Michael Maier worked in mortgage banking for 10 years prior to joining forces with his longtime business partner John Wheeler. Courtesy PURE Real Estate
Orion Real Estate Solutions may take the spotlight on its vast portfolio of multifamily projects in the greater Grand Rapids area, but part of the credit should go to its longtime partner, Michael Maier, managing partner of Cusp Group and, more recently, PURE Real Estate.
Maier grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and studied finance at Saint Francis University. After graduation, he landed a job with Waterfield Mortgage Company in Fort Wayne, but within six months, the company relocated him to Grand Rapids.
As a young financier, Maier hit Grand Rapids right before it started to take off. He said he didn’t realize at the time just how much development work he would be doing downtown.
“When I first came up here, the (Amway) hotel was the first thing being developed here,” Maier said. “There was hardly anything else downtown, but at least it was something, and compared to Fort Wayne, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s a five-star hotel!’”
Maier worked in mortgage banking for 10 years prior to joining forces with his longtime business partner John Wheeler, president of Orion Real Estate Solutions (ORES). As a mortgage lender, most of Maier’s client base was developers, he said, so he already knew the business before wanting to go into it.
“In mortgage banking, you’re pushing papers a lot, and that’s really about all you do,” Maier said, “and I really wanted to build things and redevelop and create projects.”
Maier got into real estate and development about 30 years ago, around the time Wheeler also was cutting his teeth in the business. The two of them were working for Rockford Construction at the time, and Wheeler already had started a couple of smaller developments.
Maier and Wheeler did a lot of multifamily and single-family developments in the beginning and later branched off into commercial development.
Maier left Rockford after 20 years with the company. During his time, he headed the company’s development division, and he and Wheeler oversaw “millions” of square feet of development and redevelopment in downtown Grand Rapids.
After Maier left, he went out on his own to start Cusp Group, which consisted of Maier as a developer, and his wife Teri Maier as an interior designer. Teri Maier still operates under Cusp Group Interior Design.
“It’s kind of fun too because she does our projects with us,” Michael Maier said.
While working under Cusp Group, Maier was — and still is today — a partner with Rockford Construction on a few projects, including Walker Industrial Park.
After a couple of years of running Cusp Group, Maier was contacted by his old business partner, Wheeler, who asked him about working on a series of townhome projects together.
Wheeler at the time was working on the Knoll Townhomes of Ada, which currently is under construction, and Maier was working on launching a separate townhome project in Caledonia, which is soon to break ground.
Since joining forces again, Maier and Wheeler also have launched the Michigan Meadows project, which is currently underway in Grand Rapids.
The Caledonia townhome project, which took almost two years to launch, featured an incident Maier said he had never experienced in his development career.
The project originally was turned down by the township planning commission, but instead of giving up, Maier and Wheeler pursued the issue further, and they were able to gain approval once the township board of trustees overruled the planning commission’s decision.
“When you go into those rezoning and approvals, you have no idea what you’re getting into, who’s going to be for it, who’s going to be against it,” Maier said. “Most of the neighbors are always against it. It was quite a process to get it done.”
After working together on several projects over the years, Wheeler’s son, Ryan Wheeler and Maier formed PURE Real Estate Management in 2018.
“The reason we did that is these guys (ORES) have put together enough units, and with our new projects, we really wanted to have control over management of the properties,” Maier said.
Maier proved a valuable asset to the venture with his prior experience of forming and running the property management division at Rockford Construction.
“It was an easy transition to do it here,” Maier said. “And I’ve been really impressed with Ryan … It’s kind of fun. It’s been good to get back with these younger guys and have them come up underneath.”
Earlier in 2019, Maier and his partners at ORES formed their own brokerage firm, PURE Real Estate Brokerage, which followed the same story as PURE Real Estate Management. Maier also was the licensed broker on staff when he was at Rockford Construction, so the formation of PURE Brokerage was a natural progression for him.
PURE Brokerage was formed by principal partners Bradley Hartwell, Ryan Wheeler and Ray Kisor, in addition to Maier.
Kisor, another seasoned veteran of the real estate world, has been in business about as long as Maier.
“I’ve known him for a long time, so it’s us two older guys and Ryan and Bradley,” Maier said. “Those two are probably the sharpest younger guys I know in the business, so it’s good to have them around.”
Maier wouldn’t boast of being a mentor to the younger generation, but he did say he could offer them a working knowledge of all the things that can go wrong in a development.
Conversely, Maier always has found himself having to adjust to changes in the industry. Since he left the mortgage-lending world 30 years ago, the learning curve of navigating the development sector has never stopped, he said.
“When we first started out in (brokerage) to advertise, there was a printed guide,” Maier said. “Now, it’s all internet-based and social media, and that’s a huge change from what we’ve done. And we’re going to utilize the brokerage company now to market our apartments and use the realtor community to help their clients who may be in transition or need a place to live if they sell their house.”
The Knoll and Michigan Meadows projects, for example, will be marketed through PURE Brokerage, Maier said.
In 30 years of development, Maier and his various partners have touched almost every building in downtown Grand Rapids. As if to come full circle in his development career, PURE Real Estate’s office at 32 Market Ave. SW in downtown Grand Rapids was the first building Maier helped renovate when he was with Rockford.
“We did the building next door and did most the buildings south of the (Van Andel) Arena,” Maier said. “We spent a lot of time down here.”
Probably the developments he’s most proud to have been a part of are those buildings south of the arena, known as Cherry Street Landing.
“If you look at everything a couple of blocks to the east (from Studio Park), we did probably three blocks of buildings down there with Western Michigan (University) being the south end of it and 70 Ionia Avenue being the north end,” Maier said.
As a developer with a significant mark on Grand Rapids, Maier said he would put it up against any city of its size, and he also gave credit to the families who have given philanthropically to its growth.
“I’ve given tours to other cities that have come in … around Michigan,” Maier said, “and they’d ask, ‘What makes Grand Rapids different?’ It’s truly the families that contribute to it. We wouldn’t have done all that down by the arena if the arena hadn’t been built.”