Grand Rapids approves sale of lot for high-rise

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The size of the lot is true to its nickname.

The Wedge is a 17,400 square foot city-owned parking lot on Fulton Street between Ionia and Ottawa avenues.

On one side is a parking ramp, on another side, an office building.

There is not much of a footprint for the 310,000 square foot building.

But if all goes according to plan, that’s what will begin rising on the site soon.

It’s one more sign that as downtown continues to grow, there is only one place to go — up.

>>PDF: Proposal and renderings

“It has to. We’re running out of land, especially in the walkable corridor,” said Grand Rapids developer John Wheeler.

Wheeler Development Group is behind the 24 story, mixed-use development set for the site near Van Andel Arena.

The project would feature five stories of parking, three stories of office space and 10 stories of residential, with ground-floor retail in an area identified as key to the revitalization of downtown.

“If we want to have residents down here who want to enjoy the entertainment and walk to work, taking their bikes, it’s a compressed downtown neighborhood,” Wheeler said. “So, land is becoming a vital ingredient to the success in my opinion.”

But with a lack of available property downtown, look for future development to be a taller order.

“We’re really in a crunch for space,” said Grand Rapids Acting Economic Development Director Jonathan Klooster. “Up is the only place to go.”

City officials asked for a proposal for the site last fall, looking for projects that would combine the need for housing, office space and retails and add parking spots.

Wheeler’s $55 million proposals fit the bill.

They will pay at least $2 million for the site.

Wheeler says as demand for downtown development continues, that upward trend will continue.

So will the cost of projects.

“The design and the innovation of each and every parcel that’s left, including demoing old building and going up. They’re going to be unique and costly,” Wheeler said. 

The project is Wheeler Development Group’s, formerly Orion Development, fifth major project up and down the Ottawa corridor.

“We’ve invested about $200 million in mixed-use projects all the way from Belknap to Arena Place,” Wheeler said. “This fits right into our wheelhouse, adding another 100, 125 apartments. It gets our count up to 400.”

Mixed-use has been the benchmarks for developers who want to build downtown.

But are there enough people to support another project?

Klooster says there was some hesitation on the city’s part on offering up the property for sale early on.

But 2017 and 2018 saw many residential projects going up downtown.

But the offers made on the property is a sign there’s still a strong demand. 

“What we’ve seen when we put that property up for bid, is a storing demand for more housing,” Klooster said.

But for how long?

Wheeler says he’s yet to see a saturation point.

“You know what we try to do is fill a want, not create a need,” Wheeler said. “And they’re out there right now. There’s a lot of want out there. We’ve got condo owners coming out of the woodwork. We’ve got office space. We’re 100% full in all of our properties. Our apartments are 99% full.”

Wheeler says ground could be broken on the project as early as late this year.