Raising the roof yields Deal of the Year for Colliers

November 9, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The unusual lengths Colliers International/West Michigan went to find a new home for its client, Undercar Products Group in Wyoming, has earned it the Sales/Lease of the Year Award (West Michigan) from the University of Michigan Urban Land Institute.

But Colliers president/CEO, Duke Suwyn, said it really reflects the spirit of teamwork among West Michigan professionals — and the fact that, despite perceptions to the contrary, manufacturing in West Michigan is very much alive and well.

Undercar, which manufactures parts for the auto industry, is doing very well, so much so that by last year it had outgrown its location at 900 Hynes Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. The company turned to Colliers for help.

“Like everyone else, I think they assumed they would see multiple facilities that could be utilized. That’s the perception people have: They come to the (industrial real estate) market and they think they’re going to see a plethora of industrial buildings that are under-utilized or are sitting vacant — quality buildings that are distressed. And the reality is, there aren’t any,” said Suwyn.

He said the vacant former Dematic Corp. plant on Eastern Avenue just north of 44th Street in Wyoming (once a Lear Siegler plant) fit the dimensions Undercar needed and had almost everything else the manufacturer required. “Everything fit perfectly with the exception of height,” said Suwyn. There were 15 feet of clear height under the roof, “and they needed 32.”

Undercar was to the point of considering construction of a new building, but Gary Tamminga came up with a solution. He is director of facilities for Franklin Partners, owners of the former Dematic plant.

“He understands manufacturing,” Suwyn said of Tamminga. “He brought confidence to the (potential) tenant that the landlord could and would deliver a turnkey manufacturing solution to them in time, under budget — which they did.”

Franklin Partners literally raised the roof — or more precisely, 236,000 square feet of the 324,000-square-foot roof.

Tamminga brought in Rooflifters, a company with offices in Toronto and Miami that perfected a hydraulic lift system 20 years ago to raise large roofs. The roof was too big to raise in one piece so it was split in two. The weight was so much that the lifters could only raise it about six inches an hour; it took many days to raise both sections 17 feet. By the time the second section was ready to lift in late December last year, snow and ice on the roof added tremendously to the challenge — but the client could not wait for spring weather. A Franklin Partners executive described Rooflifters’ success as “miraculous.”

Suwyn said that the UM/ULI award is “really an award for the community of West Michigan.”

“It takes the right developer, it takes the right client, it takes the municipalities — it actually took the state on this one. It takes teamwork,” he said.

He added that the legal and environmental professionals involved, plus the city of Wyoming and The Right Place Inc. “all were very instrumental in putting this project together. It would not have happened without everybody heading in the same direction.”

Along with Suwyn, other Colliers International/West Michigan executives cited by UM-ULI for their involvement in the Undercar/Franklin Partners deal are Steve Marcusse and John Kuiper.

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