December 8-14, 2005

Business Review Western Michigan


Thinking Bigger

By:  Mark Sanchez



            He originally thought the site would make a great place for the kind of strip mall he’s been building for years.


            Then, Kevin Einfeld started thinking bigger.


            Given the population growth in the area and the demographics, plus the heavy traffic volume along East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids Township, Einfeld tuned his attention toward developing a life style center – an open-air, neighborhood shopping mall with upscale retailers and designed to create the atmosphere and aesthetics of downtown.


            “We wanted to do something bigger and better,” said Einfeld, president and owner of BDR Inc. in Grand Rapids.  “It’s just an opportunity to really have a center that really appeals to the community.”


            BDR has partnered with Robert B. Aikens & Associates, Inc. in Troy to develop what for now is known as the Village at East Beltline and Three Mile Road in Grand Rapids Township.  Aikens & Associates developed a similar project in 2002 in Rochester Hills, north of Detroit, and is doing a larger center in Covington, LA.


            As planned, the Village consists of nearly 400,000 square feet of retail space for up to 50 storefronts, including a bookstore, a grocery store and a main anchor retailer.  Targeting northern and eastern Kent County, the center will sit along a heavily traveled corridor and within a market area that has an average household income of more than $71,000 and where strong population growth is expected to continue.


            In addition to the retail space, the Village would sport 68 adjacent townhomes and condominiums on the 60-acre site, which has room for an additional 50 units at a later date.


            Einfeld began seeking zoning approval for the project last month from Grand Rapids Township planners and hopes to begin construction next spring with the first stores opening in 2007.


            Two years in the planning, the Village represents a major undertaking for BDR, a 17-year old company that has focused primarily on developing residential projects and strip malls of about 20,000 square feet.  Einfeld also developed the Watermark Country Club in Cascade Township in the late 1990s.


            We’ve built and developed quite a bit of property but, this is definitely a step up,” Einfeld said.  “The reality is, this is a pretty big-time development.”


            Einfeld is unsure whether the Village will serve as a springboard to BDR developing other large lifestyle centers.


            Five years ago, it would have, Einfeld said.  Today, with lifestyle centers now the hot development across the nation, there is far more competition for national specialty retailers that opt to locate in them, he said.


            “It’s become a very competitive business and tenants that have to be in those centers have so many choices,” Einfeld said.


            Pre-leasing for the Village has a “good bunch” of potential tenants who have signed letters of intent or entered into lease negotiations.  Einfeld said.  He anticipates that lease negotiations and interest from prospective tenants will pick up after BDR and Aikens & Associates secure zoning approval.


            “We have a lot of people coming in and looking at the project and they like it,” he said.  “But they say they’re not going to commit until we can commit to them and to commit you need township approval.”


© 2006 Robert B. Aikens & Associates, LLC