GRAND RAPIDS, MI - For the first time in 50 years, the Ellis Parking Co. will not be storing cars on the asphalt lot it owns in the heart of downtown.
The Ellis family and a host of developers, politicians, bankers and lawyers, staged a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, June 27, to celebrate a $72 million office tower and hotel project being built on the 125-space parking lot
When completed in 2019, the lot will hold a 15-story office building that will be occupied by the law firm of Warner Norcross and Judd and Chemical Bank. A second tower will become a 12-story Hyatt Place Hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor.
And, the project also will include a 430-space parking garage to replace the surface lot that was created in the late 1960s, when the Houseman office building was torn down as part of the city's urban renewal movement. A city parking ramp on the site was razed in the 1980s.
Mike Ellis, president of the parking company founded by his dad, Ken Ellis, said his late father would have been proud to see the parking lot finally become part of downtown's resurgence after an earlier attempt to build an office tower on the lot foundered in 2001.
"This parking lot sat half-empty many, many days," said Mike Ellis, recalling the 1970s, when downtown struggled to remain relevant in the face of suburban development.
"My dad would be so proud to see his dream coming true," said Ellis, whose 84-year-old mother, Frances, and other members of the Ellis family were in attendance.
The Ellis family will continue to own the ground on which the new project is being built.
The buildings will be owned by a partnership that includes Orion Real Estate Solutions, DTM Management of Lansing and SIBSCO, the real estate firm run by the family of Peter Secchia, a local business leader and former U.S. Ambassador to Italy.
"Today marks the beginning of construction. In two years the city will have a landmark block of offices, restaurants, hotel, parking structure and support services that will employ hundreds of people in the urban core," said Orion Real Estate Solutions President John Wheeler.
The change comes in the face of an apartment-building boom that has seen 1,900 units underway in the city's downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
For Warner Norcross and Judd, the new office building is close to home - across the block from its original home in the Trust Building and opposite the Fifth Third Bank where the law firm has resided for the past 50 years.
"Since our law firm was founded nearly 90 years ago, Warner Norcross has always had offices in downtown Grand Rapids," said Managing Partner Doug Dozeman. The firm plans to place more than 250 attorneys and support staff in the new building.
The new office space will occupy a smaller footprint than the firm's current offices, Dozeman said. Aside from a reduced need for shelf space in its law libraries, its attorneys also are holding fewer meetings in private offices and using collaborative spaces and conference rooms instead, he said.
"Chemical Bank is excited to be at the point that we need to consider a larger footprint in downtown Grand Rapids, said Chemical Bank's Regional President Joel Rahn. He estimated the bank will double its office footprint in the Grand Rapids market.