Developer plans 526 apartments at massive Grand Rapids factory redevelopment
Originally published in Crain’s Grand Rapids Business
By Kate Carlson
GRAND RAPIDS — The Creston neighborhood’s momentum is poised for a major boost with a developer’s plan to replace a massive vacant industrial building with more than 500 housing units and succeed where previous proposals have failed.
Franklin Partners LLC unveiled plans on Wednesday night to demolish the long-vacant former Display Pack Inc. building and build a mixed-use development with 526 apartment units, making it one of the largest housing proposals in Grand Rapids in recent years.
The 307,000-square-foot structure is located between Creston’s business district and the Grand River on the city’s north side.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based commercial real estate investor plans to build two separate, four-story structures on the north and south end of the site at 1340 Monroe Ave. NW. Plans also call for a 627-space parking deck in the middle of the property between the two apartment buildings.
Don Shoemaker, principal at Franklin Partners, and Tom Tooley, executive vice president at Grand Rapids-based architecture firm Ghafari Associates LLC, presented the development plan on Wednesday night at a Creston Neighborhood Association meeting.
“We think this is a great opportunity to turn an empty lot into a vibrant community that’s going to add residents to the Creston Neighborhood and help support the businesses there,” Shoemaker said.
Franklin Partners — which acquired the Display Pack building nearly a decade ago and owns multiple properties in and around Grand Rapids — specializes in repurposing large, vacant buildings for new users. However, the project cost would have been 50% higher to repurpose the vacant industrial building compared to demolishing it, Shoemaker said. “With pain,” the team decided to demolish the structure for the project, he said.
The apartments would include studio, one- and two-bedroom market-rate units. The plan also calls for open-air courtyards between both apartment complexes that would contain a shared patio space with a pool, hot tub, sports area, fire pits and grills. The apartment structures would also include shared spaces for residents, including a fitness area and shared workspace.
Franklin Partners plans to own the development “long term,” but the company would hire a third-party firm to manage the project once it’s constructed, Shoemaker said.
The roughly $80 million first phase of construction is set to finish in 2025, and includes the demolition of the former Display Pack building and the construction of the apartment complex on the north end of the site, and two-thirds of the parking deck. Developers also will clear the rest of the south end of the site while construction occurs on the north end of the property, Shoemaker said.
As well, about 1,800 square feet of ground floor retail would be included in the first apartment complex. Developers plan to add ground floor retail to the south-end complex in phase two if they see the demand for it, Shoemaker said.
The second phase of the project would include the second 263-unit apartment structure on the south end of the site.
Franklin Partners acquired the sprawling industrial property, which includes the 104-year-old loft-style building, in 2015 for $7 million.
Franklin Partners previously courted several developers that all resulted in unsuccessful projects. A development partnership between Third Coast Development LLC and PK Companies LLC pursued a more than $20 million project on the site in 2019 for a 310-unit affordable housing project, but the plans never came to fruition.
The latest proposal means Franklin Partners is taking the 7.5-acre redevelopment into its own hands.
“This property has been vacant for a long time,” Jono Klooster, assistant economic development director at the city of Grand Rapids, said during Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting. “There have been proposals that are not financeable and were not competitive for Low Income Housing Tax Credit financing, so until someone comes in and is willing to make the investment like this, this property is going to continue to be vacant.”
Even though the apartments would all be market-rate, Franklin Partners’ project would still make progress toward adding more housing stock in the city, Klooster added.
“The opportunity to add another 500 units of housing is incredibly important,” Klooster said. “If we don’t meet the housing demand across the spectrum, we’re just going to continue to pressure people at the lower income level, so this type of project is really necessary.”
Franklin Partners’ project is allowed by right and would not require city planning commission approval, though the developers are applying for brownfield incentives for a portion of the property. Ghafari Associates is the architect of the project and Wolverine Building Group will serve as the general contractor.
Franklin Partners purchased the property in 2015 from Display Pack, a company that manufactures consumer packaging and trim for the automotive industry. At the time, Franklin Partners expected the site would attract developers planning office or residential projects.
The original factory building on the site was built in 1919 by the Grand Rapids Show Case Co., which constructed display cabinets, according to reporting from the Grand Rapids Press. The factory site changed hands several times over the years before Display Pack purchased the property in the late 1970s and eventually sold it to Franklin Partners. Display Pack moved from Grand Rapids when it acquired a former Wolverine World Wide Inc. distribution facility in Cedar Springs to reportedly accommodate its growth at the time.
Meanwhile, Franklin Partners’ project is poised to turbocharge recent momentum in the Creston neighborhood. The Display Pack site is located near two multifamily projects underway in the neighborhood: the 72-unit Hillcrest Apartments at 220 Quimby St. NE, and the 110-unit Lofts on Grove project along Plainfield Avenue near the Grove Street intersection.
Combined, the three projects call for adding 708 housing units in the north side neighborhood in the coming years.