Newaygo building to include membership office space

April 13, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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NEWAYGO — An unusual new commercial building in downtown Newaygo may resemble a college town coffee shop where students can be seen working on their laptops — except it won't serve coffee. It will, however, offer copy services, video conferencing and private meeting rooms.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held in early April by the city of Newaygo, Muskegon Community College and Haworth for a multi-purpose building that could be completed by next winter. It will include fully equipped office spaces, a community business center, a training facility for MCC, offices for nonprofit organizations and space for retail businesses.

The 26,000-square-foot, two-story building will be built at 1 State Road on a vacant lot that once was the site of the historic Courtright Hotel. The first floor will be dedicated to retail use, but office space on the second floor will be called The Stream Community Business Center. It will be a state-of-the-art, technology-filled space that represents a new way to work — a membership-based remote site for office workers.

According to a spokesperson for Haworth, which will supply flexible office furnishings for the community business center, the idea for the building was sparked by research that showed that a high percentage of people commute from Newaygo County to jobs elsewhere. Those commuters may have a primary residence in the Greater Grand Rapids area but have second homes in Newaygo County where they spend the summer months.

“Newaygo values our population of second-home community members, and the business center will be a place where they can work for an hour or all day,” said Newaygo Mayor Ron Armstrong.

According to Michigan Tourism Facts published by Michigan State University, the 2000 census revealed that almost 4,400 homes in Newaygo County are used on a seasonable basis, equal to almost 19 percent of all housing units there. That compares to less than 1 percent in Kent County, and about 2 percent in Muskegon County.

Newaygo City Manager Rich Blachford said the business center will be close enough for many potential users to reach by bicycle.

"We believe that this innovative project will help kick-start the economy,” added Blachford.

Information from Haworth states that some of the seasonal residents with second homes on the many Newaygo County lakes are "new economy professionals" who are in need of a place to work when they are distant from their corporate offices.

Andy Lofgren, executive director of the Newaygo County Economic Development Office, said a private developer is constructing the building but the interior space will be "condominium-ized" — with the second floor to be owned by the city of Newaygo and operated jointly by the city and the county EDO.

"What we’re really trying to do is share overhead, frankly," said Lofgren, while providing "a first-class office facility available to different kinds of users."

The concept of offering memberships for office use "operates like a traditional business center — an incubator — where you share overhead costs, but then you're also opening it up to a little bit larger number of potential end-users," added Lofgren.

Lofgren compared it to membership in a health club. He said the city and county are still working on setting the cost of membership, but guessed the basic fee would be something like $200 to $250 a month. Additional fees might be charged depending on the actual use by the member.

"We think that's reasonable, especially when you compare it to what gas prices are and how much you're spending" on commuting, he said.

The offices will include telephones and computer equipment, he said, although members might use their own cell phones and laptops, which would likely keep their costs down.

"This was an idea that was kind of born out of the West Michigan WIRED initiative," said Lofgren. As he recalls, WIRED brought up the concept of remote work centers in fringe areas near metropolitan centers. He said the idea was for individuals needing temporary office space to have access to remote work centers "as opposed to having to commute to core urban areas every day."

The Newaygo community "just ran with it, and kind of tweaked it to fit our own needs up here," he said.

WIRED stands for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development, a program of the U.S. Department of Labor launched in 2005. It focuses on methods of supporting economic development, including small business ventures.

Lofgren said the Stream Community Business Center might be ideal for a real estate agent who doesn't need an office to work in all day, every day, but does want a central location where he or she can meet with clients as needed. Other users might be seasonal employers needing office space, or someone in the initial stages of starting a small business.

The building may be built to LEED certification standards, with furniture and a floor system that allows for easy reconfiguration, according to a Haworth representative.

"We believe this project could become a model to the rest of the United States," said Mabel Casey, global vice president of marketing for Haworth. She said the "one-of-a-kind" office facility will be geared toward "helping the environment" through a reduced need for commuting, and also "helping create and maintain jobs and bringing family and community together."

Dennis Van Dam, a real estate broker for Visser Development and the former owner of the land where the new building is being built, said the owner and developer of the project is HEB LLC, which includes some Visser principals. Visser Brothers are the general contractors, and the design is being done by Paradigm Design in Walker, according to Van Dam.

Van Dam said the total investment in the project, excluding some of the finish costs of the second floor interior, will be in the neighborhood of $2.8 million to $3 million.

He said the city hopes to take possession of the second-floor space by the late fall or early winter.

"I think, in six months, it will be ready for paint and carpet," he said.

Andrew Howard of Paradigm said the second floor may include raised access flooring, so that the offices can be easily reconfigured. All power, communications and HVAC service would be under the floor, and floor tiles could be easily removed to re-adjust the HVAC and cabling to ensure maximum efficiency and comfort in every office each time there is a reconfiguration of the floor plan.

Howard said he wasn't sure at this early point whether or not LEED certification will be sought, although he said LEED certification has been "part of the discussion" and "a lot of LEED ideas have gone into the design."

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