By Angela Klinske
Photography by Johnny Quirin
As new businesses,
upscale dining and world-class entertainment make
their marks on Grand Rapids, condominium developments
dot downtown like exclamation points — a
vibrant trend toward city living that has been
ongoing locally for more than a decade.
The demographics of
young professionals versus empty nesters and retirees
living downtown is now almost 50/50, according
to a 2004 Zimmerman/Volk Associates Inc. study
commissioned by the city of Grand Rapids. That
makes for a diverse mix from all walks of life,
including students, entrepreneurs, urban professionals,
artists and retired professionals.
The face of downtown has become
more than a place for work and play — it’s a place
to live. The first condo conversion in town was
the Forslund Building on Pearl Street almost
25 years ago, just a few years before Petula
Clark sang, “Things’ll be great when
you’re downtown/ No finer place for sure,
downtown/ Everything’s waiting for you — downtown.”
The first high rise was Eastbank Waterfront Towers,
now Plaza Towers, which opened in 1991 and placed
residents at the edge of the Grand River, with
spectacular views of the river and the city.
Major selling points to downtown
dwellers include close access to the expanding
incredible culinary experiences, and the opportunity
to live in a “vertical neighborhood,” according
to developer Sam Cummings, owner of Second Story
Bright lights, Grand city! Here’s
a peek inside the lives (and condos) of three couples
of different decades and one young single man
who have chosen downtown Grand Rapids as their
View of the city
In 2001, newlyweds Brice Bossardet and Rachael
Ruiz built a house in suburban Cascade that was
so big there were rooms they never used. Last
year they downsized to a 2,000-square-foot space
in City View Condominiums at 60 Monroe Center — a
space that Ruiz took deliberate steps to design
into a home that better fits their lifestyle.
The couple’s condo shows just how hip downtown
can be. Once the setting of D.A. Blodgett’s
office, this posh piece of prime real estate
located in the Select Bank Building (formerly
the People’s Building) has earned the reputation
as being the gathering place for their friends.
The 11-foot ceilings (and windows almost as tall)
create the lofty environment that attracts young
professionals. Impeccable views of the city’s
east, south and west sides, and a bird’s
eye view of Blues on the Mall is a tell-all that
Grand Rapids isn’t so small after all.
Bossardet and Ruiz enjoy being near
and vibe” unique to downtown.
It feels like you’re in the center of the
world,” said Ruiz.
Both Bossardet and Ruiz have fast-track
careers — Ruiz
as anchor and reporter for WOOD-TV8 since 1998,
and Bossardet as owner of Virgin Soil Development
LLC, a real estate development company. Their
home lends itself to their preference for casual
living in attractive surroundings. Herman Miller
furniture, a gift from Ruiz’s mother who
worked at the furniture company, complements
the one-of-a-kind accent pieces made by artist
friends, including a coffee table constructed
of reject steel with accompanying moveable stools
(made by friend Dan Carlson).
Aside from the master and guest
suites, the floor plan is wide open, with several
areas — no stuffy dining rooms or sitting
rooms. The open kitchen features granite countertops
and an island where meals are occasionally served — the
couple typically eats out four times per week.
Ruiz’s “high maintenance” plants — Bonsai
trees and orchids — take up residency on
the window sills.
The former entrance to D.A. Blodgett’s
office now serves as the entry to the master
suite, which includes a walk-in closet/dressing
room complete with stackable washer and dryer.
A Plaza for all seasons
Paul and Susan Bowers’ condo at the Plaza
Towers includes a 270-degree view of downtown
Grand Rapids and beyond, much of which Paul’s
former architectural firm, The WBDC Group, helped
design. The firm, now Beta Design Group Inc.,
wrote the city’s Master Plan in 1970.
