Former Red Lion site to offer attainable housing

Hot diggety dog! Thanks to investment dollars from Michigan Community Capital and a $330,000 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) grant award to the City of Grand Rapids’ Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the former Red Lion restaurant site at 449 - 499 Bridge St. NW will become a red-hot housing destination for people earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.


When Ann Arbor-based real estate development firm, 3 Mission Partners, first considered the site, the plan was to do what the company usually does: historic preservation. On closer inspection, 3 Mission partners Liz Marek, Rob Eisman, Jon Carlson, and Greg Lobdell found that restoring the old building would be impossible.


“When we got in there, we realized the building was sitting on unstable soil. Its back corner had sunk 15 inches. So, there was not the opportunity to do a historic preservation,” he says. “Another thing happening—a zoning transition allowed us to build a taller building. When we looked at the neighborhood, with the new Meijer store and the New Holland Brewery apartments, it clearly appeared that the best use of the site was to do an infill project with retail on the ground floor and residential above.”


The MDEQ grant will help cover the demolition, transportation, and disposal of the contaminated soils. 3 Mission Partners plans on breaking ground for construction in July 2018. In addition to developing real estate, the company owns restaurants and breweries throughout the state.


“We have 1,100 employees throughout the state that work for our restaurants,” Lobdell says. “It’s impossible for our people that work at the restaurants to find housing. We understand that firsthand.”

In Michigan, the average salary for a server is $8.52 per hour, which is 13 percent below the national average. Line cooks come in at the national average at $11.67. Chefs average $13.23, 16 percent below the national average. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calculates the living wage in Michigan at $10.87 per hour for one adult. For a single parent raising two children, that amount jumps to $27.77.

Tenants in 55 percent of the new building’s 44 apartments will pay an “attainable” rent of $930 to $965 a month for studio and one-bedroom apartments.


“That number is amazing when you consider the costs. We had to acquire the property, then we had to do a lot of ground work and get a construction company to build it. We had to work really hard to get that 55 percent number.”


Designed by Grand Rapids' Concept Design - Grand Rapids Architecture & Interior Design, the five-story structure will feature a black brick façade for the MASH bar/lounge’s ground-floor retail space. Large windows will look out on a completely renovated streetscape that will include sidewalk seating area and new street trees. Upper floors sheathed in metal panels will sport balconies projecting from the building.


“The apartment interiors will have a very warm industrial-modern feel—wood floors, wood shelving, tile, stainless appliances,” Lobdell says. “There will be a small, shared green space for residents at the rear of the building.”


Michigan Community Capital, a nonprofit organization, lends and invests “in income diverse, race diverse, and occupationally diverse communities to counter gentrification and create upward mobility and wealth building opportunities for underserved individuals and families in Michigan.” The project is expected to create 20 full-time jobs and 35 part-time jobs with wages ranging from $15 to $30 per hour as well as 40 to 50 temporary construction jobs. An estimated $11.4 million in private investment will also fund the development.


Though based in Ann Arbor, Lobdell is excited about being involved in a Grand Rapids project that will result in attainable housing. “We spend a lot of time in Grand Rapids—we like Grand Rapids a lot,” Lobdell concludes. “We’re really excited about this growth of the West Side. It’s an up-and-coming, nice neighborhood. We met with neighborhood groups, got good comments and feedback. The city of Grand Rapids has been great to work with, very encouraging.”


Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Design and rendering courtesy of Ghafari // Concept Design