No Cookie Cutter Here

April 2, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS—Loft space has made its mark in the local office market, so one development firm feels the time is right to bring something fresh to the marketplace.

The Irish Twins Group LLC is in the process of creating a new design for office space, a style still unnamed, nearly impossible to pigeonhole, and way past loft. But it does carry with it a touch of the New York industrial district.

Anyone who has visited the Chelsea Market in the West Chelsea neighborhood of the Big Apple has an image of what the former Imperial Metals building at 801-803 Ionia Avenue NW will look like once the Irish Twins are done with it.

“We think that there is a need for a different kind of office space in downtown Grand Rapids because the same type of office space is not appealing to every client,” said Jack Buchanan, CEO of Blue Bridge Ventures and partner with brother Rob in Irish Twins. Rob is a partner in the law firm of Buchanan & Beckering.

“I don’t know that I would say there isn’t much demand for the typical loft space that has been built in the last decade or so. There still is demand, but there is a lot of supply. As for the B space, there is plenty of that. So what we are targeting is a very unique type of building space that is not being offered in the market right now,” he added.

The project, which is a combination of new construction and renovation work, isn’t being done because the Buchanans feel there is a need for more space. No, they think there is a need for new space at the next level and they are betting $9.7 million, the amount of their investment in the project, that they’re right.

“It’s the New York design. But we also think it’s a very contemporary, very unique and very efficient type of office environment,” said Buchanan. “This will be a different from a lot of loft spaces. And with the type of new construction we’re planning for here, it allows us to have a very funky and efficient space as opposed to loft — which is cool, but not very efficient.”

Plans are to have CMS Architects of New York and Progressive AE of Grand Rapids work together to design the space, which Buchanan felt would have plenty of appeal to a lot of different types of companies and not just a certain field like advertising or IT. That was a lesson he learned as part of the Canal Street Group that renovated the old Brass Works factory at 648 Monroe Avenue NW into stunning loft office space some eight years ago.

“We didn’t know that there would be a market for law firms and insurance companies at Brass Works when we originally did it. But a lot of those companies went there because they wanted that image. Their image was very important to them,” he said.

“And this is the same thing. We’re talking to law firms and professional organizations that are looking for a unique image and a unique office experience. We don’t see this as space that is going to be computer oriented or an advertising-type company.”

The Irish Twins are willing to sell or lease space in the new building, which will have over 60,000 square feet to offer with below-ground parking and surface parking. The construction plan calls for 20,000 of the Imperial Metal’s square feet to be razed and that 30,000 new square feet be built to join the 30,000 square feet that will be renovated.

Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. is set to manage the construction, which will start with the renovation work.

The city and the state granted the Irish Twins a brownfield designation for the project, which is expected to add 200 jobs to the Monroe North Business District. That will save the Buchanans $338,000 in tax payments over a dozen years.

“The transformation of this property will bring business and jobs to the core of Grand Rapids and fuel further economic development,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm last month.

One tenant that is close to signing on the dotted line is the Founders Brewing Co., which is looking to move from the Brass Works building, and Buchanan felt that having the brew pub in the building would help draw other tenants to it.

“I think so. When they came to Brass Works, they almost created a character for the building and this is going to create a different environment. The plans for their space here will be different than they have there. They’ll be able to mimic that Chelsea Market look and I think they’ll be a key to the atmosphere here.”

But Founders hasn’t committed yet and construction likely won’t get started until the company does.

“Right now, everything is kind of focused on the brewery. I’m assuming that is going to go. They’re planning to take one of the prime spots and that is going to have a major impact on which way we develop the property,” said Buchanan.

“But if everything goes like I think it’s going to go, we’ll probably start renovating in the next two or three months.”

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