The Plaza, built in 1991 and completely
renovated in 1996-1997 to replace its buckling
is the first building downtown constructed for
condominiums. Its sweeping views of the city
and beyond create a perfect backdrop for the
You get the same views as you get at Cygnus,” Bowers
Bowers purchased and gutted their 2,200-square-foot
condo in 1997 and redesigned it to take best
advantage of the panoramic view of southern Kent
County. Bowers said friends warned him and Susan
that they would miss out on the seasons by moving
from 12 acres in Ada to downtown.
We can see the whole area change,” he noted
as he looked out from his 30th-floor penthouse. “There’s
some of the hottest fishing spots in West Michigan
down here (walleye downriver and salmon at the
dam). We see the storms coming in. It’s
not like the sylvan places we’ve lived
When their family visits — they have eight
grown children and 28 grandchildren with another
on the way — they take advantage of the
museums, restaurants and events going on downtown,
many of which are accessible via the heated walkway.
And if there’s more family than sleeping
spaces? “We have 200 bedrooms downstairs,” said
Bowers of the Marriott Courtyard Hotel located
in the same building.
In the Front Row
Across the street from City View, at Front Row
Condominiums, reside Bob and Mary Kay Van Driel,
age 47 — and about to become empty nesters.
They moved downtown from Rockford last year,
and so far they see little downside to their
I sure don’t miss mowing the grass,” admitted
Bob Van Driel, who works in equipment sales for
Flexible Automation, which is based near Flint.
Their nightlife has improved, too. “In
Rockford, it was an event to figure out what
you wanted to do, which usually meant going to
a (chain) restaurant,” he said. Now they
enjoy just walking around — or opening
a window — to take in all the activity,
including their first downtown Christmas parade.
Bob actually grew up downtown. Mary
Kay grew up on the city’s West Side and remembers
taking the bus into the city for shopping at
Steketee’s department store and watching
bands perform at the Pantlind Hotel. The cityscape
has definitely changed since then, but they feel
right at home.
Their 1,400-square-foot “flow-through” condo
sports views of Monroe Center out the front and
Van Andel Arena out the back but also accommodates
their need for privacy and space. While four
of their children are grown and gone, the couple
still has two kids at home — Andrea, 18,
and Alex, 15.
Their two-story condo began as a “white
box” — basic construction had been
completed — when the Van Driels bought
it. With help from a professional designer, they
chose to maintain the exposed brick walls
and ductwork, original wide-oak trim around the
windows, and 14-foot ceilings. The modern kitchen
into an interior corner of the home, with granite countertops, cherry cabinets,
stainless steel appliances and an island. They added a brick gas fireplace with
built-in bookcases to the living area. Personal touches include a dining table
with matching chairs made by Bob, who once owned a furniture-making business,
and Mary Kay’s handmade floor cloths.
Upstairs, the condo has two bedrooms, for the couple and for Alex, who has his
own view of Van Andel Arena. Andrea has a room on the main floor.
The Van Driels report that they
eat out about twice a week, with McFadden’s
being among their favorites, while the kids prefer Jimmy John’s, the
sub shop right downstairs.
Since they were only living in a
few rooms of their Rockford house, Mary Kay Van
Driel was ready to return to a “walk-able community.” From
her Monroe Center address, she takes a 12-minute
walk to her job with Spectrum Health.
Andrea hoofs it to classes at Grand Rapids Community College.
State of the Union
One neighbor of Ruiz and Bossardet
at City View (though not for long) is Bradley
Veneklase, a 27-year-old sales professional.
about to move into
Union Square, where he is the sales contact for the 180 units due to open
this month in the former Union High School/West
Middle School building.
Veneklase agrees with Van Driel
about yard work. “I work a ton, so it’s
nice to come home and immediately enjoy my space,” he said.
Veneklase enjoys being able to walk out his front door for Blues on the Mall,
Rosa Parks Circle, bars and restaurants, DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena.
Many times on the weekend, my car never leaves the garage,” said Veneklase,
who reports he put a whopping 5,000 miles on his car last year. “It’s
a walk-and-go lifestyle.
I’ve lived downtown (in Heritage Hill) since I was 19. Now … I’m
really downtown.” GR