It's hard to believe that, at one time, the entire downtown area of Grand Rapids could be had for a mere ninety bucks. But that's what Louis Campau paid in 1831. Campau was a French businessman who came to Grand Rapids to trade clothing and household goods with the Odawa (Ottawa) Indians who lived along the west bank of the Grand River.
Six years after he purchased the land, Campau divided it and sold the lots for a profit. He invested that money in sixteen acres east of Division Street, and built the city's first tavern, a store, a house for his brother, and a house for himself. Then he set about improving a piece of land near the river with gardens and flowers.
When you look around Center City today, the area bounded by Michigan Street on the north, the Grand River on the west, Fulton on the south, and Division on the east, investors and developers are pretty much following the example set by Campau: buying and selling downtown properties, building some new structures, and improving others, all while trading goods and currency with the locals.
Destination: 24-hour Downtown
Residential developments, specifically the rehabbing of existing buildings into condominiums, seem to be popping up all over the city, but the trend began downtown nearly two decades ago with the conversion of the Forslund building into condos. Since then, City View Condominiums, 616Lofts, Front Row Condominiums, Plaza Towers and others have dangled the proverbial carrot in front of empty-nesters and young professionals, and many of them have made their move to downtown.
"I say this over and over again," said Rick Chapla, vice president of urban redevelopment for The Right Place, a non-profit economic development organization. "The redevelopment of downtown isn't because of any city official; it's because of the people who have chosen to be downtown and to live downtown. That's what's making the difference. Grand Rapids is becoming a premier location to live, work, and play."
The places being built are unique, vibrant, and safe, Chapla added. They are also trendy.
"It's the recognition that old buildings, and the reinvestment and reuse of those buildings, is what makes the space so special," Chapla said. "The same good feelings and vibrancy could not be created in the same way in a suburban location because the texture and fabric of the old buildings doesn't exist."
Construction is underway or planned for several condominium developments on the near peripheries of CenterCity. These developments are expected to fulfill some of the demand for urban housing from the predicted influx of medical and other professionals.
The Secret is Out
With the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the J.W. Marriott, people have more and more reason to come downtown.
Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
Directions to Center City
From the North:
Take US-131 South toward Grand Rapids and merge onto I-196 East via Exit 86A on the left toward Lansing. Take the Ottawa Ave exit, Exit 77C, toward Downtown. Turn slight right onto Ottawa Ave Nw. Arrive in Center City.
From the East:
Take I-96 West toward Grand Rapids and keep left to take I-196 West toward Downtown Grand Rapids/Holland. Take the Ottawa Ave exit, Exit 77C, toward Downtown. The ramp becomes Ottawa Ave Nw. Arrive in Center City.
From the South:
Take US-131 North toward Grand Rapids and take the I-131-BR exit, Exit 84B, toward Downtown. Turn right onto Oakes St. Sw and turn left onto Division Ave S/US-131 BR. Arrive in Center City.
From the West:
Take I-196 East toward Grand Rapids and take the Ottawa Ave exit, Exit 77C, toward Downtown. Turn slight right onto Ottawa Ave Nw. Arrive in Center City.
Take I-96 East toward Grand Rapids and merge onto US-131 South via Exit 31A toward Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo. Merge onto I-196 East via Exit 86A on the left toward Lansing. Take the Ottawa Ave exit, Exit 77C, toward Downtown. Turn slight right onto Ottawa Ave Nw. Arrive in Center City.