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Project set to change Fulton Street landscape


Pat Evans Grand Rapids Business Journal
Published 2 / 29 / 16

--- Roughly 20 years after Van Andel Arena’s transformation of Fulton Street, a new development is set to change the landscape, and skyline, of downtown Grand Rapids. Venue Tower, a collaboration between Orion Construction and The Gilmore Collection, broke ground early this month at an underused piece of downtown real estate next to The Gilmore Collection’s The B.O.B. Venue Tower will have 88 apartments, said Kris Larson, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., and each unit brings a potential $25,000 in annual consumer spending.

“This is a good infill on an existing, underutilized parcel of asphalt,” Larson said. “This development will change the way we perceive the width of Fulton Street, and there won’t be as much of a divide of the southern and northern part of downtown.” The development consists of not only the eight story apartment building but also a “world class music venue” and beer garden. More details on that part of the project will be announced later this year. “The Venue project has been on our drawing board for many years,” Gilmore Collection CEO Greg Gilmore said. “My father, John, and I are excited to be able to bring it to fruition and to raise the bar on the quality and consistency of great entertainment events in the city. “We love bringing the community together, and the Venue will allow us to host great fundraisers, concerts, fashion shows, corporate events, comedy, art and then some.”

Together, the two Venue pieces — along with Orion’s Arena Place development and Franklin Partners’ redevelopment of 25 Ottawa — will extend the live/work/play area around the arena. “We understand the importance of bringing a diversity of options to the Arena District so people can enjoy everything from lunch to shopping to dinner and drinks before a hockey game or a concert,” said Jason Wheeler, Orion Real Estate Solutions spokesperson. “We want to see this area bustling with people shopping, coming home or going out, and to create that type of activity and energy we need to have people living here — not just coming downtown for a night out.“

The $22 million Venue Tower also may change the way present and future residents look at downtown living. In addition to 44 one bedroom and 20 two bedroom units, there are 24 “micro loft” units. The “ultra efficient” studio apartments are less than 500 square feet and are priced accordingly. They’re meant for those who maybe don’t spend a lot of time at home but still appreciate a quality living space, said John Wheeler, president of Orion Real Estate Solutions. “The motivation behind the micro lofts is to create living space that goes beyond being small,” Wheeler said. “It’s about efficiency and the impact of everything from the physical space to the utilities to the lifestyle it encourages. “These are designed for the active urbanite who desires quality, not quantity.”

Together, Orion’s developments at Arena Place and Venue Tower will bring 188 units to the area directly around the arena, as well as retail, to help diversify the downtown area. Larson often cites the importance of urban density, but he said it may be wise to sit on the current influx of residential units in development and planning stages. With upward of 1,500 units in the works, he said it’s more than some cities have in their urban core, adding that the 88 units in Venue Tower are equivalent to a suburban development. It’s a lot for the market to absorb.

The micro units, however, provide developers an example of what to build beyond market rate standard units, he said. “Orion saw an untapped potential,” Larson said. “They can appeal to a wider audience of would be renters while diversifying the product mix.” The diversity in apartment sizes, along with a 37 foot tall atrium, allows for a modern design, according to Concept Design Vice President Tom Tooley. He said the new building in a prominent location helps establish what buildings in downtown will look like going forward.

The entertainment venue, however, will be in contrast with the tower’s modern design and will have a “raw, weathered” look, according to Tooley. “Most of the recent residential has been renovations. This gives us an opportunity to build a new, clean, urban style,” Tooley said. “Grand Rapids has a lot of great historic buildings with a lot of character. Now we get to build taller, brighter, with bigger windows.”

Arena Place and Venue Tower are just two of the new developments that soon will rise above Grand Rapids, and new projects are what Grand Rapids needs to move in the right direction, Larson said. “This is a psychological benefit — just to see cranes in the sky,” he said. “We’re on this great precipice of the next wave of big projects, and investment capital takes notice. We’re competing for capital all around the Midwest, and the more we have going on, the more it’s a reflection of the confidence of the marketplace, and it’s good for Grand Rapids.”