GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Downtown Development Authority have agreed to take part in the city’s plan to reconstruct South Division Avenue from Oakes to Cherry streets in the Heartside Business District.
The $2 million project, which the DDA will support with a $480,000 contribution for streetscape improvements, is being done to assist the renovation of four mostly vacant buildings on the east side of South Division between Oakes and Cherry.
The renovation, called the Division/Oakes Development Project, is being seen as an economic catalyst for the business district. The effort will cost $7.5 million and hopes to draw artists of all types to the block by offering them affordable studio, gallery and living space.
The work is being directed by Dwelling Place Inc., the district’s nonprofit developer and property manager, and will renovate 47,000 square feet of space in buildings at 104, 120, 122 and 126 S. Division Ave.
“Division Avenue has been a tough one to attract development,” said Dennis Sturtevant, CEO of Dwelling Place. “It’s an attempt to bring some life back to the 100 block. We’ve had some interest from artists.”
The plan is to build 23 two-bedroom loft-style rental apartments and to design 15,000 square feet for studios, galleries and shops, including a café to be run by Heartside caterer Foodsmith. Rents will run between $560 and $590 per month, and about 100 young artists are already on a waiting list
“What you get from this whole effort is a major renovation on the east side of the street,” said Sturtevant.
The city plans to rebuild the street and sidewalks, add new sewers and watermains, trees, grates, traffic signals, lighting, and lay a fiber optics telecommunications line. The city’s water, sewer and street departments are set to invest $1.2 million in the project, while another $300,000 will come from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Money from the DDA will be used to remove areaways underneath the buildings, and to install ornamental traffic signals and street lighting along the block.
The DDA Priority Committee voted to add the project to its to-do list earlier this month and DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said the board had the funds to get involved with this project after the agency pushed back work set for later this year for Grandville Avenue to next year.
“It became clear that now was the time to do the streetscape,” said Fowler.
The DDA has already redone Ionia Avenue and parts of Cherry Street in Heartside, and is backing more street work on Cherry from Commerce to Division avenues this year. Fowler said funding this latest project would support the investment being made to Division Avenue.
Cornerstone Architects is designing the renovation with Creative Spaces Consulting, a firm based in Minneapolis. Triangle Associates will manage the work.
National City Bank is an investment partner in the $7.5 million effort. Grants for it are coming from the Local Initiative Support Corp., MSHDA, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
In addition, Stephen and Eleanor Bryant of Fremont gave $1 million to the effort.
“The impact of their gift and their commitment to the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids, specifically to South Division Avenue, will be felt by generations to come,” said Sturtevant.
The renovation work is set to begin in May and should be done by June of next year.