Rapid Blog: Ray Kisor on the past, present, and future of real estate in Grand Rapids

Ray Kisor, Principal Partner with PURE Real Estate Brokerage, is a seasoned real estate veteran with more than 48 years of commercial experience. Through a devote commitment to his clients, Ray has amassed more than $250 million in transaction volume in West Michigan. A graduate from Ohio State University, Ray has always been an active community supporter, chairing numerous professional and non-profit organizations. This essay is his own and does not reflect the views of Rapid Growth Media or its parent company, Issue Media Group.
How did Grand Rapids reach this stage of rapid construction and real estate development? Ray Kisor, Principal Partner with PURE Real Estate Brokerage, discusses the recent history of GR real estate in this Rapid Blog.
When most of us look at Grand Rapids today we see it for what it is — a thriving city full of opportunity. But how did we get here? Was it luck, or do we owe it to a coordinated vision of generations of leaders, philanthropists, investors, and risk takers? Maybe it was a little of both.

Throughout my career, I remember many iterations of Grand Rapids and I can recall a few key moments and initiatives that charted the course for where we are today (and some that could have sunk us).

Decades ago, I felt we were in a bit of a stalemate in our city. We had building inventory. We had great infrastructure. We had the river. What did we need to GROW? What was that “next big thing” that would attract talent and investment? Conversations evolved and from a shared vision and commitments to the city, a plan emerged.

Government buildings were relocated to a defined area. This helped to create a framework for developers to play within. At the same time, neighborhoods were identifying buildings with character that needed to be repurposed. People started talking about their neighborhoods and taking ownership of their future.

During this time, there was a proposal for the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum to be located on the footprint of what is now Frederik Meijer Gardens (how different would our city look then?). Thankfully, their development committee decided that locating on the Grand River was the right thing to do. This gave shape and dimension to our riverfront. Not only that, it made way for designated green space and suddenly we had “place” for people to gather for waterfront experiences.

Now we had focus areas. We had engaged neighborhoods represented by neighborhood associations. Business associations were forming and protecting small business interests. We were activating our riverfront. The City Planning Commission saw their way through rezoning. This turned attention west of the river, south of Fulton, north of Michigan, and into the east, and Grand Rapids was flourishing. My excitement as a real-estate professional grew, and my passion for Grand Rapids deepened. I was “all in.”

Once the faucet was open, opportunity flowed. Many of our most beautiful buildings and under-utilized areas were revitalized. Large projects like the Berkey & Gay Furniture restoration on North Monroe, River View Center, and the former Klingman’s building (82 Ionia) converted outdated manufacturing and retail space into office and residential space. This attracted a variety of companies to our city and demonstrated the value of our current inventory.

Throughout the last 20 years, the risk takers, visionaries, philanthropists, and dreamers managed to create a cultural environment with apartments, hotels, entertainment, sporting events, and world-class venues that attract employers, provide value to our artist communities, and give us all something to enjoy and celebrate.

We had focused on specific sectors, provided inventory within the appropriate areas, stabilized that market, analyzed the outcomes, and moved on to the next market segment. This became a process that delivered office, residential, entertainment, and hotel/convention resources to our city throughout a solid 40-plus year span.

Fast forward to today. Grand Rapids is absolutely booming. Tower cranes, road closures due to construction, urban core construction, a calendar full of community events, the planned riverfront restoration, and carefully planned neighborhood developments remind us of that. We’re often recognized as the “best of …” in everything from the national housing market to entertainment studies.

Some variables have remained constant and others have changed. Technology functions within the real estate industry much differently than it did years ago. Systems are more refined. Inventory is easier to locate. But I still feel there is nothing more important than a genuine relationship. I’ve been in real estate a long time and I believe success boils down to integrity, knowledge, collaboration, innovation, and accountability.

And here I am, still loving every minute of this wonderful business and still trying to reinvent. We have evolved our strategies, services, and connection to make things easier for our clients and the inventory more accessible to the end user. PURE Real Estate Brokerage is a testament to our commitment. We are blending the tools and technology of today with the values, ethics, and lessons of the past to evolve the vision for what Grand Rapids will look like in years to come.

What stories will be told of this time in our history? Are we doing our part to connect our neighborhoods to our urban core? Are we doing our part to create a sustainable future for business, residential, cultural arts, medical research, and higher education? I believe so.

This is just a snapshot of what has transpired during my career and I’ve realized how fortunate we are to be part of this growth story. If I could give a piece of advice to the next generation it would be; savor these moments. Work hard, coordinate your hard work with the efforts of your community, do your best to serve responsibly, and be active in your community. You are literally shaping Grand Rapids by the moment.
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