The redevelopment (some may say, gentrification) of Wealthy Street, from downtown Grand Rapids to Eastown, is practically complete. Originally anchored on the west by Wealthy Street Bakery and on the east, until it closed in 2012, by Sandman’s BBQ, the corridor’s development, which started in the early 2000s, now boasts a bounty of upscale eateries, bars, and retailers. Supporting these businesses’ success, an insurgence of customers has flocked to Wealthy Street, changing both its financial footprint and demographic.
For more than 15 years, the storefront building at 619 Wealthy Street SE remained vacant, a state that some of those patronizing the area might call an eyesore. In 2014, Jim McClurg, owner of Wealthy Street and Hall Street Bakeries, his wife Barb McClurg, and a silent partner bought it and announced plans for an extensive makeover that would include the addition of a 2,200 square-foot, second story apartments addition over the existing retail structure. However, they elected not to move the plan forward, which made the building available again.
In 2017, Eric Wynsma, owner of Terra Firma Development, bought the property for $525,000. For years, he had driven by the empty building every morning on his way in to his office. Despite the fact that his firm concentrated on much larger industrial and manufacturing spaces, the neglected, little building piqued his interest more and more.
“I remember going there when I was in high school to get beer. There was a little party store and a restaurant, the Sunshine Golden Grill, where you could get a catfish sandwich for three dollars,” he says. “I looked at their (McClurg’s') plans, but couldn’t really make sense out of it from a cost perspective. The prospect of adding another story onto the roof would have been quite expensive — and probably would place an unrealistic income expectation on the rooftop residential units that were proposed.”
With design input from Lott3Metz Architecture, Terra Firma’s development manager, Andy Molesta, oversaw the renovation. Because the space had always been local retail, Wynsma was determined to keep it that way. Tenants began moving in the last week of March.
“We closed on the building the end of October. The very next day, Andy Molesta was on site with his demolition team and just got after it. We did a complete, full-on renovation, full demolition of the interior, and basically started over–footings, foundation, windows, doors—to get everything code-worthy,” Wynsma says. “We made sure that we were designing the new storefronts to meet neighborhood approval and be consistent with the historical nature of the building.”
When fully occupied, 619 Wealthy will house four businesses. So far, the mix includes Fox Naturals, a skin care retailer; Wealthy Studios; and a florist, Jordan Fisher. One 800-square-foot space remains available.
“The tenant mix is really important. We didn’t want someone like a national cell phone chain. We didn’t think it would be appropriate to have neon, flashing lights,” Wynsma says. “Parking is also a consideration so we hand selected tenants with low impact, from that standpoint, that fit in with the small, local retail vibe that happens along that street.”
Terra Firma Development also has plans for renovating 650 Wealthy St. SE.
In retrospect, the development of the Wealthy Street corridor over the past 15 years has resulted in an astounding improvement in building stock and upgraded infrastructure that has made it a destination neighborhood. In a sense, 619 Wealthy is a capstone piece. The challenge remains, how can the City of Grand Rapids revisit this corridor from an equity perspective, making it a place where more minority-owned businesses can thrive and people of color living nearby feel welcome?
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Terra Firma Development