Good deeds recognized

October 23, 2011
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The University of Michigan-Urban Land Institute annual conference is cued up in Detroit this year to celebrate the statewide association’s 25th anniversary. The two-day conference features several workshops regarding new urbanism, meds and eds, and an opening luncheon keynote speech by Tony Goldman, Goldman Properties. Speakers from the Grand Rapids area include Sam Cummings, Jonathan Bradford and Stu Kingma.

The conference will close with a tribute to the best representatives of various aspects of the commercial real estate businesses in Michigan. Grand Rapids Business Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business annually recognize the top endeavors throughout the state.

UM-ULI commercial real estate judges awarded the association’s highest honor to Cummings, CDW Real Estate principal managing partner, for Real Estate Excellence, which is considered a lifetime achievement honor.

The judges also awarded the Development/Redevelopment top honor to Chuck Reid, Charter House Innovations, for the CityFlats hotel project in downtown Grand Rapids. The Sales/Lease of the Year Award (West Michigan) recognizes Duke Suwyn, Steve Maracusse and John Kuiper of Colliers International/West Michigan for their work to lease the old 224,000-square-foot Lear Siegler plant to Undercar Products Group.

The winners, projects and nominees will be featured in the Nov. 7 Business Journal’s Commercial Quarterly.

Staying put

Credit Patrick Miles for sending out his non-candidacy announcement for Congress in 2012 to friends, family and associates before they heard about it in the media. Of course, since the e-mail announcement also was sent to “friends” in the media, it was probably only a 30-second head start — but that’s beside the point.

Miles’ bid for the Third District Congressional seat came up short when Republican Justin Amash swept into office last year, but the experience further solidified Miles’ standing in the community and opened some doors that otherwise might have remained closed.

He’s now head of the fledgling West Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce and continues to use his legal and business acumen to create jobs within the community. Plus, he’s not ruling out a D.C. address in the future.

“But it is best that I serve this community now in other productive ways. Among other things, I am continuing to help local small businesses and entrepreneurs grow and get more people back to work. Although I’ve spent the past 25 years working in the private sector, I fully expect to try and serve the people at some point in the future in a public capacity,” he said.

So don’t weep for what might have been, because it could only be a matter of time.

“As always, my focus is on serving the community and working with others to make West Michigan as great as it can be.”

The Great Brookby

It sounds like something that should be situated in West Egg right next to Gatsby’s mansion, but, in fact, the former Blodgett mansion is now part of the Aquinas College estate.

Last week Sam and Janene Cummings upped West Michigan’s philanthropic profile with a gift of the multimillion-dollar East Grand Rapids spread at the corner of Plymouth Avenue and Robinson Road to the college. Happy 125th birthday, Aquinas!

The home, designed by New York architects Walker and Gillette, with grounds by famed landscape architects Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Mass., was built between 1926 and 1927 by early Grand Rapids philanthropist John W. Blodgett Sr.

Brookby was built nearly 20 years after the construction of Holmdene Manor (now a major part of the Aquinas campus), which was the home of Mr. Blodgett’s sister, Susan Blodgett Lowe. The two properties were connected at their beginning, and now will be once again.

“Aquinas College is grateful to Sam and Janene for their generous gift, and we look forward to being good stewards of the Brookby estate,” said Lt. General John Nowak, chair, Aquinas College board of trustees.

“Brookby holds a special place in our community’s history, and represents a very special place in her connection to the history of Aquinas, so Janene and I felt it was only appropriate that we donate the estate to the college,” said Cummings. “Additionally, Aquinas College has an ongoing commitment to sustainability and preservation, so we know our beloved Brookby will be in good hands.”

The gift includes the main house, two smaller homes, a vast patio area, gardens and a backyard that opens onto Fisk Lake.

“This wonderful gesture by the Cummings is incredibly inspiring and consistent with their association with the historic estate,” said Aquinas president Juan Olivarez. “It’s very fitting that Sam and Janene continue the legacy of philanthropy that the Blodgett and Lowe families exemplified before them. Aquinas College is very grateful to have Sam and Janene Cummings as part of our family.”

Beam us up

Priceline.com, the global online travel company that features “Star Trek” actor William Shatner in its advertising, has received further incentives to expand its Bookings.com service center in Wyoming, where another 562 jobs are expected to be added over the next five years.

The Right Place Inc., in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the city of Wyoming, announced last week that state and local tax abatement incentives that originally lured the company to the vacant Siemens Dematic factory in 2008 have been amended and extended to persuade the company to increase its investment and hiring there.

According to the MEDC, in return for the additional jobs in Wyoming, Priceline.com will receive an estimated state tax credit valued at up to $938,384 over the next three years. Wyoming, which approved a 10-year property tax abatement for Priceline.com in 2008, also will allow abatement of all new personal property taxes resulting from the additional investment.

The company plans to invest approximately $300,000 (none of which are lease costs) in its facility at 4147 Eastern Ave. SE.

Priceline.com, which is based in Norwalk, Conn., is an online travel company that takes hotel reservations and makes arrangements for other travel services in over 110 countries. In addition to Priceline.com, the Priceline Group (Nasdaq: PCLN) includes Booking.com; Agoda.com, an Asia-based hotel reservation service; and TravelJigsaw, a multinational rental car service.

According to Priceline, it is “the number one online hotel reservation service in the world, offering over 165,000 hotels,” and providing customer support in 29 languages.

In 2008, the company invested $7.7 million on equipment and facility renovations and committed to creating 424 jobs over the following five years, in return for a state employment tax credit worth $3.9 million over seven years, plus abatements by Wyoming of its personal property taxes.

According to The Right Place, after three years the call center has 386 employees, plus 253 temporary employees. Due to the company’s global growth, however, it must expand beyond the scope of the initial investment and has been considering locations in the western U.S. and South America, so the Michigan Economic Growth Authority voted last week to increase its original incentive to persuade Priceline.com to make the additional investment in Michigan.

The MEDC estimates the Priceline.com call center will have up to 760 jobs by 2016.

Priceline.com stock prices reflect a very strong growth curve. In early January 2009, stock was trading for about $75. One year ago, it was fluctuating between $340 and $376, and last week it was close to $500 per share.

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