Franklin Partners LLC, an investment group based in Oakbrook, Ill., recently bought the massive industrial building that also has 60,000 square feet of Class A office space. And the firm has a fairly simple plan for the building: fill it up with new jobs and workers again.
“We have a couple of different ways that we will approach that. We’re looking at large local, regional and national manufacturers that would have a need for the entire facility,” said Don Shoemaker, a partner in Franklin Partners.
“Simultaneously, we’ve developed plans to divide the building, as low as 80,000 square feet and just about any size increment above that up to 900,000 square feet,” he added. “The building divides beautifully.”
The structure is also loaded with all the necessary industrial amenities. Shoemaker said it has modern utilities and heights up to 24 feet. He called it a fully flexible building that has space for more loading docks.
The former Bosch plant is a young building, in its teens, which is unusual in this market. Steelcase Corp. built the structure in 1987 for its Stow-Davis furniture operation, and not that long ago 1,200 Bosch employees were working there.
But Bosch fell victim to the manufacturing slump that has depressed the once stable industry for the past several years and the building now stands empty. Shoemaker told the Business Journal that despite the gloomy picture economists have painted for the future of manufacturing, Franklin Partners clearly sees an opportunity here.
“I like the Grand Rapids market. I like the mentality of the manufacturers in Grand Rapids,” said Shoemaker.
Besides, Franklin Partners has “been there and done that” here before. The firm bought the old Kelvinator plant, also on 44th Street, and held it until 1996 when it sold the building to Kojaian Companies.
And with today’s higher unemployment figures, the company feels the city now has a highly skilled work force available that will be attractive to manufacturing firms, wherever these may currently be located.
“That is a real attribute that has become a key part of our marketing,” said Shoemaker.
Grubb & Ellis/Paramount is handling the leasing for the former Bosch plant. Duke Suwyn, CEO of the commercial real estate firm, pointed out that just a few years ago when manufacturing employment was nearly full it was difficult to draw industrial companies here because there wasn’t a large enough labor force on hand to fill the new jobs that new tenants would have created. That isn’t the case now.
“When you’re down at 3 percent unemployment, that’s not much availability and that actually limited attracting companies to our market,” said Suwyn.
Another reason Franklin Partners bought the building is its location near the airport. It fronts 44th Street and M-37, and is just a short ride from the new South Beltline and I-96.
“This is a very unique facility. Most of the manufacturing facilities that have come on the market in this area are generally facilities that are obsolete,” said John Kuiper, an industrial specialist with Grubb & Ellis/Paramount. “This is a new facility and it has all the things that someone would look for in a new facility.”
Derek Hunderman of Grubb & Ellis/Paramount is also marketing the property.
Last December, Franklin Partners bought a 387,000-square-foot building in Kalamazoo at I-94 and Sprinkle Road. Shoemaker said space is available in that building, too.