North Town invests in Creston


Bradley Hartwell launched his real estate firm, North Town Real Estate, a year ago, only to officially announce it earlier this month. Courtesy North Town Real Estate

Taking a cue from a former boss, Bradley Hartwell has committed to his neighborhood while stretching out of his comfort zone.

Hartwell launched his real estate firm, North Town Real Estate, a year ago, only to officially announce it earlier this month as he finishes his first two projects in the Creston neighborhood. Despite his early commitment to Creston and his prior work experience exclusively in Grand Rapids, his early work has him stretched from Ludington to Caledonia.

The two initial projects, 1307 and 1309 Plainfield Ave. NE and 1224 Plainfield Ave. NE, are a signal Hartwell wants to help his childhood neighborhood, much in the same way his former boss, Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel, is investing heavily in Grand Rapids’ West Side.

Hartwell concedes it’s not nearly the same scale. He started with a building he helped his mother purchase a decade ago while still in college and has moved on with the first two redevelopments this past year.

“His returning to the West Side and investing inspired me to invest in the Creston area,” Hartwell said of VanGessel. “I had my eye on the area, which has a lot of vacancies but great demographics. There’s really no reason for the vacancy. I figured I could use my skillset to invest and occupy some buildings.”

The 1307/1309 Plainfield building is now home to the Central District Cyclery and the North Town Real Estate office — Hartwell’s live-work condo. Down the road at 1224 Plainfield are two three-bedroom apartments and a first-floor office space with a yet-to-be-named tenant.

Coming out of Central Michigan University with a degree in real estate in 2009, Hartwell understands the extreme dynamics of the industry.

Graduating during the heart of the Great Recession helped dispel any fear of going off on his own. Even if the economy tanks tomorrow, Hartwell is confident he’ll be able to make his business work. Out of college, the only job he could find was in credit analysis at a bank, helping restructure debt.

“It’s always scary taking on a new venture,” he said. “I was born out of a recession. In a down economy, there’s almost more work to do. There’s always something to do in the real estate industry, it’s just about finding work.

“When the economy changes, clients change.”

Following his stint with Rockford Construction, Hartwell helped launch Vision Real Estate Investment early in 2016, assisting the firm in the acquisition of 99 Monroe.

Hartwell believes those early career stints have helped position him for a unique model of real estate. He said he wants to be the reverse of brokerage firms dabbling in development services and be a development services company, which can offer brokerage.

His two early Creston redevelopments, however small, were enough to garner attraction of other clients.

In Ludington, a custom homebuilder hired Hartwell to help build some mixed-use buildings — which were “larger for Ludington.” He offered the development package to structure the development deal and help with financing and incentives as a third party.

“(The Creston projects) helped give me the full scope of taking a project from beginning to end,” Hartwell said. “As I worked on them, clients came out of the wood work.”

Additionally, Hartwell is helping an organization build a new 25,000-square-foot industrial building in Rockford.

Hartwell knows there still is plenty to do in Creston as he looks for more opportunities, but he’s willing to go wherever clients take him. At first, he was worried his North Town name might be too geographically binding, before realizing Grand Rapids still is technically a town north of many places.

“Until now, I’d only stayed in Grand Rapids and all of a sudden I’ve had opportunities take me outside,” he said. “It’s the same concept everywhere, just different economics.”

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