Michigan Bulb Buildings Now Have New Owners

May 14, 2002
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WALKER — One of the sorriest local business stories in many a year here has just taken a more pleasant turn.

The vacant Waldorf Road headquarters of Michigan Bulb Co., a subsidiary of the now-bankrupt Foster & Gallagher, recently was purchased through CB Richard Ellis of Grand Rapids LLC.

According to Bob Horn, the agent handling the sale, three parcels of property have been sold over the last two months to two separate buyers.

The properties, amounting to several hundred thousand square feet of space, are a building at 2070 Waldorf, which had served briefly as an information center, the headquarters and its adjoining packing and mailing center at 1950 Waldorf, and a warehouse a block away at 2535 Waldorf Court.

Terra Firma LLC, a local investment company, has purchased the 2070 Waldorf and 2535 Waldorf Court buildings, which are 33,800 and 127,700 square feet, respectively. Terra Firma officials asked CB Richard Ellis to find tenants for the properties, and Horn said three major leases have been secured to date. Vans Logistics, a third party logistics firm for Bissell Inc., has leased 89,000 square feet; SAS Logistics, a third party logistics firm for Meijer Inc., has leased 40,000 square feet; and Fuel Systems has leased 15,000 square feet of office space. Approximately 65,000 square feet is still available, according to Horn.

The 1950 Waldorf parcel, which houses 152,900 square feet, was sold to Kent Offsite Records, a record storage business.

The purchasers of the Michigan Bulb properties declined to give the prices they paid for the structures, but Horn said the properties were listed at $1.1 million, $4.25 million and $3.1 million, respectively.

The sale was part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings involving Michigan Bulb’s parent firm, Foster & Gallagher, originally of Peoria, Ill., but headquartered for a time in Michigan Bulb’s offices.

The three buildings are located immediately east of the Meijer Inc. logistics center on North Walker Road and thus have ready access to I-96.

Michigan Bulb began life in 1946 as a family horticultural mail-order business in rural Grand Rapids. Once it passed into the hands of outside corporations, it led a roller-coaster existence.

Early in the ’90s, it became part of the nation’s biggest mail-order conglomerate, Foster & Gallagher. “The Bulb,” as it was known locally, ultimately was one of a dozen mail-order horticulture companies F&G held and was termed F&G’s flagship company.

F&G substantially expanded Michigan Bulb’s headquarters and, for a time, the offices at 1950 Waldorf became F&G’s headquarters.

F&G was forced into bankruptcy essentially for two reasons.

First, a succession of state attorneys general took the firm and several of its subsidiaries to court, alleging deceptive advertising. The charges related to you-already-may-be-a-winner sweepstakes appeals that the companies used to drive their mail-order horticulture business.

Several of the suits were successful, leading to fines and — far more important — orders to cease the aggressive sweepstakes marketing the firm was employing.

The result was a dramatic contraction of sales that also were hurt by consumer dissatisfaction becoming increasingly evident with the spread of Internet horticulture Web sites and chat rooms.

The collapse of sales made it impossible for the company to service a $70 million loan it exacted in 1995 from the employees’ ESOP plan.

F&G filed for bankruptcy July 4 of last year. Then in December the firm closed its doors, leaving about 3,000 employees without severance pay, health insurance or retirement savings.

The first hearings in the subsequent litigation won’t come up before next year.

Michigan Bulb has had a rebirth and still is in the mail-order business, albeit apparently without sweepstakes.

Michigan Bulb and most of its sister firms were purchased and now are operated by a holding company, Gardens Alive, in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

The community is near the state’s southern border, not far from Cincinnati. Gardens Alive also apparently owns a number of Michigan Bulb’s sister firms.  

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