Moving on up to the west side: Rockford Construction moves 100+ workers to new Grand Rapids HQ

Rockford Construction's co-founder Mike Van Gessel grew up on Grand Rapids' west side, so the idea to rehab a defunct paint and powder coating facility at 601 First St. NW into the company's headquarters seems a natural fit and promises to be the catalyst for more development on a side of town with an industrial history.

The $5 million renovation of the Miller Products Paint factory brings 100-plus workers to the west side, all potential customers of area restaurants, pubs, shopping, and residential. Employees relocated in July, but Rockford Construction officially cut the ribbon Tuesday night with several city officials joining in.

The site cleanup included removing 1,375 tons of contaminated soil, painting equipment, and other hazardous waste, says Jennifer Boezwinkle, VP of business development to make the 75,000-square-foot structure habitable. But that was just the beginning.

Rockford reclaimed Grand Rapids' ash trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer, stained the wood to stunning mahogany and walnut colors, and clad the lobby walls and stairways with it to add warmth and richness to the open industrial design. Natural light floods the work areas through clear windows, opaque glass walls, and skylights. Room sensors dim or brighten the overhead lights, as needed.

Employees can work outside in the central courtyard with its mural of west side icons by ArtPrize artist George Eberhardt, on the rooftop deck, in the cozy break area that's set up like a coffee shop, or in a colorful gathering space with couches and wireless electronics-charging technology built into the work surface.

Rockford has applied for LEED Platinum, the highest level of LEED certification.

Other renovations include:

•    High-tech event space and training facility with seating capacity for 180 and adjacent caterer staging area.
•    Second- and third-level conference rooms with glass walls offering clear views of the city to the north, south, and east.
•    Innovative acoustics control.
•    Reverse osmosis drinking water system.
•    Roofing that combines light-colored membranes and a green roof to help prevent "heat island" effect.
•    Bikes employees can use to get to area restaurants or offsite meetings.

"We have been engaged with the urban (development) with Cherry Street Landing and our developments on Monroe Center," says Mike Van Gessel. "When we started Cherry Street Landing (Cherry and Commerce), Cooley Law wasn't there, the entertainment district wasn't there, so I see this as our next take on the gnarly, if you will -- the west side coming back to what it always was with industrial, residential, walkable with great retail, trees and grass."

Source: Mike Van Gessel, Jennifer Boezwinkle, Rockford Construction; Chris Knape, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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