Friday, August 11, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS, Part III: Condos With a View of Jerry Ford’s Grave

For my introduction on my Grand Rapids series, click here.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- I’m not certain how strong the Grand Rapids real estate market is, but all I know is that it’s a buyers market. From historic homes to condos, there’s something here that should please you. And yes, even prime views of the downtown skyline including the gravesite of former President Gerald R. Ford could be yours.

I seem to remember that during an interview with Larry King around the time of the Reagan funeral, the now 93-year-old Ford said that he and wife Betty would be buried on the grounds of his presidential museum, which lies just to the right of the parking lot across the street from the construction site seen in the photo below. Bridgewater Place, built in the 1990s, was originally designed with two towers in mind. Now, construction has started on the second part of the riverfront complex called River House and it’ll be condos … with unit layouts with local names like Pere Marquette, Manistee, Rouge and Grand.

They’ll offer great views of downtown, but boast the best vista of the eventual resting place of the 38th president. Let’s see if that makes it into the marketing materials, which currently trumpet the slogan: “Make River House your home and join the privileged few to own the view” …

Depending on which real estate resource you look at, River House units will start somewhere between $185,000 and $215,000. But if you’re looking for that downtown lifestyle, there are plenty of condos either ready for move-in or will be delivered in the coming year or two.

There’s Icon on Bond, a proposed 20-story condo that’s currently under construction as 400 units in a nine-story residential building. Since it’s in a “Renaissance Zone,” it’s “Tax-Free Living” in a building that looks like could be built somewhere in the heart of Arlington. Icon is being brought to Grand Rapids by the local father-son development team of Moch International LLC. Coming from Washington, where developers are cooling to or backing away from Icon on Bond-like buildings, it makes me somewhat uncomfortable that Grand Rapids is proceeding with such new construction when the state’s economic base is so destabilized.

Grand Rapids has been all a buzz about the massive "River Grand" development (or as some still call it, the “Mystery Development”) south of downtown, a mixed-used retail/residential/entertainment complex that’s supposed to generate 10,000 new jobs. But if all those service sector jobs are purely to serve the big box or anchor entertainment at the site, then the vast majority of those workers aren't going to be itching to buy downtown condos, they're more likely to be renting apartments in Walker or Grandville.

Granted, I haven’t poured through labor statistics, it’s all just a gut feeling. And an acquaintance of mine who analyzes real estate and economic development has been somewhat wary of the overall benefit and success of the “Mystery Development” but we'll see how it all shakes out. The site proposed ... within walking distance of downtown and the redeveloped Heartside district all with great freeway access ... is a golden opportunity for something. Whether it's a House of Blues, as was one rumor I heard (there are countless others), who knows ... It does seem rather suspicious that secretive developer Duane Faust has taken such a keen interest in Grand Rapids of all places and went to great lengths to mask his involvement in the Mystery Development.

What about what’s in town that doesn't require new construction? Want a one-bedroom condo in a renovated furniture factory for under $100,000? There are plenty of old furniture and other factories that have been renovated. In D.C., you have to have P.N. Hoffman come in and build a brand new fake warehouse to give salivating buyers that “urban” experience, a la Adams Station … buyers who will pay $600,000 and up and up for the privilege. Here, there’s plenty of building stock ready for conversion.

In all of this, it’s good to remember that Grand Rapids is a totally different market and the city has been pretty wise over the past decade in what and where it allows development to go in. Considering that many other cities that have gone through speculative real estate frenzies recently are in for some sobering years ahead … (Las Vegas and Miami come immediately to mind) … Grand Rapids may be in fine shape. Yet in Grand Rapids, all the signs for “$0 down” I’ve been seeing seems to signal that many sellers are desperate for buyers.

But after living on the East Coast amid high rent and property values that are generally out of reach of young professionals, the cheap, cheap rent, cheap real estate and the low cost of living in Grand Rapids are assets that are very enticing. Of course, Grand Rapids would need a few additional assets to draw me back. Like I’ve said, every time I come back, there is more and more to like, but yet …

Earlier in this series ...
Part I: Two Blocks South of Wealthy, Me … A Targeted Crime Victim
Part II: In My Weekend of Death, the Latvians Celebrate Their Dead

The rest of the series, to be posted in coming days ...
Part IV: Unhealthy Eating: A Guide to G.R.’s Best of the Worst
Part V: Cheap Ballpark Beer, Sandy Dunes and a Reeds Lake Trek
Part VI: Junk Drawer: A Grand Rapids Sampler


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