Two Grand Rapids projects earn awards


The former Steelcase plant at 5565 Broadmoor Ave. SE will soon be transformed into a manufacturing facility for a world-class food maker. Courtesy Colliers International West Michigan

Next month at one of the state’s most prestigious real estate awards events, two major Grand Rapids projects will receive their well-earned moment in the spotlight.

Two Michigan Real Estate Excellence Awards, part of the University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute’s 28th annual Real Estate Forum, will be presented to Grand Rapids projects Nov. 18 at the Argonaut Building in Detroit.

Award winners, selected by a panel of approximately 10 judges made up of representatives of ULI Michigan, U-M and statewide economic development experts, have been named in the following three categories: Real Estate Excellence, Development/Redevelopment of the Year and Sale/Lease of the Year. Several projects also have earned honorable mention.

“We had 35 entries this year and it’s the most we’ve ever had. The reason we’re doing honorable mentions this year — the first year we’ve done it — is that a group of awards came to the top but didn’t accumulate enough points (to win),” said Thomas Wackerman, president of ASTI Environmental.

“The way it’s done is the nominees are self-categorized. And then we go through the individual categories and there’s a series of criteria (for each). Although everyone gets three votes, the real heart of it is discussing each project and looking at impact.”

This year the award for Sale/Lease of the Year goes to Duke Suwyn, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids-based Colliers International West Michigan, and to Don Shoemaker, managing partner of Naperville, Ill.-based Franklin Partners, for their deal with the former Steelcase plant at 5565 Broadmoor Ave. SE, Kentwood.

The Development/Redevelopment of the Year award goes to Tim Herman, president of Flint-based Uptown Reinvestment Corp., and project coordinator Ridgway White for the Health and Wellness District project in Flint.

The Real Estate Achievement award goes to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Michael Finney, MEDC president and CEO, is expected to accept the award.

Wackerman admitted it was unusual for an organization to receive the award, which is usually given to an individual or business, but the judges felt MEDC has been a “real catalyst in the state” through the creation of “place and the fabric around which buildings can be built.”

“When we look at how they’ve had their fingers in so many of the key developments around the state, we thought we’d celebrate what they’ve done in the midst of the depression and subsequent recovery,” he said. “This organization has been instrumental in moving the real estate market in Michigan forward. … They were nominated by the committee, not by an individual. There isn’t one project that really tipped it. It was all the projects.”

Among those receiving honorable mention is Grand Rapids-based 616 Development for its 616 Lofts on Prospect project, 253 Prospect Ave. NE.

The Rivertown Neighborhood project, Mt. Elliott Park project and “Z” project, all in Detroit, also received honorable mentions.

Grand Rapids was highlighted with awards and nominations this year, especially with Colliers and 616, said Wackerman.

He called the Steelcase deal a major campus-wide repositioning and an excellent portrait of the success West Michigan has seen in recent years.

“Part of it was the size of the deal, but it’s not just size. This is a key piece to that overall development, and that development is a 20-year ‘overnight success,’” he said. “It’s a great story in and of itself, and this is a key piece to that story.”

The property was sold this summer to Franklin Partners, which previously had completed the conversion of the approximately 665,000-square-foot manufacturing building at 5353 Broadmoor Ave. SE and the nearly 915,000-square-foot space at 4700 Broadmoor Ave. SE.

Colliers and Franklin Partners negotiated a 15-year lease of the property, with the approximate cost of the project at $20 million for the purchase and another $4 million in improvements. The final lease had a value in excess of $45 million, according to the project’s nomination form.

“As Steelcase continues their lean manufacturing revolution, this is the second building on the Kentwood campus that was deemed ‘excess’ property. The sheer size of this facility (just short of 900,000 square feet), and the fact that it is designed on a central spine system for power, fire, compressed air, water and steam, makes it a very unique project to convert for any other type of user,” read the nomination form.

“Instead of having a very large manufacturing facility shut down and used marginally or very ineffectively, this site is now a world-class, stand-alone manufacturing facility, filled with a world-class food manufacturer producing great product, with the potential to employ upwards of 400-600 people from the surrounding communities.”

As for 616, Wackerman said the project didn’t receive enough votes to make it in the top three, but it blew away the judges, who felt it needed recognition. Thus, the honorable mention category was born.

“When everybody looked at it, almost universally everyone said, ‘Wow! What a cool concept!’” he said. “(It was) such an interesting reposition of a project.”

The 616 project he’s referring to was the transformation of the former Bethlehem Lutheran Church cathedral in Heritage Hill into a development that offers 22 apartments to the growing neighborhood. The 25,000-square-foot development cost approximately $3.25 million, according to its nomination form.

“The challenges with this property were twofold. First, we had to be sensitive to historic challenges. We worked with HPC (Historic Preservation Commission) to determine what changes we were allowed to make with this structure; for example, removing some of the stained glass and replacing it with more functional, energy-efficient windows,” read 616’s nomination form.

“Second was the challenge of converting the space — a Neo-Gothic church with a large, open sanctuary — into loft-style apartments. There were additional restrictions on the property development including that there could be no new development nor any structural changes. 616’s ingenuity led to a creative solution for repurposing the property and bringing life back into this neighborhood.”

Wackerman noted this year’s nominees also displayed noteworthy statewide representation, signifying that huge cross-sections of communities across the state are developing robustly.

“I’d like to highlight the fact that this year 16 cities were represented in these awards and they were all over the state, and I think that’s a great testament to the real estate market everywhere in the state,” he said.

“I see a story that says recovery in a lot of areas in the state — not just Grand Rapids and Detroit. All these other communities are improving.”

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