De Vries Tackles Difficult Projects

November 29, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Sharon Evoy said he tackles the most difficult projects, like the former city-owned Monroe Avenue Water Filtration Plant. The executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, an arm of the Neighborhood Business Alliance, added that he pitches in whenever asked and has one of the biggest hearts in the city.

“He is always willing to give of himself and his time to help get things organized and make things happen. And he is willing to take on the tough projects,” said Evoy.

“Ed has been an inspiration in what he has done,” she added.

Ed De Vries, owner of brokerage firm Ed De Vries Properties, has been an inspiration for a long time. He began his real estate career here as a youngster when his father, William, moved his construction business and family from the Lansing area to Grand Rapids in 1950.

His biggest career break, though, came 19 years later when he and his wife Ruth bought a three-family home in Heritage Hill, a popular neighborhood that sits just east of downtown.

“We moved into one of the units and rented the other two,” he said.

“We were renting an apartment and found this very nice home at 32 Union Ave. SE and decided to buy it. We sold one of our cars to help with the down payment.”

Then he bought a single-family home and turned it into a two-family house. That home also was located near downtown, just on the outskirts of Heritage Hill.

De Vries repeated that pattern a few more times, buying and renovating homes in and near Heritage Hill, until he started his real estate brokerage business in 1979. He also owns De Vries Development with his brother Bob, a commercial business they started together in the mid-1970s.

Today, Ed’s sons, Mike and Mark, are in the business with him, a family tradition he can certainly relate to. De Vries got his nudge into the business from his father, who put him and his three older brothers to work.

“I was working for my dad’s company, William De Vries and Sons Inc., which was a Grand Rapids construction company. We were estimating and selling commercial and industrial properties and I was in graduate school at the time,” he said.

While on the job, De Vries earned an MBA in finance from Western Michigan University on the heels of the undergraduate degree he got from Calvin College in economics.

Putting his accomplishments aside, those who know De Vries, like Evoy does, see him as a caring guy with vision. And without being prompted, that portrayal surfaced in his answer to the question of what he likes best about what he does for a living.

“I think it’s involvement with people in all different aspects of what we do, from the customer to what we do working with different government officials, and basically all the relationships that we have had an opportunity to establish,” he said.

“The other part is using our imagination in trying to put things together and then putting a team of people together that use their imaginations and their talents. Everything that we do is really a team approach.”

The most recent example of the De Vries team’s imagination, with more than a hearty bit of persistence thrown in, can be found in the company’s latest renovation project — the old filtration plant at 1430 Monroe Ave. NW. The 40,000-square-foot building has sat vacant since 1992, and a bid from De Vries to buy the oddly shaped structure fell short when the city listed it for sale in 1999.

Still, De Vries pursued the building and late last year he got the zoning nod he needed to turn the plant into ground-floor office space and apartments on the upper levels. When he spoke with the Business Journal last December, he talked about the building’s upper floors and the towers those levels lead to, which gave readers an insight into his imagination.

“That is a fascinating view from up there. You can see all over,” he said then.

Work has started on the plant, nearly a $5 million project.

“We expect to have it ready for occupancy between next May and next July. We won’t be 100 percent done, but we will have a good part of it finished,” he said.

Just a few weeks ago the NBA used De Vries as a decoy and he said he didn’t mind one bit. The board “named” him as the recipient of the John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion award in a press release prior to the honors ceremony. The alliance did that to throw Evoy off because board members gave her the award at the ceremony, a move that took Evoy totally by surprise and pleased De Vries completely.

“She is really deserving of that award because of all she has put into the community. I have the utmost respect for Sharon and what she has done. I don’t think the neighborhood businesses would be where they are today without her efforts,” he said.

When De Vries isn’t working or serving on various boards, he likes to read, garden and spend time with his family. He stays in close touch with sons Mike and Mark at work. One daughter, Jill, is a schoolteacher who became a stay-at-home mom to care for her two children, and another daughter, Gwen, raises her child in Rochester, Minn., where her husband is a resident at the Mayo Clinic.

All totaled, Ed and Ruth have six grandchildren to spoil. So don’t expect major changes coming from De Vries over the next few years. He is a contented man who is happy with his life, his work and those around him.

“I think continuing the things that I have been doing,” he said, “but also continuing to spend time with my family, children and grandchildren.”    

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