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Water Plant Redevelopment

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Old building gets new life

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

By Chris Knape

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- For decades, the old Grand Rapids water filtration plant cleansed the water that thousands of Grand Rapidians used each day.

Today, a Grand Rapids development firm is spending more than

$5 million to clean the plant, preparing the unique building on Monroe Avenue NW and its distinctive storage silos for a new life as upscale loft offices, six to 12 apartments and retail space.

They are calling it Clearwater Place.

For the father-son development team of Ed and Mike De Vries, the project continues a mission to restore and reuse old commercial buildings. Their De Vries Cos. already has overhauled a former train depot on Bridge Street for offices, and an old four-story riverfront office building into condominiums.

If Clearwater Place takes off, it would help inject life into an easily overlooked section of Monroe that includes a city equipment yard, water storage tank and the empty water plant.

So far, one commercial office user, whom De Vries declined to name, has signed on to occupy 17,000 square feet inside the 50,000-square-foot main building. That tenant should move into the building, at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW, near the end of summer, Mike De Vries said.

Landing a tenant for the project was a big win, considering stalled redevelopment plans for the building have been floated since it was mothballed in 1992.

Including the silos, Clearwater Place is expected to have up to 65,000 square feet of leasable space. Extensive landscaping and tenant parking is planned for the acreage surrounding the site.

Entrances are planned off Monroe, Taylor Avenue to the east and brick-paved Caledonia Street to the south.

Despite the water plant's exterior appearance, with its covered windows, peeling paint and decaying trim, Mike De Vries said it is as sound of a structure as they have restored.

"Structurally, this is the best building we've ever worked with," he said, pointing to the concrete and steel structural supports used to put up the facility between 1912 and 1923.

The only area needing major attention is the roof, where leaks and holes have sprung through the old clay tiles and skylights. The tiles, a key aesthetic feature in the building's Mediterranean Revival look, are being removed meticulously and reused as the roof is repaired.

New copper gutters will replace the original copper, which had deteriorated and been stripped away. More than 400 windows, including many original skylights, are being restored or replaced to retain the original look of the building.

"It's a very unique facility with aesthetics you can't get anywhere else," Ed De Vries said. "You just let the imagination run when you come in here."

The building has been hailed as one of Michigan's engineering marvels by Associated Underground Construction, a trade group for Michigan's heavy construction industry.

Designed by George Warren Fuller -- a pioneer in the field of water purification -- the facility was credited with dramatically reducing waterborne diseases in Grand Rapids and laying the groundwork for large water filtration operations around the country.

The unique design made redevelopment efforts difficult, said Susan Shannon, economic development director for the city.

"But it's a prime piece of property," Shannon said. "The building is gorgeous."

On the upper floors of the building's central tower, De Vries is planning loft-style apartments, some of which will have expansive, unobstructed views across Grand Rapids.

Tenants and residents of the facility will get the benefits of a Michigan Renaissance Zone until 2011. Renaissance Zone property owners and tenants pay virtually no state or local taxes.

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It should be a cool project. The buildings are really well designed, even the old water tanks are very cool. I would love to have an office in one of these circular buildings. Imagine the possibilities. :) I think project is nice and will put a good old building back into use, but I don't really see it as an "impact" development. I don't think it will change the neighborhood (which isn't bad anyway), bring more development to the area, etc. It's just a nice development.

Joe

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that's far out, physically I mean. what wonderful news. is plainfield ave next I wonder...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Plainfield corridor is in desperate need of an overhaul and there are plenty of nice spaces that occupy the southern end of that strip. It only takes a spark (um, I mean hammer). Let's hope someone steps up to the construction plate.

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Plainfield definitely needs a spark. It looks as though the Cheshire area just got a great shot in the arm with the new urban design of the retail/apartment complex next to Kingma's market. MUCH better than the McDonald's which was proposed several years ago. If you haven't driven that stretch lately, take a look. It's a really nice addition to the neighborhood.

Joe

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