Street Talk: Old Federal Building is good as Gold


To hear Ferris State University President David Eisler tell it, the old Federal Building, which now houses Kendall College of Art and Design’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, was one of the biggest eyesores in the city. When the college acquired the structure, plastic sheeting kept rainwater from ruining the flooring in some of its upper reaches.

My, what a difference time and a lot of hard work makes.

Kendall/FSU is announcing today it has been awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Earlier this year, Kendall took up residence in the renovated 1911 beaux arts-style building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s been said that ‘the greenest building is one you don’t have to build,’ which is something we understood we had going for us from the beginning,” said Eisler. “There is an embodied energy that goes with the restoration and adaptive reuse of a historic building such as this, and so we always knew we wanted to tap into that and bring this beautiful old gem in the heart of Grand Rapids back to life in the most sustainable way possible.”

The end result is already positively impacting students and staff, according to Sandra Davison-Wilson, Kendall vice president for administration and finance. “Between the air quality, restored features and open spaces, the building is already emerging as a highly desirable and inspirational space for our artists,” she said. “It’s truly an outstanding opportunity for students.”

Gold certification, the second highest available, was achieved through a concerted, collaborative effort on behalf of all the project contributors, according to Jim Cash, president and COO of Christman Capital Development Co., the project’s development and construction partner. “Between Ferris, Kendall, architects TowerPinkster and Hopkins Burns, Christman and so many others, the vision of a sustainable teaching environment helped shape the team’s decision-making every step of the way.”

The LEED certification was based on green design and construction features that positively impact the project and the broader community.

For Kendall President David Rosen, however, the restoration and certification mean something a little different: The building itself becomes a teaching tool for sustainability and design students.

"As the region makes itself known for sustainable design, Kendall, the only conservatory school of art and design in the region, must serve as a model for best practices,” he said. “I am proud of the achievement of the individuals and teams who made the certification possible — a certification at a level that is rare in any building and rarer yet in one that has been preserved so closely to its original historic state. The historic Federal Building is repository of an august heritage. Through its certification, it creates a new heritage and becomes the ground for a promising future.”

Whistling Dixie

What’s that saying about whistling past a graveyard? Well, Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council, must have been whistling a happy tune recently.

In an email to the Business Journal, Anderson described her close brush with fate and a certain (now former) CIA director earlier this month. It left us laughing. Oh, that Dixie — talk about worldly!

“Just back from the World Affairs Councils of America National Conference on the Top 6 National Security Issues facing the United States. Our keynote speaker (which was Nov. 7) was Director (back to General, I guess) David Petraeus — of course, when he was still CIA director. He resigned the next day (was his resignation letter in his back pocket when he was with our group?).

“We most likely were the last group he spoke to — off the record, too, of course (as they always do).

“I had a chance to briefly chat with him (I’m on the Executive Committee of the board of the World Affairs Councils of America so was at the head table) and told him about Ralph Hauenstein, who was in the OSS during World War II, the precursor to the CIA and still involved here in western Michigan at 100 years of age!

“Our national board got the news on his resignation during our board meeting Friday afternoon. All I felt was a great sadness. He was a revered figure in Washington. Pretty exciting to be in the nation’s capital during Election Night and Week!”

That last part would be an understatement. Of course, having a couple of hours to think about it, she fired off another email to the Business Journal — just to clear the air.

“I know, don’t I have a great job? Who would think I would have had din-din with Petraeus the evening before. … I AM NOT THE MYSTERY THIRD WOMAN.”

Building block

The National Association of Home Builders indicated that housing starts were up 3.6 percent in October, nationally. The Midwest region, which includes West Michigan, has seen an increase of 8.9 percent.

In what may be a sign of things to come, West Michigan’s Sable Homes had a more than 100 percent increase in building activity over October 2011, garnering 12 building permits valued at $2.19 million. A year ago, Sable had five building permits issued valued at $910,000.

“Our increased building activity here in West Michigan is a sign that consumer confidence is building in the region,” said Sable President John Bitely. “Housing starts do have a direct correlation to other economic indicators such as job growth and consumer spending. In the past 12 months, this increased demand for new housing has allowed Sable Homes to hire additional contractors to meet our consumers’ needs.”

Holiday cheer

The recent recession claimed company holiday parties as one of its early victims, but maybe this year things will change. Or, maybe not.

According to a new report from national staffing firm OfficeTeam, 52 percent of executives polled said their employers are not holding a holiday celebration this year. And here’s another lump of coal in the stocking: 79 percent of managers and 75 percent of employees whose companies have these events indicated they enjoy them.

OfficeTeam said some companies may not be hosting holiday celebrations due to budget reasons, but others just got out of the habit and are late to the party this year.

So what to do if your company is on the naughty list? Here are OfficeTeam’s five tips for frugal — yet festive — holiday parties:

  • Make merry over breakfast or lunch. Offer an in-house catered meal or get-together for lunch at an informal restaurant rather than holding an evening event at a fancy location.
  • Get jolly in January. Hosting a celebration during an off-peak month may be less expensive, and it’s a great way to kick off the year. Venue costs also may be negotiable for midweek or during the day.
  • Spread good cheer. Schedule a potluck and include activities such as a white elephant gift exchange or office holiday decoration contest.
  • Take your cue from Santa. He’s not the only one who can travel. Organize a group activity like bowling or miniature golf to provide employees with an opportunity to mingle outside of work.
  • Embrace the spirit of giving. Hold a holiday donation drive as part of your festivities or gather a team to volunteer at a local nonprofit organization.

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