Two mixed-use towers planned for downtown GR

The two-tower development would replace the Ellis Parking lot on Ottawa and Lyon.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Developers are trying once again to transform a parking lot in downtown Grand Rapids into a “game-changing” development.

Local developers have announced plans for a multi-story, multi-use, two-tower complex at the corner of Lyon Street and Ottawa Avenue NW. When it opens in four years, its main tenant will be law firm Warner Norcross & Judd.

The project will also create more living space downtown.

The project would consist of two towers between 14 and 17 stories tall in the place of what’s currently a parking lot across from the Kent County Courthouse.

“What I see is a complementary use to the courthouse for the city, the county building, the big Calder Plaza area, just bring some more life back to the area north of Pearl (Street), if you will,” John Wheeler, the president of Orion Real Estate Solutions, said.

It’s not the first time developers have eyed the corner lot. In 1999, a different group announced plans to build a 24-story office tower at the same spot, saying it would continue the rebirth of downtown Grand Rapids. Those plans, which would have required changing the city’s ordinance on building height restrictions, eventually fell through.

Wheeler is confident that with the commitment from Warner Norcross & Judd, which will move from the nearby Fifth Third building, this project will become a reality.

“It’s going to be a very, very exciting project for us,” Wheeler said.

The rest of the complex would house offices, apartments, condos and retail space.

Orion Real Estate Solutions is partnering with Midtown Properties – Pearl & Ottawa LLC and DTN Management for the project.

Financing is still being worked out. Wheeler told 24 Hour News 8 the cost will likely come in above $50 million.

The current Ellis Parking lot across from the Kent County Courthouse is the site for the planned mixed use project.
(The current Ellis Parking lot across from the Kent County Courthouse is the site for the planned mixed use project.)

When tenants start moving in sometime in 2019, they’ll be part of a continuing effort to bring more people downtown not just to work, but to live.

“I think the supply is catching up with the demand,” Wheeler said. “That’s a fine-tooth thing that we have to watch very carefully.”

Another person watching that closely is Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. President and CEO Kris Larson. He’s a bit more optimistic.

“I think the momentum is as much there as it’s ever been,” Larson said.

One problem with the effort to bring more residents downtown is a lack of nearby services and amenities, like a grocery store, pharmacy or movie theater.

Larson says a grocery store chain needs to draw from a population of about 10,000 to make a go of it in an area like downtown. Existing and planned residential projects in downtown Grand Rapids would put the area at the halfway point, or about 5,000 residents, in the near future.

Larson predicts it will take another five to seven years before Grand Rapids reaches the 10,000 mark — but he also says that’s not a magic number.

“It’s not like as soon as it happens, grocery stores are going to pop up. It might happen sooner than that, based upon a retailer’s confidence on the market to continue to develop,” Larson said.

Designers have spent 14 months creating concepts for the current development project. Developers plan to unveil more details in the first quarter of 2016.

If all goes according to plan, the new development at Lyon and Ottawa will break ground in early 2017, with the first tenants moving in the spring of 2019.

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