moved into downtown 20 years ago, we really saw the excitement of downtown Holland, and we wanted to be part of what was already started and just contribute in addition to what was already here,” Geenen said.
The development is taking the space of a former city parking lot and several small buildings out of line with the rest of Eighth Street’s character.
Geenen said the goal has been to eliminate that open space and fill it with continuous storefronts, using different façade styles to give the appearance that the large buildings are actually many smaller ones, helping it blend with the rest of Eight Street.
The plan includes five new buildings and a 380-space parking ramp, as well as a renovation of the old Holland Sentinel building.
GDK bought the building and renovated it this summer, renting the top floor and part of the main floor to the local newspaper and converting the bottom floor into the new Seventy-Six restaurant, owned by Lucas Grill, who also owns Public in Zeeland.
The overall development includes dozens of apartments, an 11-screen, 500-seat Sperry’s Moviehouse, a HopCat and the specialty bakery Cakabakery.
It also includes a new $6.7-million, 380-space parking deck behind the buildings along W. Ninth Street. The city purchased the deck and is renting some spaces to GDK for its residents
The last two buildings of this development still are in the planning process and should be sorted out in the next couple of years, Geenen said.
He said the company will consider input to find tenants that complement each other and the community.
As developers consider downtown, Elswick said city leaders work to ensure plans align with certain key goals, including high building density, walkability and obtaining mixed-use buildings that allow residents to live and run errands downtown, all while retaining easy, free parking.
She said the city is in the process of developing a guide that contains all the specific information, such as ordinances and tax credits, developers should know when considering projects in Holland.
Sasamoto said there are questions as to the remaining quantity of developable space, as well as how much the community wants expansion to continue.
“We’re going to see what happens in these next couple years with all the residential that is going in downtown,” she said.
‘March to the waterfront’
Since development began 30 years ago, community leaders have shared a vision to expand downtown westward toward Lake Macatawa.
Geenen calls it the “march to the waterfront,” and GDK’s latest developments bring downtown another block closer to realizing that vision.
The West Eighth Development connects downtown to the Civic Center, at 150 W. Eighth St., which will be finished Sept. 28 with a $17-million upgrade.
That means downtown has only a quarter-mile to go until it reaches the water.
“We have visions … that it’s just a nice walk to the water from downtown,” said Mark Vanderploeg, who oversees Holland city planning.
That downtown connection to the lake will be on residents’ minds as they move into the newly constructed apartment buildings, Sasamoto said.
“They’re going to have a connection to the lakefront because they’re going to be able to see the lake from where they’re living,” she said.
There also is the idea of expanding northward and further eastward along Macatawa River, the upward border of downtown.
Much of that land is privately owned by decades-old industrial companies that create hundreds of jobs, Vanderploeg said, so the city is “not showing them the door.”
He said it’s the city’s master plan to have parts of that northern downtown area gradually transition to more community-friendly space, and as demand for space continues to grow, property owners may eventually decide to take advantage.
“If those property owners want to, on their timeline, sell their property for development, we’re all for it,” Vanderploeg said.
There are 17 acres of available northern downtown waterfront space at 64 Pine Ave., former home of the James DeYoung Power Plant, which was closed to make way for the new energy park that opened last year.
Owned by the Holland Board of Public Works, the organization has been working with the city and other stakeholders about how to use the property.
The city council and BPW are working to develop ideas on how the property should be used, which includes gathering public input.
“Because it’s been in power production for so long, we really want the residents of the community, and the community as a whole, to weigh in as to what should be next for that property,” Vanderploeg said.
While he called the area a blank slate, he said there are many “rock solid” principles regarding future use, such as ensuring the public has access to the waterfront.
Developing future site plans will mean considering the context of the space and how it fits with the surrounding area, Vanderploeg said.
Those plans will help inform the BPW about next steps for the building, such as how to deal with asbestos and whether reutilization is possible.
After plenty of input and planning, he hopes to present ideas to the city council in about a year.
Whether expanding westward, northward or in any other direction, Geenen said GDK is open to continued downtown development, as long as the demand remains.
For now, he added the demand is strong.
“It’s a very healthy community where people want to live,” Geenen said.
Major downtown projects
Here are some of downtown Holland’s completed and ongoing projects from the past year, compiled with information from multiple developers and city officials.
West Eighth Development, $30M to $40M
50 W. Eighth St. building completed this summer
Ground floor: Tulip Time office, Canterbury Cottage Interiors
Second and third floors: 50 West Residences, 16 nonvacant apartments
Fourth floor: five nonvacant condominiums
Holland Sentinel building at 54 W. Eighth St. completed this summer
Ground floor: new Seventy-Six restaurant; Holland Sentinel offices
Second floor: Holland Sentinel offices
Four-story building at 60 and 68 W. Eighth St. to be completed in 2019
Ground floor: four undetermined retail spaces and one unannounced women’s clothing store
Upper floors: Lofts at West Eighth, 51 apartments
102 W. Eighth St. building to be completed in 2019
Ground floor: HopCat, Cakabakery, undetermined restaurant
Ground and second floors: Sperry’s Moviehouse, an 11-screen, 500-seat movie theater
Three-story parking deck along Ninth Street: 380 spaces, 236 for public use
Two unplanned buildings
Other projects recently finished
Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce (272 E. Eighth St.), $1 million: Remodel of chamber building and upgrade to nearby Chamber Pointe pocket park
Maxel Flats (124 E. Sixth St.), $1.7 million: Remodel of 9,600-square-foot warehouse space into 12 nonvacant apartments
Big Lake Brewing Co. (13 W. Seventh St.), $400,000: Renovations of 7,000-square-foot space for move that more than tripled seating capacity
Other projects under construction
Holland Civic Center (150 W. Eighth St.), $17 million: Remodel and addition to 60-year-old center; farmers market and parking lot upgrade; small park establishment
@Home Realty-Holland (177 College Ave.), $6 million: new three-story, 20,000-square-foot building; bottom two floors to contain @Home offices and 18-foot spiral slide; top floor to be leased
Condo development (110 Central Ave.), $2.5 million: 11 condominiums totaling 11,600 square feet and 11 single-car garages