A rendering of Rockford Construction Co.’s Alabama Lofts 2 development on Grand Rapids’ west side. A rendering of Rockford Construction Co.’s Alabama Lofts 2 development on Grand Rapids’ west side. COURTESY OF INTEGRATED ARCHITECTURE LLC

Rockford Construction plans 245-unit apartment building, parking deck on GR’s west side

BY Tuesday, June 21, 2022 05:26pm

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from Rockford Construction.

GRAND RAPIDS — Rockford Construction Co. is planning a seven-story, 245-unit apartment building and 310-space parking deck on Grand Rapids’ west side, MiBiz has learned. 

The company is proposing the project for 501 and 516 Alabama Ave. NW, located just east of Rockford’s headquarters. 

Rockford currently owns the 0.6-acre parcel at 501 Alabama, which it uses as a paved parking lot for employees. The other 1.4-acre vacant parcel at 516 Alabama Ave. is owned by Consumers Energy. Rockford has entered into a purchase agreement for the site with Consumers and expects to close on the property before December, according to filings with the city. 

According to property records, Consumers purchased 501 Alabama Ave. NW on Feb. 28, 2018 for $825,000 from Cube LLC, which is registered to Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel. The utility was planning the $20 million “Circuit West” office building and housing development for up to 275 of its employees at the site in 2018, though plans for the six-story office building never came to fruition. A comment from Consumers Energy was not immediately available.

In city filings, Rockford noted the proposed project “adds attainable residential units to the downtown community, which grows the critical mass needed to sustain downtown businesses,” as well as “enhances the aesthetic of the neighborhood through the creation of new greenspace and landscape features.” Plans also call for removing existing overhead utility lines and poles. 

Rockford also said the project and parking deck should improve congestion in the neighborhood and enhance pedestrian access to nearby offices and businesses.

“The residential density this project adds to the neighborhood is aligned with efforts by the community to grow the downtown residential population, which helps sustain nearby existing businesses and fosters entrepreneurship through new investment (i.e., new consumer spending) in the neighborhood,” according to Rockford’s filing.

Mike Mraz, Rockford Construction’s president of real estate development, said the project is in its early stages and various grants and incentives will be crucial for combatting rising construction costs.

“This is the first step of many in order to determine total project feasibility,” Mraz said in an emailed statement. ”We have submitted an application for MEDC’s Revitalization and Placemaking Grant program as well as the Brownfield TIF program, both of which will be vital to overcome rising construction costs the industry is facing.  There continues to be strong demand for housing in downtown Grand Rapids, though, so we wanted to get the planning process started.”

The proposed seven-story building features a U-shaped design with frontage on Alabama Avenue and wings extending around the corners of First and Second Streets. The site originally housed 13 single-family homes from the early 1900s that became dilapidated and were eventually demolished, leaving the site vacant.

“Exterior finishes are yet to be determined; however, materials will likely include brick, glass, and metal panels, in colors and patterns to complement existing neighborhood character,” Jeffrey Edwards, vice president of 516 Alabama LLC and Rockford’s real estate development team, wrote in an application to the city.

Grand Rapids-based Integrated Architecture LLC designed the project, according to filings with the city. 

Current designs call for 29 apartments, a lobby, leasing office, fitness room and residential lounge on the ground floor. The upper six floors would have 36 units each. The plans also include a surface parking lot with 24 spaces for transient and guest parking, along with a bike rack and outdoor greenspace immediately east of the building.

The four-story parking deck would be available for residents of the planned apartment building, as well as Rockford Construction employees and the public. The parking deck would also include 114 spaces for indoor bicycle storage.

Rockford is requesting special land use approvals for ground-floor apartment units and the parking deck, as well as a waiver for ground-floor activation of the parking deck. 

“Based on the established nearby commercial corridors and recent economic impacts to retailers, we believe the Alabama corridor would not function effectively as a commercial district,” Edwards wrote in the company’s application, noting the precedent for ground-floor residential uses at the Lofts on Alabama development directly adjacent to Rockford’s proposed project. “We also believe maximizing the amount of residential units on the 516 Alabama site will relieve inflation-driven pressure on rents and attainability in the neighborhood.” 

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Read 11033 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 June 2022 13:57