LifeSavers Gets A Lifesaver

July 28, 2007
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HOLLAND — It has been several years since LifeSavers rolled off the line at what is today the East 48th Industrial Center, but the smell of hard candy lingers in the untouched portions of the nearly 400,000-square-foot facility.

Each flavor had its own brightly colored manufacturing space, and in some of the small, unkempt tiled rooms, the smell of cherry, orange or sugar is distinct.

“It’s easy to understand how someone can come in here and not be able to imagine what it could look like,” said Doug Gulker, principal of Fusion Properties in Ada, the investment group that purchased the former LifeSavers plant at 635 E. 48th St. four years ago. “We’re working to change that.”

Dan Vos Construction Co. is currently demolishing the remnants of the LifeSavers manufacturing operation throughout the 200,000-square-foot southern half of the building. The separate candy rooms will be removed to reveal the plant’s full 22-foot ceilings and thick concrete floors. A series of aesthetic and infrastructure upgrades to the 75,000-square-foot southwest corner of the building will cap off the $1.2 million Phase 1 of the renovation in September. An $800,000 effort to spruce up the remaining 125,000 square feet of available space, the currently leased space, and the exterior of the building will begin immediately after.

“Since we first bought it, we’ve just maintained it as is,” said Gulker. “Now we’re turning it into a white box. The market is a lot more competitive today, and we need to have the property in showroom condition.”

Fusion Properties acquired the plant shortly after it closed in 2002. It subsequently received a brownfield site designation for $898,000 to defray clean-up costs and a $1 million Single Business Tax credit from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The now-40-year-old facility was renamed the East 48th Industrial Center.

While the facility has leased out just under half of its available space, very few improvements had been made to the unused portions of the facility. Today, the combination of declining lead times for industrial needs — potential tenants have shown preference toward immediately available space —  and rising scrap steel prices have shifted the economics in favor of speculative renovation. Fusion Properties will receive $150,000 for recycling steel from the LifeSavers operations.

Word of the renovation has generated immediate interest in the property, which was the first to be developed in the Holland Economic Development Corp.’s industrial park in the 1960s.

“Once we get it opened up so people can see everything it has in there, people are going to be surprised with what they find,” said Drew Miller, an industrial advisor with CB Richard Ellis in Grand Rapids, the current listing agent for the property. “It has a lot of amenities that you wouldn’t expect: rail access, modern power and lighting, high ceilings, thick floors.”

The two covered rail spurs on the east side of the property have attracted particular interest, Miller said, as companies are becoming increasingly interested in rail transport in the wake of rising gasoline prices.

Gulker is also optimistic for growth among his four current tenants, each currently with 18,000 to 80,000 square feet. Contract manufacturer and warehouse operation Global Concepts recently signed an option for an additional 20,000 square feet of “flex space,” potentially increasing its footprint to 100,000 square feet. Another tenant will partner with Fusion Properties to expand its recycling and storage operation.

“I don’t think people will ever look at this building and not see the LifeSavers plant,” said Gulker. “But they’re not going to be looking at it wondering if anything is ever going to happen with it.”

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