Grooters, Brookstone and GEPC named best

October 4, 2009
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Two local building projects and one commercial real estate transaction will be honored next month at the 23rd annual University of Michigan Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum, which takes place this year in Ann Arbor.

The independent judges for the 2009 Real Estate Excellence Awards were Tom Wackerman, director of brownfield redevelopment for ASTI Environmental, and Don Taylor, director of development at the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. The awards, presented by Grand Rapids Business Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business, honor both the greater Grand Rapids and greater Detroit areas’ most prestigious real estate professionals — those who have the vision and leadership to attain significant achievements in the industry and reshape their respective communities.

The judges awarded Robert Grooters, of Bridgewater Condos LLC and the Robert Grooters Development Co., the forum’s top west side prize: the Real Estate Excellence Award. The noted project was the River House condominium building — a $90 million, 34-story luxury residential tower at 335 Bridge St. NW next door to Bridgewater Place, the office tower Grooters built and opened in 1993. The project was nominated in the Development of the Year category. However, the judges saw fit to elevate the honor to the Real Estate Excellence status.

“First, he has done a bunch of different stuff,” said Wackerman, the forum’s chairman, of why Grooters was given the top honor. “What we try to look at is people who are not just doing one project. One project is hard enough, but to do a lot of projects is even more difficult.

“Secondly, this, I think, has been a 10-year journey for him. So we try to look at staying power and commitment. And then, thirdly, it really is quite a change to the skyline and the kind of gestalt, if you will, of the city — just as the original office tower was. Just as the Medical Hill is changing the skyline and the general feel for the city, this kind of has that impact,” he said of River House.

Brookstone Capital, headed by President Karl Chew, won the west side’s Development of the Year Award for its $6 million renovation of 101 S. Division Ave. The 124-year-old, four-story structure at Division and Oakes sat vacant for much of a decade before Chew turned the building’s 40,000 square feet into upper-level apartments, ground-floor commercial space and covered parking in the basement. He also made it LEED certified.

“This project, to me, is one of the essences of what Grand Rapids is all about,” said Taylor. “Redeveloping your downtown, making it a walkable urban place, reusing historic buildings — which I have a passion for myself — taking advantage of tax credits, working with all the district’s players, saving a gem and making it such an asset again: I just think that is a wonderful story.”

Taylor pointed out that having Chew transform 101 S. Division into a LEED-certified building made a compelling statement that saving energy and helping heal the city’s environment isn’t just for new construction.

“This just proves that you can take an old building and make it LEED certified. The ingredients are all there, you just have put things together properly,” said Taylor.

Fryling Construction, a division of the Wolverine Building Group, was the general contractor for both construction projects.

Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce won the west side’s commercial real estate Sale of the Year Award for brokering the transaction that had the Roskam Baking Co. buy the former Steelcase Inc. plant at 5353 Broadmoor Ave. SE in Kentwood from Franklin Partners. The sale involved a team effort and the result of the transaction is expected to create up to 1,000 jobs in the coming years.

Company president Duke Suwyn and vice presidents John Kuiper and Derek Hunderman represented Franklin Partners in the sale of the 685,890-square-foot building. The Wisinski Group represented Roskam in the deal. GE|PC won the same award last year.

The winners will take the spotlight and receive their awards in Ann Arbor Nov. 11, the first day of the UM/ULI Real Estate Forum.

Looking back at the nominations, Wackerman said he was impressed with the broad variety they received this year, which ranged from iconic residential towers to adaptive reuses of former industrial properties. He also felt those nominations were indicative of the year the commercial real estate industry has had.

“I think that reflects both what’s happening in the marketplace; in other words, a whole bunch of different things are happening along with the fact that not a lot is happening in the marketplace,” he said. “So you’ve got a couple of really cool projects and those are in a broad spectrum, but we don’t have 20 or 30 things competing in each segment this year. That was the first thing that struck me.

“The second thing that struck me was how much development is really going on in the west side. We saw that last year when we took the forum over there. But it seems to be continuing, which is a good thing for the state.”

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