Thornapple Excavating Prepares Unique Townhouse Site in Grand Rapids
A Boost for Grand Rapids: Thornapple Excavating Converts Former Church Site into Major Housing Development
Michigan Meadows has broken ground in the Michigan Oaks neighborhood in Grand Rapids, with Thornapple Excavating preparing the site for multi-family units.
“This is a big project for the city of Grand Rapids,” says Josh Rich, president and owner of Thornapple Excavating in Grand Rapids. “We do not see a lot of projects of this size within the city limits.”
Thornapple Excavating began preparing the 19-acre former church site for construction by Orion Construction of Grand Rapids in early April. The $19 million development will feature 87 market-rate townhomes for lease.
The Grand Rapids developers Orion Real Estate Solutions and PURE Real Estate Management have planned units ranging from about 1,200 square feet to 2,100 square feet. The townhomes feature high-end finishes, basements and garages in nearly two-dozen, two-story, three- and four-unit buildings with 143 parking spaces. Orion might convert the two- and three-bedroom units to condominiums in the future. Ghafari Associates of Dearborn, Michigan, designed the project. Nederveld of Grand Rapids designed the civil plans.
Orion Real Estate Solutions purchased the Wealthy Park Baptist Church property this year for $1.2 million. The church had owned the parcel since 1982. The developer received $2 million in brownfield tax increment financing incentives related to asbestos abatement and preparation of the site.
“This was probably the biggest parcel of land in the city of Grand Rapids that was available to build on,” Rich says. “The site had lots of complications, including buried peat, unsuitable soils and wetlands. It’s not a straightforward earthwork project.”
The peat existed more than 20 feet below the surface, creating challenges for Thornapple Excavating. Crews had to remove the peat and add structural material back in to build the roads and building pads.
“For the most part we are done with that peat earthwork,” says Zach Pieri, Special Project Manager for Thornapple Excavating. “The peat is too organic, and you cannot structurally build on it. We had to remove and replace it with structural fill and sand.”
Pieri discussed how excavating contractors are typically first on the site and one of the last to leave.
“This is one of our bigger jobs,” Pieri says. “Watching a big project like this take shape and go from an open field to a large development is cool.”
First-Class Service Requires a First-Class Fleet
Having the right equipment makes excavating and earth work easier. Thornapple Excavating maintains that to provide first-class service it must operate a first-class fleet. The company’s service team, which includes a mobile service unit and Caterpillar-certified mechanics, maintains the diggers and can address mechanical issues in the field.
Thornapple Excavating operates a fleet of Caterpillar equipment: nine excavators, 10 loaders, eight bulldozers, trucks, and assorted other machinery.
“We pride ourselves on our fleet,” Rich says. “This company was built on a Caterpillar fleet.”
Rich believes that Caterpillar equipment will out produce any other machine and has for the last century. The stronger-built equipment leads to greater production ability and less downtime.
“With Caterpillar, you pay a little more on the front end, but it’s no different than anything else you buy these days,” Rich says. “You get what you pay for. We find our Caterpillar equipment can outlast and outperform other equipment. It can take the abuse. We can keep our equipment for 20 years.”
All of the company’s bulldozers and two excavators are equipped with GPS technology to improve accuracy and productivity.
“We want to stay at the forefront of technology,” Rich adds. “It makes us more efficient to have that front-end technology.”
Thornapple purchased the Caterpillar equipment from Michigan CAT of Grand Rapids. It has taken advantage of the Caterpillar rent-to-own programs over the years, Pieri says.
“We’ve had a long relationship with Erv Gambee and Rick Kerber,” Rich says. “We have known those guys for years and done most of our business with Michigan CAT.”
Together Gambee and Kerber have more than 70 years experience in the equipment field. Michigan CAT began its existence as Michigan Tractor and Machinery Co in 1944, when Jerrold A. (Jack) Frost Sr. saw an opportunity. Since that time, it has sold, serviced, and rented construction equipment and paving machinery.
Frost served as chief executive officer until 1971. At that time, his son in law, Mark Jung, became president. Mark’s son, Jerrold M. Jung, was elected president in 1988 and retained that position until 2011, when MacAllister Machinery Co., purchased Michigan CAT. MacAllister Machinery is a CAT equipment dealer in Indiana.
MacAllister selected Thornapple Excavating to work on the expansion of its rental facility in Grand Rapids.
Michigan CAT operates sales and service locations in Brownstown Township, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Kalkaska, Lansing, Saginaw, and Shelby Township. The company also handles a line of compact construction equipment, such as scissor lifts, work platforms and mini excavators.
A Respected Contractor
Founded in 1974 by Jack Hulst, Thornapple Excavating has grown from a firm with two employees and a bulldozer doing some residential grading to become a well-known and respected excavating contractor.
“Jack Hulst always had Caterpillar as well,” Pieri recalls. “Rich has stuck with it, and our guys are proud of that. Caterpillar you can trust to be there, and it will out dig and out push any other equipment.”
The company has moved into larger commercial and multi-family projects in the last 15 years, now employing about 35 people. Thornapple Excavating will accept projects within an hour drive of its Grand Rapids shop and works with multiple general contractors. The company also offers budgeting, value engineering and other preconstruction services.
Rich was a long-term employee before purchasing the company. He continues to lead Thornapple Excavating with a strong work ethic and attention to detail.
“We have gotten to a point with our personnel and sales, that we are comfortable,” Rich says. “We plan to continue in the commercial market but will stray if the need is there. We will keep up with the technology. Guys are proud to be at Thornapple Excavating. Hopefully, west Michigan can support that for years to come.”