Monroe North hospitality businesses anticipate boost from Spectrum Health development

Monroe North hospitality businesses anticipate boost from Spectrum Health development

GRAND RAPIDS — Business owners in the Monroe North neighborhood near downtown are anticipating an influx in activity when about 1,200 employees are expected to work from Spectrum Health’s planned eight-story office development.

Spectrum Health’s $60 million to $80 million Center for Transformation and Innovation (CTI) development is planned on a 4.8-acre site along North Monroe Avenue and Ottawa Avenue just east of the Grand River. The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2023.

Monroe North business owners and neighborhood advocates largely view the development as a positive opportunity that could spur additional developments in the area. Restaurant and bar owners, in particular, are hoping for increased staffing and sales following the economic hit they endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re still trying to work our way out of COVID,” said SpeakEZ Lounge Owner Eric Albertson. “Our sales are back at a pre-COVID level, but I’m at about a 60 percent staffing capacity. On Mondays, everything around here is all closed.”

The Spectrum development, which will consolidate hundreds of employees at the center, would particularly help SpeakEZ’s lunch crowd and open opportunities for more events like live music, Albertson said.

“The Spectrum thing is quite frankly a few years down the road in my mind, as there are so many other challenges right now, but it is still exciting,” Albertson said. “When I first started here, I felt like my business was a little bit of an island. I’d prefer to see growth instead of stagnation.”

When Jan Lehman moved into a Monroe North condo with her husband in 2001, Monroe Avenue was just a two-lane street, she said. Lehman, who is also the vice president of the Monroe North Business Association, remembers derelict furniture factories and other neglected buildings that used to line the neighborhood’s streets.

The area has seen “steady progress” with development over the last 20 years, which Lehman expects to continue with the Spectrum project.

“We look forward to having a lot of people in our neighborhood,” Lehman said. “Not everyone is going to agree with me on that, but that’s what my husband and I love. And it will be wonderful for the restaurant and service industries in our area.”

Monroe North Business Association President Diedre Deering also hopes the Spectrum project spurs additional housing developments such as condos or apartments.

“We have a number of restaurants and bars, and it would be nice to see some new retail come in, too, if they could build off the incoming staff,” Deering said. “This is the biggest development we’ve seen in at least the last 10 years. The neighborhood has experienced some tremendous growth.”

Garage Bar & Grill Owner Kevin Farhat expects the new office campus to boost sales both during construction and after the project. 

“It’s great exposure,” Farhat said. “The more options there are for people to come down to the Monroe North Business District, the more walkable it is and the better it is. The extra 800-1,200 jobs will make the daytime population explode with busier lunches, happy hours and dinners.”

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea Monroe North opened in July 2019 and managed to keep a loyal staff and hire on more people throughout the labor pinch, said Owner Michael Herblet. 

In the short term, Herblet stressed that the “missing piece” for the service industry right now is office workers returning downtown. 

“Key companies in West Michigan are investing in downtown,” Herblet said. “I see that as a positive thing. When we selected our location, we knew it was going to take some time for all the plans to get developed around us, but it’s why we chose that location.”

Next steps

Preliminary site work is ongoing at the Center for Transformation and Innovation, including the demolition of the former Gill Industries Inc. facility to make way for the eight-story office tower.

Foundation work for two parking decks and the CTI building will commence once demolition is completed. The parking decks will contain 420 spaces each, and a 100- to 150-space surface parking lot on Bond Avenue is also planned.

Spectrum Health is currently working with the city of Grand Rapids to secure brownfield redevelopment incentives for the project, said Grand Rapids Economic Development Director Jeremiah Gracia. 

Details about the project’s scope and eligible costs that could be abated by brownfield incentives will be in the company’s application, which will likely be presented to city officials in the coming months.

Spectrum Health has acquired several properties in the Monroe North business district for its CTI development over the past several years. Most recently, Spectrum bought Eastern Kille Distillery’s property for $3.75 million, more than 10 times the amount of the distillery’s initial property investment of $370,000 in November 2014.

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