Morton House historic features revealed

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Renovations at the Morton House are revealing the downtown Grand Rapids landmark’s original 1920s style.

Born as a hotel in 1923, the Morton House located on Monroe Center NW at Ionia Avenue served as subsidized housing from 1971 until closing in 2011.

Now, Rockford Construction is investing $25 million to develop the structure’s 13 floors into at least 100 market-price apartments that are expected to be available by the spring of 2015. About 25,000 square feet of space could be used for restaurants, shops or offices.

The renovation effort is now revealing areas of Morton House long covered up or blocked off.

“We didn’t even know a lot of this space existed when we came in here,” said Mike Mraz, the vice president of real estate development for the Rockford Construction.

The lobby of the original hotel was discovered after Rockford Construction purchased the property in the fall of 2011. It had been walled from tenants at the Morton House in an effort to save energy, its imported travertine and detailed staircases hidden from public view.

“This is just a very grand space that can be used for a variety of things. Whether it’s as flagship retail or the dining room of a restaurant, potentially,” Mraz said.

Also located was the remnants of Der Kelder, a Bavarian Restaurant that has been closed for about 40 years. And Mraz pointed out “the original location for Kent State Bank, before it was Old Kent Bank.” There, a large vault with a door 7 feet around and 3 feet thick has had nothing to protect for years.

Another surprise uncovered: The Florentine Room.

“It was a common space for the hotel. It was a reading room, potentially used for dances as well as other social gatherings,” Mraz said.

The Florentine is a big room and developers aren’t yet sure how to best utilize the space.

“There are a lot of options in here and when we go and undertake a renovation like this, we need to be flexible with space and understand what our users want and what our apartment dwellers want as well as our commercial tenants, too. So as we define that and work with our tenants; that sometimes defines the space,” Mraz said.

The same could be said of many of the rooms in the Morton House.

Now, Rockford Construction is hoping that the right combination of living and retail space in the historic structure will draw tenants.

“This is a substantial investment for us, but we see the drive in the people who want to live downtown. Apartments are very popular. People want to live in the urban core,” Mraz said.

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