The schools have had housing needs for quite some time, said Mike Maier, president of Rockford Development Group, and the designation of two floors of apartment housing will attract more students.
“They have worked for five years to try and come up with a solution to their housing problem,” said Maier. “Their students are spread around all over and they need to let their students know that they have housing available and that will be an attraction because they have students coming in from all around the world.”
The idea, Maier said, is to reposition the Commerce Building with a new name and a new image, one that will be of a mixed-use development, including student housing, faculty office space as well as commercial office space. A ground floor restaurant is also planned with frontage on Ottawa Avenue.
Rockford plans to upgrade the lobby, exterior, exterior entrance and the infrastructure, including the electrical and mechanical systems and elevators. The nine-story building will lease commercial spaces on the first seven floors and host Ferris/Kendall students on the top two floors. The agreement was made between Ferris/Kendall and Rockford with a guarantee of income by the students and the proper screening of tenants.
“We are making these spaces available to students and we are giving Ferris/Kendall first shot, but if we need to put someone else in there we can,” said Maier. “They are involved with it from a housing standpoint initially and then have the option to purchase down the road. And working with us on the guarantee with a certain level of income for their students furthers the joint venture concept to make it a truly mixed-use building which will work in harmony with the other tenants in the building.”
The other dozen tenants in the building include a number of attorneys, accountants and Michigan State University’s West Michigan office. Rockford plans to market the vacant office space soon.
Maier said Rockford just started the architectural work on the Commerce and plans to begin construction in the next 30 to 60 days, with the completion of apartment living spaces in June 2004.
The idea of a mixed-use development is not new to Rockford. The company also has 12 apartments on the top floor of the Peck Building, with the other floors leasing commercial space and the bottom floor with retail space.
“The real key to it is proper management and, from a security standpoint, a proper security system,” said Maier. “The mixed-use renovation of the Commerce Building falls in line with much of our work in the downtown area.”
Rockford also owns the former Heartside Manor building, located on the northeast corner of Cherry Street Landing, as part of the DeVos Rockford 50/50 partnership. The two are exploring plans for the building but the current plan is to create market rate housing, similar to the Globe apartments. The location is ideal to attract Thomas M. Cooley law students and Western Michigan University students, and there has been discussion with the schools.
“Both of these schools have good expansion plans,” said Maier. “It is exciting to see what role the universities play in the downtown area.”