Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Business magazine's Winter 2019 issue. For more stories from the magazine, click here to read GT Business in its entirety online.
TRAVERSE CITY — If you asked Ray Minervini what the redevelopment of the Traverse City State Hospital means to him, he’ll tear up and find it difficult to answer.
He’s spent the last 20 years dedicating his time, energy and vision redeveloping a massive project that was in desperate need of a strong imagination.
Minervini and his team were able to bring life back to old, neglected structures that now cater to residential, commercial and retail businesses in a complex called The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
Since redevelopment began in 2001, the Minervinis and others have invested nearly $120 million in the rebirth of the old psychiatric asylum.
Plans in the next five years are to repurpose three buildings into a boutique hotel and redevelop other buildings on the 63-acre campus into businesses and residential facilities.
As Minervini and his development team at The Minervini Group continue to lay out the next phases of construction for the site, the community continues to applaud the redevelopment efforts.
“I call it such a great appreciation and great perspective of preserving that great historic structure,” said Jean Derenzy, CEO of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.
Derenzy helped with the environmental cleanup prior to redeveloping the GT Commons site back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She worked hand in hand with the Minervinis and the city to get the project off the ground. Like many in northern Michigan, she praises Ray Minervini for his vision.
“Every time I see the structure and go over there, I’m like ‘wow.’ I love seeing so many people walking around the shops and walking upstairs to go home,” she said.
The main building is a 400,000-square-foot former psychiatric hospital and is the largest of the many buildings on the campus.
When Minervini stepped in to help the community save the old hospital, the facility was at risk of being demolished.
“They decided they were going to destroy this building,” Minervini said. “The group that was entrusted with the decision said there was no hope for the building.”
The structure follows the Thomas Story Kirkbride plan, and is one of nearly 45 across the United States that was built. Each structure was built with high ceilings and lots of windows to ensure patients received sunlight and an outstanding ventilation system.
Although the building was based on a the Kirkbride plan, it was designed by architect Gordon Lloyd and was constructed in an incredibly short amount of time. Crews broke ground in early 1883. The hospital welcomed its first patients in late 1885.
Today, several other Kirkbride hospitals still stand, though most are vacant and boarded up.
Minervini moved to the Traverse City area from Detroit in the early 1990s. He got involved with the state hospital project in the late 1990s. He toured the facility with a group of other developers, and, Minervini said, it was clear that the structure still had life in it and was in good enough condition for redevelopment.
He envisioned turning the property and its buildings into a mixed-use neighborhood that encompassed retail, restaurants, commercial and residential spaces.
“There are two lives of a building,” Minervini said. “You have the economic life and the structure life. The structure life is tied to the economics.”
That means it’s important to create economic viability around a structure in order for it to thrive, which is why Minervini proposed a mixed-use neighborhood model.
“My vision was it could be re-used for a mixture of uses. Ninety percent of the building was in great shape. There were multiple facilities like this all over the country and many had been demolished,” Minervini said.
Most recently in New Jersey, it cost $34 million to tear down a historic Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, also a Kirkbride-inspired design.
“It’s a shocking huge number just to destroy something,” said Raymond Minervini, Ray Minervini’s son, who works along side his father at The Minervini Group.
Those funds could’ve been used to help redevelop the 600,000-square-foot facility, he said.
“Sometimes, it’s just a lack of imagination. That’s why we were able to do this project,” Raymond Minervini said.
After Ray Minervini won the approval of Traverse City officials for his plans in 2001, he started redevelopment in phases, beginning with the south end of the old asylum.
Retail was developed on the garden level. Business offices occupy levels one and/or two in different parts of the building. Residential apartments and lofts were built on the third and fourth floors.
The high ceilings and windows allow for spacious well-lit rooms and corridors. Walking through the building, it’s easy to imagine how the main structure used to house patients.
The rooms that were turned into apartments and lofts are decorated with modern amenities, but the original architecture was preserved and gives the spaces a European architectural feel.
The first restaurant developed on site was Trattoria Stella, which attracts patrons from across northern Michigan. It was a huge part of the planning process, Raymond Minervini said, noting that the presence of a successful restaurant brought guests to the campus repeatedly, giving them a front-row seat to the transformation.
Several other restaurants and retail exist throughout the campus, most of which lease space from the Minervinis. Some businesses bought office space when it was being redeveloped.
“We have a lot of young entrepreneurs that have started their own businesses,” Raymond Minervini said of the commercial and restaurant spaces.
Left Foot Charley, a winery and tasting room, relocated to the campus several years ago.
“After 11 years, we found this space — in the heart of Traverse City,” the winery’s website states. “The Village, formerly the Northern Michigan Asylum, is one of the most extensive historical restoration projects in America.”
A European-style Mercato (market) on the garden level of the main building houses dozens of businesses, including a book store, florist, jeweler, bridal boutique and more.
A large underground tunnel system — designed to heat the buildings — also still exists, and those interested in touring the entire campus and the tunnels can do so for a nominal fee.
On the residential side, it was important to the city and The Minervini Group to cater to all residents. They therefore redeveloped different spaces for high-end residential, senior living and affordable housing.
The affordable housing was constructed by a co-developer on the campus. Apartments cost between $400 and $700 a month.
The north end of the main building houses a senior living complex called Cordia at Grand Traverse Commons. It encompasses 113,000 square feet and includes 110 senior residential apartments.
“What surprises me is how much mixed-use there is,” Derenzy said. “I’m pleased that there’s more housing pieces to the whole redevelopment. It’s not just about high-end residential, it’s about all spheres of residential over there. Anyone can buy there, anyone can live there.”
She said Ray Minervini will find a place in northern Michigan history.
“He’ll be in the history books for Traverse City. When you look at the history of Traverse City, you’ll see Ray Minervini’s face, and the history of Ray and his family and what they have done,” Derenzy said.