GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the 1960s, building a big stone wall along Lyon Street in downtown Grand Rapids seemed like a good idea to city planners. Now, the plan is to rip it out and put in storefronts.

The wall stands along Lyon Street between Monroe and Ottawa Avenues in front of what used to be called the Old Kent Bank Building. It was built between 1966 and 1969 during a time when old, gothic-style buildings were making way for utilitarian, Soviet-style edifices widely praised as the height of modernity, a philosophy that grew as people fled the cities for the suburbs. 

Fifty years later, the city continues to recover from what was then called urban renewal. 

Sam Cummings is a managing partner with downtown’s largest commercial developer CWD Real Estate Investment, which has been primarily responsible for helping reverse some of those 1960s decisions. He said that while it is easy to be critical in hindsight, those choices did create spaces for things like the Festival of the Arts.

“This was a solution that actually made it viable given what was going on in the era,” Cummings told News 8 Monday.

He is spearheading a plan that would transform the former Old Kent Bank Building, which now houses Fifth Third Bank Branch. Step one: Get rid of that wall.

“It’s 18,000 square feet of storefronts along Lyon where that big granite wall is today,” Cummings said.

The Fifth Third Bank branch, which hired CWD to redevelop its Lyon Street side, would move from the west side of the property to the east.

“And then there will also be a grand staircase with a nice view corridor up to 111 Lyon, so 111 Lyon for the first time in its history will a proper pedestrian Lyon Street entrance,” Cummings said.

When is the wall coming down?

“Hopefully in the next few weeks… We’re going to have some granite,” Cumming said, adding that developers hope to recycle the stone.

The renovation of the complex includes two office buildings and an underground parking garage. 

One corner of the stretch will have a full-service restaurant to draw and excite out-of-towners, Cummings said. He said other eateries going in will be fast casual — not McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but what Cummings calls “good operators,” whether those are local or national — and there will be outdoor seating. It will be a daytime destination, unlike the Arena district restaurants that are more night-driven.

The block will also have new heated sidewalks.

“We want it to be generational because hopefully these things will still be around when we’re for the worms,” Cummings said. “It’s just cool to be involved in reshaping our community, it’s just pretty cool.”

Tim Kelly, CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said the plan will continue the renaissance of downtown and is a vote of confidence in the downtown economy.

“We’re kind of in an unprecedented cycle of downtown investment. We’re happy to see it continue and this is another project that signals the growth and value of downtown,” Kelly said.

It is likely to be a solid two years before any part of the project is complete.