GRAND RAPIDS — Developers of a proposed retail incubator for downtown Grand Rapids hope to break down current barriers to retail expansion in the city’s core.
Rockford Construction Company Inc.’s plans for space in the Peck Building at the corner of Monroe Center and Division Avenue call for turning the vacant space into a vibrant retail environment ideal for startup businesses or established companies that want to give downtown retailing a try.
Rockford Construction Company, COO at Rockford Construction, said the company has owned the space for a few years. It most recently served as a hub for TEDx Grand Rapids, had been home to Site:Lab, and housed ArtPrize events, but the company didn’t find any permanent tenant in the time it owned the building.
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“What we’ve recognized is the need to take the bull by the horns and create something rather than wait for a tenant to show up,” Hassberger told MiBiz.
Hassberger said the vision for the street-level space, known as MoDiv, short for Shoppes at Monroe and Division, is to create a retail incubator with varying options for sizes and length of lease to attempt to lure tenants to the critical corner in the downtown market.
“We want to address some of the objections retailers might have. There will be no long-term leases. Tenants will not have to take a ton of space. We want to take away their objections so they’ll give it a try,” he said.
MoDiv will take up about 8,500 square feet of the Peck Building. The space currently has three entrances, and the plan is to create a physical connection between all of the internal retail spaces. The company envisions up to 12 retailers each occupying various chunks of MoDiv.
The rest of the street-level space in the Peck Building is partly occupied by two retailers, Gina’s Boutique and Lia Rose.
For the incubator, Rockford hopes to see a mix of established and startup retailers. Hassberger said the site would be perfect for a suburban retailer to try their hand at the downtown market without a huge overhead. Similarly, it might also be perfect for “pop-up” stores that might be timed around various festivals or other events.
The space also has enough room for events — perhaps a wine tasting — and it will retain its existing kitchen. Although the developers don’t think a restaurant is in the cards for the space, they said the kitchen could be useful for a catering business or for hosting events.
Developers expect the entry at the corner of Monroe and Division could be attractive for an anchor tenant, and other smaller retailers could use the space inside.
To develop the concept, Rockford enlisted Seyferth PR, which is also a tenant on an upper floor of the Peck Building, to investigate a possible use for the street-level space. Hassberger said that Seyferth came up with a retail incubator, a concept that had been tried and proven in Ann Arbor, Minneapolis and other locations.
Rockford tapped Visbeen Associates Inc. to do some conceptual designs of the retailer locations. Construction on the project should start some time in June.
“This is a pivotal point, a cultural spot,” he said. “MoDiv is the right thing to do for the space and the city. If we can establish enough retail space downtown, we can create a retail destination, something the concierges can send people to.”
One key to the project was receiving a $75,000 storefront renovation grant from the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority to improve the façade along Division Avenue, which is currently a 100-foot, solid, uninviting brick wall, Hassberger said. The current plan calls for adding windows and other elements to break up the view of the wall and help bring more people toward the building and then on to other retail shops and restaurants along Monroe Center.
Improving the façade will become even more important in creating an inviting space once the portion of Division Avenue the space fronts will shrink from five to three lanes and parking spaces and a bike lane are added, he said.
The company decided not to participate in the DDA’s new incubator district program, designed to encourage retail ventures and support community entrepreneurs.
Rockford has a history of trying new ideas like this proposed retail incubator. The company also created MoBevy, an open office space in the Peck Building that allows various small companies to move in and use only the space and services they need. It was also behind the GRid70, a downtown design hub for several West Michigan companies, including Meijer, Amway, Steelcase,Wolverine World Wide, Pennant Health Alliance and others.
“MoBevy has done pretty well, and we hope these two will feed off each other,” Hassberger said. “It’s the same idea — you just have to do something (to address the) demand for smaller, flexible space.”