Kendall College in Grand Rapids plans $29M expansion into Old Federal Building

Deborah Johnson Wood

Plans are far from complete, but officials at Kendall College of Art and Design say they're working to get approvals by summer's end for a $27.9 million reconfiguration of the Old Federal Building into a creative space where the college, the public and the arts intersect.

"Kendall is growing and like any flourishing college involved with the arts, creative space is so important," says John Willey, Ferris State University's vice president for university advancement and marketing. Kendall is Ferris State's creative arts and design college.

"For about seven years we've been thinking about how we could expand in a meaningful way," he says. "Because of the federal building's proximity to Kendall (17 Fountain St. NW) and to our other building at 25 Lyon, we're thinking it would help connect several pieces that we're trying to do with Kendall College in downtown Grand Rapids."

Preliminary plans include a studio for ceramics and sculpture, another for metal sculpture, classrooms and lecture spaces, and "significant public areas where the public can come in and engage art and be part of a vivacious creative enterprise," says Willey. Those public areas may include a restaurant or café.

"We hope to have a major space dedicated to sustainable design," Willey adds.

Ferris recently added a sustainable design degree to its list of course offerings. A component of the coursework takes place at Kendall, which Willey says will move the college's expertise in forward-thinking furniture design to the larger built environment.

"Higher education is one of our core anchors of downtown and having creative young people occupying that building is a great extension on Kendall's and Ferris' presence here," says Jay Fowler, executive director of Grand Rapids' Downtown Development Authority.

The federal government transferred ownership of the building to the city of Grand Rapids when the Grand Rapids Art Museum planned to move into the space in the early '80s, says Fowler. GRAM relocated to 101 Monroe Center in 2007, leaving the building vacant,

Kendall is jumping some complicated financial hurdles to purchase the building. However, because of the building's historical significance, the federal government will have the final say on changes to the structure.

Source: John Willey, Ferris State University; Jay Fowler, Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at [email protected] Development News tips can be sent to [email protected]