Franklin Partners buys a good boned building

July 14, 2012
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At first, learning that Franklin Partners LLC has moved into the local office market by purchasing a key downtown structure might indicate a branding switch for the company. After all, the firm is widely known for having successfully redeveloped a half-dozen manufacturing buildings in the area over the past several years.

But that would be incorrect, because even before Franklin Partners bought 99 Monroe Ave. NW, it had been in the office market, as had managing partner Donald Shoemaker.

“I was an office broker for 10 years in downtown Chicago, and with the acquisition of 99 Monroe, we own almost 1 million feet of office space now,” said Shoemaker. “So I’ve been a little bit branded as a manufacturing guy, but I’ve always liked office.”

In fact, Franklin Partners turned a vacant building at 4147 Eastern Ave. in Wyoming into a 96,000- square-foot, modern office and call center a few years ago for Priceline.com and two other tenants, a project that drew statewide recognition and awards. The firm also has renovated a former electronic transmission control center in Caledonia into a new data center that it sold to Amway Corp. And Shoemaker is a partner in a 400,000-square-foot office structure in Kalamazoo that has Stryker as a tenant.

A little less than a year ago, Franklin Partners and Bixby Bridge Capital LLC jointly bought MetroWest, a 205,000-square-foot office building in Naperville, Ill., which is the home base for Franklin Partners. “It’s very similar to 99 Monroe in that it’s mid-1980s construction, really nice assets, a really good location, and really in need of getting up to contemporary standards,” said Shoemaker.

The building at 99 Monroe has 13 stories and 200,000 square feet of space in a prominent downtown location. Campau Square Promenade runs along its north side, while Rosa Parks Circle and the Grand Rapids Art Museum are almost directly across Monroe Avenue.

“We are developing a team to create a fresh look and to transform 99 Monroe to the building to locate your business,” said Gary Tamminga, a partner with Shoemaker in Franklin Partners. Tamminga said major renovations will be done throughout the structure, with much of the work focusing on the lobby, restrooms, common areas and the second floor, which connects to the downtown Skywalk.

Shoemaker said his firm was close to making a deal with a new food service company for the building and will add a fitness center and conference room to the amenities.

“So we’re really trying to change it from a tired 1985 building into a modern, contemporary workplace,” he said. “We plan on deciding on a plan and executing it in August, so it’s not going to take us a long time to starting making changes.”

He said the improvements should be completed within five months.

“Franklin Partners is raising the bar for Class A office space. The amenities 99 Monroe will feature are not readily available in our current market, and that is something Don and Gary are going to change,” said Duke Suwyn, CEO of Colliers International of West Michigan, which brokered the sale for Franklin Partners.

The improvements Franklin Partners will make also are leading the company to make a branding change for the building. No longer will it be marketed as the Campau Square Building, which has served for decades as its primary identity. “We’re going to brand it with more emphasis on 99 Monroe,” said Shoemaker.

The building’s biggest selling point is its location. Shoemaker said he really liked how the structure is so centrally located and that the growth downtown has experienced over the last decade has been to the south, not far from the building.

“I like being connected to the Skywalk and to the hotels. We’re close enough to the courts and the law firms. We have abundant indoor parking with the city parking ramp and we have some of our own private executive parking,” he said.

“The property has good bones, but it needs tender, loving care.”

Franklin Partners purchased 99 Monroe from the building’s lender. Westminster Campau LLC of Lake Forest, Ill., bought the structure for $23.8 million in 2004, according to county records. The 2012 State Equalized Value of the building is almost $9.4 million. Westminster Campau bought a computerized energy management system for the structure in 2009 and earned the building a Gold LEED designation and two Energy Star certifications. The firm also made renovations to the building in 2008.

“The previous owner was giving the building back to the lender for foreclosure. When an owner is in that condition, they stop spending. So for the last couple of years, there haven’t been efforts to retain tenants, find new tenants, or make any capital improvements to the building. So the building lost some tenants I think otherwise wouldn’t have left,” said Shoemaker, who added that his firm will maintain the energy designations.

Comerica Bank, McShane & Bowie and Miller Canfield are the largest tenants at 99 Monroe.

“We really like downtown Grand Rapids. There is a dynamic going on there and the future of it looks great. We just like the fundamentals of downtown,” said Shoemaker. “It was kind of an easy decision, actually.”

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