New owners, plans for vacant Geek Group site in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids building that’s been shuttered for nearly two years since a raid by federal investigators has new owners with a different vision.

The group of business owners closed on the property at 902 Leonard Street NW on Oct. 15, according to Chip Bowling, partner of the Bradley Company commercial real estate firm.

The 40,000-square-foot building stretches from Widdicomb Avenue to Fremont Avenue NW, making it one of the largest redevelopment sites along the Leonard Street corridor in a long time, Bowling said.

Property co-owner Jack Hoedeman of Compass Insurance Group said the team of developers originally hoped to renovate the existing building, but the necessary repairs and accessibility issues are too much.

(Grand Rapids Press clippings from the Grand Rapids Public Library Archives show the construction (left) and groundbreaking ceremony (right) for the YMCA at 902 Leonard Street NW.)

The owners’ new plan is to tear down the structure and build an apartment building of up to 120 units. They’re currently working to line up financing for the $15 million to $20 million project and determine the mix of housing options.

“(We are looking at) what is best going to serve the community and engaging the city to create an outcome that’s good for everybody,” said Hoedeman, who pointed to a recent study showing the growing city needs 5,340 new rental units by 2025 to keep up with demand.

The brick facility at 902 Leonard Street NW was built in 1957 as a YMCA before the organization moved into its current home downtown in 2005, according to Grand Rapids Public Library’s archivist Tim Gloege.

The building served as a teen club in 2007 before eventually becoming home to the Geek Group and National Science Institute, which shut down in December 2018 when the feds and state police raided the building because of the owner’s crypto-currency transactions.

The National Science Institute 122118_1545421568979.jpg.jpg
(A December 2018 image shows authorities outside the then-National Science Institute as they execute a federal search warrant.)

Hoedeman says all the development on the city’s West Side played a role in why the building’s new owners settled on the site. A $5 million mixed-use development is under construction at the corner of Leonard and Broadway Avenue NW, and the Bazzani Building Company is transforming a century-old storage building at 730 Leonard Street NW into a mix of office, retail and living spaces.

“(We) saw the need for housing and thought that would be a great site,” Hoedeman said. “I couldn’t be happier the way it’s all coming together.”

The team of new owners comes with plenty of industry experience. Co-owner Brad Laackman is president and CEO of Honor Construction, Brian Hamrick of Hamrick Investment Group owns numerous apartments in the Grand Rapids area, and Jeff Royce of 1025 Ventures has helped develop more than $300 million in projects.

Hoedeman says he fell in love with renovation projects when he invested $1 million to transform the long-vacant property at 280 Ann Street NW into his business’ home.

If all goes well, the new owners of 902 Leonard Street NW hope to start work on the site next summer and put the new homes on the market by the summer of 2022.