Warner Norcross continues commitment to downtown with new building underway



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It was cause for celebration Tuesday when ground broke on the buildings that will replace the parking lot at 150 Ottawa Ave. N.W. and house new offices of the Warner Norcross & Judd law firm.

The overriding reason to celebrate is the impressive process of collaboration and cooperation that resulted in another win for downtown Grand Rapids.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this project as the anchor tenant along with our good friends at Chemical Bank,” said Warner Norcross Managing Partner Doug Dozeman at the groundbreaking ceremony. “We’ve been around for 86 years, and for all of that we’ve been right here in downtown.

“We started at the Trust Building right across the street in 1931, and  in fact we don’t like moving around much, so we were there for 35 years and grew from three attorneys to 20.”

The firm then moved to its current location (and stayed for 51 years) at the Fifth Third, formerly Old Kent, Bank Building, as it expanded to over 200 attorneys, now housed in eight offices across the state.

“Even though we’ve expanded Grand Rapids has always been home to us,” Dozeman continued. “We love this community... The public and private sectors really do cooperate here to make things happen.”

Orion Construction pulled together the partnership to make the $72 million project happen.

“This groundbreaking event is the culmination of years of collaboration between the landowner, our tenants, lenders, investor partners, the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the city of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the entire Orion team,” said Orion Real Estate Solutions President John Wheeler . “In two years the city will have a landmark block of offices, restaurants, hotel, parking structure and support services that will employ hundreds of people in the urban core.”

Indeed, City Commissioner Ruth Kelly (second from left in the same photo), speaking on behalf of Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, expressed the city’s delight with the project.

“Not only will it retain a key capstone tenant [Warner Norcross],”she said, “but it will also, for those of you who love numbers... retain 260 jobs and attract 200 plus more.”

Commissioner Kelly added that Deputy City Manager Eric Delong had determined that the project will utilize approximately $9 million of brownfield reimbursements and $4.4 million of Downtown Development Authority reimbursements in addition to the over $60 million of private investments.

Chemical Bank’s Joe Rahn said he was proud that his firm was not only expanding sufficiently to warrant locating in the new space, but also was instrumental in financing it.

“We’re really thrilled with this,” he said at the ceremony. “The chance to turn rent income into interest income is always a win for us,” he joked.

One of the two buildings on the site, which is now an Ellis parking lot, will house Hyatt Place Grand Rapids Downtown with a large ground-floor restaurant, 160 rooms and suites, and a variety of other services for guests.

The  second, now called The Warner Building, will be 15 stories tall and 291,549 square feet, and accommodate Warner Norcross and Chemical Bank’s West Michigan main office as well as ground-floor retail.

Tenants and hotel guests will both use the seven-story parking deck.

Mike Ellis, whose father had development in mind when he purchased the future parking in 1968, said at the groundbreaking ceremony that after a bit of difficulty in the 1970s when “downtown was a lot quieter than it is today,” the lot had become one of the most profitable in the state.

“In 2001 we attempted to build an office building,” he said. “It didn’t work out, but fast forward and Warner identified this site as its number one choice for new offices. John Wheeler went to town and established... a dream team of strong private investors, great public partners both local and state, Concept Design Group, Orion Construction and a really strong tenant mix. So, as I look out at my mom and sister Kathy and a lot of the Ellis staff..., the whole family knows that my dad would be so, so happy that his vision from 1968 is becoming a reality today.”

John Wheeler’s son Ryan emceed the groundbreaking ceremony, which featured a computer-generated but accurate video of what the properties will look like.