On the heels of a range of downtown developments coming online in recent years, Orion Real Estate Solutions saw further demand for Class A office space in Grand Rapids.
Orion Real Estate Solutions
Top executive: John Wheeler, president
Annual sales: $100 million to $200 million
Business description: Real estate development company
Project partners: Orion Construction Co. (construction), Ghafari Concept Design (architects), Chemical Bank (lender on both towers)
As the company looked for a new project to develop, owner and President John Wheeler struck a deal for a multi-decade lease with Grand Rapids-based Ellis Parking Co. for a key under-developed piece of downtown property.
Today, the former surface parking lot has been transformed into the 15-story Warner Building and 12-story, 160-room Hyatt Place Grand Rapids/Downtown hotel, plus a 450-space parking ramp. The two buildings at 140 and 150 Ottawa Ave. NW are entirely leased up with office and retail tenants.
Wheeler’s vision for the project, the winner in the real estate category of the 2019 MiBiz Deals of the Year Awards, is that the development of the two buildings will breed more success in the community.
“To do a private enterprise project like this and be able to get it put together and raise $85 million, it shows confidence in the community from the lenders and the city,” he said. “These projects are getting bigger and are more complicated and are being done on strategic corners. When they are successful, it just breeds more success and confidence in the community.”
The projects “bring life to that corridor,” Wheeler said.
As of November, the Warner Building at 150 Ottawa will be fully occupied. The anchor tenant is law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, and the building also will house the regional offices for Detroit-based Chemical Bank and Grand Rapids-based Van Wyk Risk Solutions.
After decades at its former location at the Trust Building, Warner Norcoss + Judd moved about a block to the new space, which the firm plans to use to help it attract more talent, according to Wheeler.
Meanwhile, Van Wyk previously told MiBiz it chose the Warner Building as its new offices after viewing about 20 potential office locations. The insurance agency, which outgrew its space on Wealthy Street in East Grand Rapids, occupies 17,500 square feet on the 10th floor of the Warner Building. The building offered the firm the chance to move into brand new office space with a convenient location and amenities for its employees.
Chain restaurant Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar will fill the ground-floor space at the Hyatt Place building at 140 Ottawa Ave.
In total, about 500 workers are located in the two buildings, which Wheeler said will help to further support other ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces downtown. A restaurant on the second floor of the Hyatt Place hotel added 55 jobs, while Tupelo Honey will add 150 jobs when it opens in April.
Wheeler calls the project a “huge team effort.” Developer Orion Real Estate Solutions and Orion Construction Co. Inc. dealt with unique challenges in design and construction because of the limited available space on the site. Wheeler also credits the lender Chemical Bank for the success of the project.
As well, the city of Grand Rapids and state of Michigan also played a role in getting the project moving: The development captured both brownfield redevelopment funds and Downtown Development Authority tax increment financing incentives.
“We touched every level of complexity you could on this one,” Wheeler said. “It was truly a community effort to get that project up.”
Each project has its own best practices formula, but pre-construction is the most important time to flesh out the details and think progressively, Wheeler said.
“We spend a lot more time before we put a shovel in the ground than we do after we start construction with the thought process of how the building is going to look in 50 years, 100 years, and what it means to the community,” he said.