ADA — He never thought he would develop real estate — other than his own house, of course. But today David Schermer heads Mountain Ridge Development Corp., one of the area's more innovative and respected residential builders.
After graduating from Michigan State University with a business degree, the East Grand Rapids native managed the real estate lending division at Michigan National Bank. There, he met residential builder Rob Cumming. The two became friends and later partners in Shale Development, a Holland firm that developed properties along the Lakeshore.
"Rob started talking to me about his ideas, explained his business plan and asked me if I'd ever be interested in being a partner with him. I thought about it for a couple of months," said Schermer. "At the time, I was single and in my 20s so I didn't have a lot of reasons not to try something.
"He was sort of half in shock that I took him seriously," he laughed.
After operating Shale for a few years, they returned to Kent County and started Mountain Ridge in1990. And for the better part of nine years, Schermer and Cumming built a number of prominent projects in the Cascade and Ada areas such as The Ridge, High Grove, The Preserve and Mountain Ridge — developments that were valued at more than $50 million. Not too bad for a banker and a dreamer.
But the coup de grace for Schermer arrived three years ago when DP Fox Ventures LLC, a highly diversified firm owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos, bought Mountain Ridge.
"That has been my biggest break," he said. "Rob and I were partners in the company and we had a typical entrepreneur, start-up type of business where we were doing a lot of original and innovative things. But we got to a point where we needed to put some structure in place and a lot of capital to keep it going.
"And DP Fox got interested in what we were doing and they came in and bought our company. They have provided us with the professionalism and the leadership that they display throughout the community in all their businesses. It's been great being a small part of what they do. And it's motivating to be a part of that, too."
Cumming is no longer part of Mountain Ridge. Perpetually bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he headed off on his own, again, and is building houses along the ridges of the Rocky Mountains.
"He spends a lot of time in Aspen and works throughout Colorado," said Schermer, who has cultivated properties for the past 14 years now, yet has to pinch himself on occasion.
"I never thought I'd be in the development business. I always thought I'd be in finance and banking," he said. "But I like the excitement and variety that is part of the development business."
Being able to work with some of the area's most creative people, such as architects and interior designers, is what Schermer said he likes the most about his work. Plus he still gets to crunch the numbers like a banker so that part of his business life also gets fulfilled.
"I have a nice balance between form and function, if you will," he said. "I get the full perspective."
As for anything he would change about his industry? Well, that would be the bad rap that developers sometimes get. Now and again, he said, members of his field get unfairly blamed for sprawl, traffic congestion and environmental problems.
"I think we tend to take the brunt of that. A lot of that has to do with zoning ordinances and where we are told to go with utilities and roads. I wish I had more time to work with township planning boards, and maybe city planning boards, so we could work together more and use the land more effectively in a master plan," said Schermer, who favors the work the Metro Council is doing by crafting a regional planning document.
"I think it would help very much to get all the townships working together on a master plan for the whole area. I think a lot of the intentions are good. But I think the way zoning laws are written tend to create just the opposite of what people want, which is the sprawl and the scattered developments that don't use the utilities or the roads effectively."
Speaking of effective planning, Mountain Ridge is well underway with its latest project, Saddleback Village — a unique master-planned neighborhood of 31 homes on 20 acres near Michigan Street and Crahen Avenue in the Forest Hills School District. The project is distinct because buyers actually design their homes by using software that allows them to choose from a variety of interior and exterior styles.
"We are just putting our roads in and we've already sold 10 units. We're going to have two model homes in this spring's Parade of Homes. That's our marketing kickoff," he said of the parade that starts on May 24 and marches through June 8.
Although residential development is the company's bread and butter, Schermer said the firm also builds commercially. Mountain Ridge has done three auto dealerships for the Fox Motor Group, also owned by DP Fox, including the new Fox Saab (see related story). The company also did the landscaping work for the DP Fox-owned Frey and Bank One office buildings downtown and built the café in the Bank One Building.
When he's not putting things up, Schermer still can usually be found outside. The self-described outdoorsy guy likes to golf, hunt, fish, ski down hills and play tennis with his wife, Bonnie, and with Jillian, his 10-year-old daughter, and Wesley, his 8-year-old son. He also has coached YMCA basketball and softball for the last five years, teaching the finer arts of those sports to boys and girls his children's age.
"I played a little bit, but I just enjoy doing that with the kids — being with the kids and watching them play. For me, it's a nice opportunity to get out. I want them all to play and learn a little bit about the games," he said. "And I enjoy any activity with my kids."
Schermer said his company's future lies in continuing to build communities through projects like Saddleback that use technology to design neighborhoods with a traditional and interactive standard of living for homebuyers. He sees builders using computers more in the coming years to eliminate construction flaws and to make the home-buying experience more enjoyable for his clients.
As for him, Schermer has already built his home.
"I fully intend to stay here. DP Fox has provided us with all the tools that we need in terms of resources and motivation to make this a long-term business in the community," he said. "We're going to have over 200 lots in inventory at the end of the year, and we're really excited about being a part of the community and creating new developments."