New life for Grand Rapids’ Heartside District

Grand Rapids' Heartside District. (July 17, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – As two buildings that were built more than 100 years ago will soon meet with the wrecking ball in Grand Rapids, developers hope to begin a new project on their lot as soon as next spring.

The project is the latest effort pushing rejuvenation in the city’s Heartside District.

Another example of rejuvenation can be found mid-morning on Division Avenue, where pasta is being made at Local Epicurean. Ryan Raredon moved the business from Eastown to 111 Division Ave. S about a year ago.

“When we started in Eastown, we drove up and down the street because it was an area we felt we wanted to start a business,” Raredon said. “Five years ago, I don’t think we’d considered a drive up and down Heartside.”

Local Epicurean is one of several businesses that has moved to the Heartside District — an area that extends from Lyon Street NE to the north, Wealthy Street SE to the south, Lafayette Avenue SE to the east and Market Avenue SW to the west.

Division Avenue splits right down the middle.

“It is coming back,” Raredon said. “I have a business here now. So, yeah… I hope that more people want to do the same.”

Long known as the home of Grand Rapids’ homeless population, the Heartside District continues to change. And one way to measure that change is by building permits.

Records provided by Grand Rapids development officials show a steady increase in permits – including everything from remodels to new buildings — in the area over the last four years.

It was an increase from 46 permits in 2010 to 73 last year.

While part of that increase may be due to an improved economy, there are also indications the Heartside District is one of the city’s new hotspots for development.

Rockford Development recently won permission to tear down two crumbling buildings at the corner of Division Avenue S and Weston Street SW.

However, it’s still unknown what will be built at the site.

“Something that’s going to be an asset to the neighborhood, clearly,” said Kurt Hassberger, president of Rockford Development. “There’s been so much going on on Ionia and now Commerce. This is kind of an opportunity to, in some respects, turn the corner down South Division.”

But challenges remain.

Some business owners claim the homeless create a nuisance that could hinder development along the corridor. But other owners, including Raredon, said there’s certain understanding and coexistence between the two.

“I think the word has gotten out… hey, you know, if you’re over here, you’re going to get busted,” Raredon said.

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