GRAND RAPIDS — Construction is expected to start next spring at the historic Sligh Furniture Co. factory near downtown on what would be one of the city’s biggest housing developments in recent years.
The mixed-use redevelopment planned by Detroit-based Sturgeon Bay Partners calls for 753 apartment units across three buildings, commercial space, a cafe and a five-story parking garage. The development at 446 Grandville Ave. SW in the city’s Roosevelt Park neighborhood comprises nearly the entire block where the furniture company operated from 1880 to the early 1930s, according to the Grand Rapids Historical Commission.
The 753 units are poised to make a dent in the city’s ongoing housing needs, particularly for affordable options. Recent studies show the city needs an additional 9,000 units at all price points over the next five years to meet demand.
“We’re carving out at least 10 percent of the total unit count to be affordable housing, and that will be anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of the area median income,” Sturgeon Bay Partners co-founder John Gibbs told MiBiz. “I think we’ll have a good chance of achieving an even higher percentage than 10 percent as we work with (the Michigan State Housing Development Authority) and some other organizations.”
Gibbs said he also wants to allocate some space for affordably priced commercial leases. The building’s open floor plan could accommodate a makerspace, he added.
“We’re looking at having a healthy mix of some restaurants, and we’d love to have a grocery store that’s more affordable for the surrounding neighborhood. We’re going to seek that out in the coming months, and some retail and your typical coffee shops,” Gibbs said.
Sturgeon Bay Partners’ portfolio includes a mix of small and larger multifamily and mixed-use projects in Detroit. Gibbs co-founded the firm in 2017 and oversees acquisitions, dispositions and other investment activity. Gibbs previously was on the acquisition team of real estate development firm DDG Partners, where he focused on deals in New York City and San Francisco.
Reshaping, restoring the block
Planned tenant amenities include rooftop terraces, gyms and possibly some co-working space. Expected public amenities include a dog park and a central plaza that would feature events and food trucks.
The development team will also improve the surrounding streetscape to follow city guidelines to make it more walkable and pedestrian friendly, said Lynée Wells, founder president of Grand Rapids-based Aligned Planning, who is consulting on the project. Boston-based Touloukian Touloukian Inc. is the project architect while Grand Rapids-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP serves as legal adviser.
Site plans call for demolishing part of the Sligh building that was a later addition and has foundation issues. Wells said these portions aren’t character-defining and are separate from the historic components that will be preserved.
Developers plan to restore the historic, 19th century red brick building, bring it up to code and hopefully add it to the National Register of Historic Places, Wells said.
“The registration process and subsequent rehabilitation will be done to high standards that are sensitive to the building’s architectural character,” Wells said. “Today this building has no protections from demolition or alteration that could jeopardize its historic character.”
The development plan aligns with the city’s transitional city center zoning, officials have said. The site was also among several industrial parcels that were eyed for more mixed uses as part of the city’s 2002 master plan.
Several artist studios and stores currently operate in the building, including three large antique shops that have spoken out against the development.
Mark Miller, owner of Lost & Found: Treasures of Old & New Ltd., told MiBiz that he believes the city has underestimated the value and economic effect his business has on the community. Lost & Found has been operating in the Sligh building for the past 12 years, specializing in selling mid-century modern furniture across 50,000 square feet of the building.
“We want to keep doing business here, and we think turning this into a giant apartment complex is not the right move for our community,” Miller said. “I would hate to see what would happen to the neighborhood. I think it will end up destroying families in the long run.”
The current building owner hasn’t been renewing leases and has moved people out in anticipation of selling the building, Miller said.
“We’re going to explore whatever legal avenues are available to us,” he said.
Miller said he is open to moving his shop if necessary, but for now he is focused on finding a way to stay in the Sligh building. Miller said he has six employees and rents out 50 spaces in his shop.
Property records show CGFH 446 Grandville LLC bought the property — which includes 10 buildings totaling nearly 590,000 square feet on 5.1 acres — in November 2017 for $7.2 million. The company is registered to John Breza, a West Bloomfield-based real estate manager and developer.
Working with tenants
The Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved the development on April 22, voting to allow specific building heights in some areas that strayed slightly from zoning requirements. The property otherwise meets zoning regulations and won’t require further approval from the Planning or City commissions.
Despite the city’s findings, Lost & Found, Warehouse One Antiques and Century Antiques are collecting petition signatures from the community opposing the development. Miller said the building tenants weren’t notified about the April 22 meeting, or when the property was previously rezoned in 2008 to transitional city center. During the April 22 planning meeting, Grand Rapids City Planning Director Kristin Turkelson rebuked these claims and said notices were sent out according to legal requirements.
“There has been a lot of chatter about the development with some of the tenants,” Gibbs said. “We don’t own the building yet, we’re planning to close in a couple of weeks. We haven’t met with the tenants as of now.”
The developers plan to meet with existing tenants to discuss options once the building is purchased, restored and brought up to code, Gibbs said, though it could be difficult retaining all three antique stores based on how much space they collectively occupy.
“None of the tenants have reached out to me, but we are planning to meet with them,” Gibbs said. “We want to make sure we meet with the tenants, listen to their needs and hopefully get a good majority of them back in the building once the work is finished.”