GEPC Is A Big Winner

November 5, 2008
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To write that 2008 has been a banner award year for Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce might be a slight understatement, as the brokerage earned a host of important honors in just the first three quarters of the year.

It all began last February when parent firm Grubb & Ellis named GE|PC as its affiliate of the year for 2007 among a field of 50 nationwide. The top corporate honor went to the local firm for its overall quality of service, its participation in the affiliate program, and its utilization of systems, tools and processes.

¡°Over the past 10 years, the firm has been a constant referral contributor throughout our network. In addition, it has played a significant role in the development of the company¡¯s Midwest Industrial Council,¡± said Pat Hurley, senior vice president of Grubb & Ellis Affiliates Inc.

In March, GE|PC was honored again by Grubb & Ellis when the parent firm awarded a corporate Circle of Excellence Award to company President and CEO Duke Suwyn for his ¡°top performance and exceptional contributions.¡± The award marked the fifth time Suwyn captured the prestigious personal honor.

Also in March and closer to home, the local Commercial Alliance of Realtors honored a dozen GE|PC advisors for their efforts, including the naming of Vice President John Kuiper as Realtor of the Year. The firm also picked up awards for the biggest industrial, retail and office sales.

In October, GE|PC scored two major awards at the University of Michigan¡¯s Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum. The firm received top honors for the Sale of the Year and the Lease of the Year in the West Michigan region.

The sale of the year was, well, huge ¡ª perhaps the largest ever in the metro area for the industrial market. GE|PC brokered the deal that had First Companies sell a reported 17 of its mainly occupied buildings to CORE Reality Holdings of Newport Beach, Calif. More than 570,000 square feet exchanged hands in the transaction, worth a reported $37.5 million.

Suwyn, Kuiper and industrial advisors Chad Barton and Colin Kraay were singled out at the forum for their involvement in making the deal a reality.

The lease of the year turned out to be one of the biggest economic development stories for the region, as GE|PC negotiated a long-term deal between Franklin Partners LLC of Oak Grove, Ill., and Priceline.com of Norwalk, Conn., for 49,000 square feet on the top floor of a two-story vacant building at 4147 Eastern Ave. SE in Wyoming.

Priceline.com, an online hotel and air travel agent, will use the space for Booking.com, a division of Priceline that books hotel reservations for European customers. The firm plans to invest $7.7 million into the site and eventually create as many as 400 new jobs that pay from $12 to $14 per hour with benefits.

¡°This is really one of the finest examples of community teamwork to bring some quality jobs to our community,¡± said GE©¦PC Vice President Tom DeBoer, who added that the firm¡¯s Derek Hunderman also played a key role in the deal.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and The Right Place, the region¡¯s economic development advisor, estimated that 180 indirect jobs could be created from the transaction. The state offered Priceline.com an incentive package worth $5.2 million, and state officials felt the lease would generate $7.7 million in state tax revenue by 2015.

¡°They had a consultant that went out and looked at locations for them, and Grand Rapids was one of the places that was highlighted as an up-and-coming call center. Keys to that are our cost, labor and availability of labor,¡± said Suwyn, who along with DeBoer were honored at the forum.

¡°Another thing that was very important to the consultant was quality of life. A lot of call centers have gone to places that are very low cost with a high availability of labor, but there isn¡¯t a good quality of life, so they have a high turnover of staff all the time,¡± he added.

Another key to the deal was Pricline.com needed to locate where the population speaks an array of foreign languages, including Arabic and Chinese, and Suwyn said the region more than met that criterion.

¡°West Michigan came out very high, and a lot of the other markets didn¡¯t have that.¡±

So a good quality of life, affordability, a strong incentive package, a ready work force, and a diverse population melded to create a very impressive application.

Suwyn said the building, though, was the topper that brought Priceline.com here.

¡°That office building had a complete makeover six or seven years ago. It¡¯s about a 100,000-foot office building with about 50,000 on each floor. It was nice, neat, wide open and ready to go. It had redundant fiber. It had heavy power. It had a very heavy parking ratio; they¡¯re looking for 10 parking spaces for every 1,000 feet of office. That building had those things, plus it was ready to go,¡± he said.

Franklin Partners, headed by Donald Shumaker and Martin McCormick, bought the office building, a 360,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and the property¡¯s 27 acres in 2006, a deal that GE|PC also brokered. The structure was once home to Siemens Dematic and Smith Industries. It was built in 1959 and its original owner was Lear Siegler.

¡°Don Schumaker is from Chicago but, candidly, he is probably one of the most active West Michigan developers. He still owns that whole campus there, the Siemens campus. Actually, there are a couple more deals brewing in that building right now,¡± he said.

¡°We had to have them up and operating in less than three weeks and it was yeoman¡¯s work. But Don is fantastic and he has an operations manager (Gary Tamminga) who literally worked around-the-clock and got this thing ready for Priceline. And they said in any market they¡¯ve ever been in, they¡¯ve never had one come together better or quicker than this one.¡±

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