Wheeler begins due diligence on ‘wedge’


Wheeler Development Group last week held its kickoff meeting with the city of Grand Rapids, marking the beginning of its due diligence period to redevelop the “wedge” portion of 22 Ottawa Ave. NW.

The project, which WDG unofficially named City Tower, is a $55 million, 24-story, mixed-use building encompassing approximately 310,000 square feet. Features and uses include 5,215 square feet of ground-floor retail; five floors of parking with approximately 185 spaces; three floors, or approximately 44,000 square feet of office space; 10 stories for about 118 apartments; and five floors for about 19 condominiums.

“Obviously, the biggest challenge is finding a need for that much space and where you would park everybody,” said Ryan Wheeler, president of WDG. “Not only did we design a building that we feel fits those needs but also being limited in the space, it takes into account the amount of commercial space and residential space that we’re comfortable with.”

With the project being located on a section of the Fulton/Ottawa ramp property, WDG is able to take advantage of the existing parking levels and will be able to work with the city to provide more parking if the need is beyond 185 spaces, Wheeler said.

Additionally, WDG is exploring making a handful of the apartment units affordable to households earning 80% area median income. Wheeler said the group is in discussion with the city about possibly making units accessible to households earning 50% AMI, as well.

Wheeler Development will begin with preconstruction, development costs, budget, financing mechanisms and strong community engagement during the due diligence phase.

Integrated Architecture will work alongside the project’s general contractor, Orion Construction.

The city commission authorized the issuance of a request for proposal last October. The RFP sought a development partner for a mixed-use, multistory development on an approximately 17,400-square-foot portion of the city-owned Fulton/Ottawa property.

The RFP sought a partner to construct, at a minimum, ground floor retail space, five levels of parking that would be connected to the city’s existing ramp and additional development on floors above the parking.

The city received four proposals by December. A committee comprised of city staff; staff from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.; special counsel; and members of the Mobile GR Commission, Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Downtown Development Authority convened to review the proposals.

Jason Wheeler, vice president of marketing and community relations for WDG, said the density of the area, as well as visibility and connectivity to the entertainment corridor marked by Van Andel Arena and 20 Monroe Live, made the location attractive for such a project.

The Business Journal previously reported the city’s RFP included a commitment from the developer to prioritize, along with the past performance of utilization of micro local women- and minority-owned contractors. Jason Wheeler said WDG is working alongside Orion to develop a plan to include the groups outlined by the city.

“Garfield Park Lofts is an example of us activating women and minority businesses,” Jason Wheeler said. “Orion’s going through some planning right now with the folks they used on Garfield Parks on West Garfield.”

Orion completed Garfield Park Lofts for LINC Up in October 2019. The $9.4 million affordable housing building was the first multifamily construction project in the neighborhood in more than 30 years.

Shortly after completion, Orion began construction on West Garfield, a $6.5 million multifamily project and the second affordable housing project for LINC Up.

The inclusion of MBEs and WBEs in the due diligence phase, while a work in progress for the city, also is a new frontier for WDG, Jason Wheeler said, and the project could set a precedent for future urban development.

“This project has the ability to influence how development is done in the urban core and beyond and also what kind of developer we want to be,” Jason Wheeler said.

In the same district, Hinman Company’s 10 Ionia project is coming together, but the developer, which once promised a 42-story skyscraper, had to scale the project back to a 13-story hotel with ground-floor retail.

Ryan Wheeler said City Tower likely will not experience such a setback and added he is confident the scale of City Tower will remain relatively intact.

“As we go through our due diligence — identifying how much commercial we need, how much residential — it could grow or shrink to some amount, but I don’t think it’ll shrink from 25 stories to 12 stories,” he said. “We’d been forming our plans long before the city put out an RFP, so we’re confident in our plans.”

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