Downtown GR development makes old new again

Facade of buildings at 50 Monroe Avenue NW removed after decades

The original front of 50 Monroe in downtown Grand Rapids is exposed after decades. (Sept. 13, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When visitors flock to downtown Grand Rapids for ArtPrize Nine, which opens next week, one sight that’s not an entry is still sure to attract attention.

“It’s like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. It’s just really cool,” developer Sam Cummings said Wednesday as crews removed panels from the exterior of 50 Monroe Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids.

The original front of 50 Monroe in downtown Grand Rapids is exposed after decades. (Sept. 13, 2017)

Cummings is a managing partner at CWD Real Estate Investment, which bought 50 Monroe in 2012.

The address is actually three buildings, including a former refrigerator factory, that date back to the late 1800s. In the 1980s, the buildings were combined and encapsulated with panels bolted into the brick and slate.

Cummings knew what was under the second skin and he saw the value in revealing it.

“So when we revitalize this building, there’s a great restaurant on the ground floor, there’s a fantastic hotel on the west side (of the development), can you imagine being in that building and seeing the vitality in the building and saying, ‘Damn, I wish they’d taken this down and put a parking lot here?'” Cummings said.

So piece by piece, the panels are coming down revealing 50 Monroe’s former glory, as well as some of the buildings tenants over the last century. Painted on the south wall is a sign for Hughes Engraving. Another on the north side shows Chic School of Cosmetology once called the building home.

The original front of 50 Monroe in downtown Grand Rapids is exposed after decades. (Sept. 13, 2017)

But the building’s face isn’t perfect. The facade they’re tearing off left plenty of scars. Cumming said many of those scars will remain.

“As awful as it is, it is part of the building’s history,” he said. “In some cases, we want her to show her scars, ’cause it’s telling a story.”

“To be doing this during ArtPrize is pretty cool,” Cummings added. “Because, I mean, look at it: Look how beautiful she is. I can’t believe I get to do this stuff.”

When the work is completed, one of the old buildings will be anchored by current tenant Townsquare Media and its radio stations. The other will be anchored by a Marriott hotel run by Amway Corporation.

Cummings admitted it would have easier to fix up the interior, sign up some tenants and start collecting the rent. But with this project, there was a broader goal.

“It’s our hometown and this is an important thing to do,” he said.