Miller Products buildings sold

October 23, 2011
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The Rockford Development Group has purchased the former Miller Products buildings at 601 and 614 First St. on the west side of Grand Rapids, an area that has had a number of industrial structures redeveloped over the past few years, most notably by the Robert Israels family and American Seating Co.

Rockford Development, doing business as 614 First Street Partners LLC for the transaction, bought the property in a quitclaim deal from Comerica Bank last month. Comerica foreclosed on the Miller sites in October of last year, nearly two years after the company closed. The purchase includes about 90,000 square feet of industrial space and a parking lot that fronts Seward Avenue NW at First Street.

The buildings went for just under $900,000. According to county records, the 2011 State Equalized Value for the building at 601 First St. was $762,800, and $360,300 for the 614 First St. structure. As expected, both SEVs were down from the previous year.

“I think the sales number at the end of the day is a fair number for both parties. The reason I say that is, it was bank owned, and when somebody writes an offer, they’re going to weigh the probability of close and length of time before close, as well as purchase price, and take all those different things into consideration,” said John Kuiper, a principal and industrial specialist at Colliers International/West Michigan, which represented Comerica Bank in the transaction.

Kuiper said there weren’t any issues regarding the buyer’s financing, and Rockford Development was poised to go forward with the purchase. “They initially offered more than what the final sales price was, and the bank said if they got it done by a certain date, the bank would give the buyer a discount to get the deal done. The bank was happy to provide (the discount) to move the deal along quickly,” he said.

A call to Rockford Development regarding its plan for the site wasn’t returned by press time. But Kuiper noted that location accounts for much of the properties’ value. “This parcel, candidly, is pretty strategic between the U.S. 131 expressway and Grand Valley (State University),” he said.

Kuiper said the properties, which are zoned for industrial use, could service a manufacturer or two, at least for the short term. But down the road, he felt the location would become a prime spot for future development.

“If you look at it from an aerial standpoint, Grand Valley pushes up to Bridge Street, and then you’ve got between Bridge and the expressway. And at some point in time, I would expect that somebody is going to continue to push that all the way over to 131, and that is just further potential for redevelopment,” he said.

The Miller buildings are a block north of Bridge Street and a stone’s throw from an expressway overpass. The site also has some amenities a developer might find enticing. “You’ve got a billboard on site. You’ve got a cell tower on site. You’ve got a fair amount of parking. You’ve got a 20,000-square-foot newer building that is very functional and is very usable. It’s a great building,” he said of the structure at 614 First St.

“Then you’ve got about 75,000 to 80,000 square feet of an older, chopped-up industrial building that has some useful life left. But you’re not going to take that facility and make it state-of-the-art today,” he said of the structure at 601 First St.

Bob Israels once looked at the Miller property after he redeveloped much of Seward Avenue between Third and Seventh streets, just north of the Miller site. But after the financial market derailed and the economy crashed, Kuiper said his firm began targeting the buildings to potential users instead of developers, like Israels, because redevelopment seemed fairly unlikely to happen in such a poor economy with tightened lending practices.

“Throughout that process, Comerica did foreclose on it,” he said. “Comerica was obviously motivated to dispose of the property as it didn’t have any use for it, and the sooner, they felt, the better.”

Miller Products, which opened here in 1939 and served the auto and furniture industries, went out of business nearly three years ago to the date. Miller was owned then by TMB Industries, a private equity firm in Chicago, which bought the company in 2006.

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