Theres No Place Like Home

June 18, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although she wasn’t a wizard, Dorothy knew there was no place like home. Just as Oz felt odd for her, southern California wasn’t a good fit for Pete Colvin. So he clicked his heels and came home, too.

Colvin returned in May to help with his father’s business, Colvin Sales, a firm that supplies plumbing and water-well materials to distributors. But last month he re-entered the commercial real estate field by rejoining The Robert Grooters Development Co. Colvin was part of the Grooters’ team in 1993 and 1994. While there, he handled the leasing of space at Bridgewater Place when the city’s largest office address opened.

“He did a great job for us at Bridgewater Place and we are excited to have him back on our team,” said company president Robert Grooters.

“We filled it. Looking back in hindsight, it was a difficult economy. We were lucky we didn’t know that at the time. It might have slowed us down,” Colvin joked.

Today, Colvin focuses most of his efforts on the industrial side of the business for Grooters, although he also offers office space to clients.

“We’re really helping companies with their shifting, whether they’re growing larger or going smaller. Whatever people need we can usually solve their problems,” he added.

Colvin’s wife, Deb, also hopped on the yellow-brick road and came back. She serves as the coordinator of volunteers and assistant director of development for Building Block, a nonprofit child-care facility that helps kids who are at risk.

“That’s where her heart is at,” said Colvin.

The Colvins left for the San Diego area about two years ago after they closed Mackie’s World, the nation’s first children’s mall that was located in the former City Centre building at Division and Fulton. The Colvins were brought to southern California by developers who knew of Mackie’s World and who wanted them to build a similar mall north of San Diego. That plan, however, never got off the ground.

“It was so obvious that it was just a financial business decision, we felt that it wasn’t why we were doing what we were doing. It was just purely about money, and it wasn’t going to have the passion, the drive and the goal to help children,” said Colvin. “It wasn’t going to be what we were about and so we decided not to do it.”

Colvin then joined Sperry Van Ness, a commercial and investment real estate company. After serving a stint as an agent, he was promoted to the position of regional director and headed the firm’s cyber-expansion into new markets.

“We offered independent, small brokerage firms the ability to become part of our network and team, and keep their company’s independence. And we did it virtually, so they wouldn’t have to move from their space. That allowed them to link with a national company and we grew very efficiently without having a lot of overhead,” said Colvin.

“The results were we opened about 20 offices in six months throughout central and northern California and the Bay Area, and added about 20 percent to the bottom line of the company.”

In 2000, Sperry Van Ness named Colvin its “Team Builder of the Year.”

The Colvins closed the kids mall in September 1999 after being open for a year. Business was slow and creditors were owed, so the doors were shut. Pete Colvin said the project took a fatal hit before it opened when the Downtown Development Authority demanded $500,000 to forgive the $2.4 million lien the board held on the building from when it was built in 1984, while the city dropped its claim to a larger note without asking for a payment.

“We designed it carefully and then we lost all of our working capital when the DDA required us to change the agreement. Deb and I wrote a $500,000 check to them and that was all of our start-up money. So we had to start a company without any start-up money,” he said.

“My biggest regret was that we never got a ‘thank you’ note from the DDA. And that half-million, I understand, trickled back into the downtown area for grants, rehab money, and it helped probably 20 building owners improve their properties,” he added. “So we paid off someone else’s loan for $500,000, which was the only way we could get approval. That really took its toll.”

Removing the liens from City Centre, which closed as a retail mall in 1989, nine years before Mackie’s World opened, made the three-story building an affordable buy and led to the renovation and rebirth of the structure as home to the city police department and soon some state offices.

“We’re not paying people back, but we’re returning as many favors as we can,” said Colvin of the mall’s creditors. “I constantly think of people that helped us and refer them business or link them up. When you put everything you have into something and then lose it, that’s about all you can do.”

The Colvins still own the former headquarters of Junior Achievement, a building at 12 S. Division Ave. They plan to offer it for sale on a sealed-bid basis next month. The Silveri Company, a commercial real estate firm, is handling the transaction.

“The building is free and clear, so we don’t have to worry about paying off a mortgage,” he said.

Colvin said they came back to Grand Rapids because there is something special about the place, a discovery they made after they went west.

“We really missed our home, our family and the quality of life that West Michigan has compared to southern California. It’s a much better place to raise children here,” he said. “The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time. And Dorothy said it best, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

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