GRAND RAPIDS — The first thing you should know about me is that I really dislike heights. I didn’t make it 200 feet into an attempt to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and I once nearly had a nervous breakdown on an outdoor patio of a 36th-floor condo.
But when the text message from Chris Beckering — executive vice president at Grand Rapids-based construction management firm Pioneer Construction Inc. — came early Friday morning inviting me to climb a nearly 200-foot tower crane at one of Grand Rapids’ signature development projects, I felt that as a commercial real estate reporter, I had to put my fears aside and view the city’s development boom from a different vantage point.
The crane in question is one of two on the Studio Park site on the west side of Ionia Avenue SW between Oakes and Cherry Streets. It is currently in the early stages of building the Canopy by Hilton hotel component of the project, also slated to consist of a Studio C movie theater, apartments, and a proposed office building that has yet to break ground as the project’s developer seeks tenants. The other tower crane on the site is in the process of building a 900-space parking structure.
The ascent to the cab of Pioneer’s crane takes around 15 minutes (probably far less for the construction professionals who do it every day and don’t sit behind a desk all day like reporters) and makes for a far less terrifying experience than anticipated. After 50 feet or so, any thoughts of turning back diminished.
The descent makes for a different story, especially with Beckering’s warning that “it’s where most accidents happen.”
On the climb down one has little option but to look down –– at least if you want to ensure proper footing –– and left me with some sore muscles I didn’t know I had.
In some ways, the crane I climbed on Friday with Beckering and others helps to tell the story of the ongoing Grand Rapids development boom. Up until its recent assembly at the Studio Park site on the south end of downtown, the same crane was about a mile north building the still ongoing Embassy Suites hotel project in the burgeoning Monroe North neighborhood.
The apex of the crane offers clear vantage points of two other cranes as well: one building Orion Construction Company Inc.’s Warner Building office and hotel project in the middle of the central business district, as well as one at the 16-story 601 Bond Ave. NW apartment project in Monroe North, also being built by Pioneer Construction.
Even as those projects hit their peak and the cranes come down, the equipment remains in demand, Beckering said. In the coming weeks, Pioneer’s crane at 601 Bond will make its way just a few blocks southeast to the Michigan Street corridor, where it will help build new facilities for Grand Valley State University.
It’s yet to be seen whether I’ll have the occasion to climb that crane, but it’s clear they’ll continue to dot the skyline in and around downtown for the next couple years, serving as a visceral reminder of the city’s expansion.
“(Cranes are) a tangible sign of development and growth,” Beckering said. “Cranes represent a growing and thriving city and it’s an indication of a changing skyline. That gets people excited.”