Architecture & Design and Lakeshore

GMBae acquires Visbeen Associates

August 6, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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GMB Architecture + Engineering Inc. in Holland has just gotten larger — and increased its presence in the residential and retail development markets — with the acquisition of Visbeen Associates Inc. architectural firm in Grand Rapids.

Visbeen will now operate under the name Visbeen Architects, and its nine architects will continue to work in the firm’s headquarters off East Paris Avenue north of 28th Street. Wayne Visbeen, former president of Visbeen Associates, now has an ownership stake in GMBae.

The GMBae announcement describes Visbeen Architects as a nationwide boutique architecture firm specializing in full-service architectural and interior design services. Founded 20 years ago, it has extensive experience in home design and retail development design, markets in which GMBae was not previously strong, according to GMBae Vice President David Bolt.

The addition of Visbeen is “very positive for us,” Bolt said.

Founded in Holland 44 years ago by Gordon M. Buitendorp of Grand Haven (hence the initials GMB), GMBae today is a full-service architecture and engineering firm with more than 80 employees, with its primary quarters in Holland and an office in Grand Rapids. Today the firm is led by President Harm Perdok.

GMBae specializes in designing and engineering facilities that serve education (K-12 through colleges and universities), health care and corporations. The company does not reveal its annual revenues.

Bolt said Buitendorp went into business on his own in 1968 as an architect designing industrial plants in West Michigan. He said Buitendorp soon added engineering services to his growing firm, “so we became a full-service firm right away.” In the 1980s, the firm began working on educational facilities throughout Michigan, and through the 1980s and 1990s became one of the largest architectural firms in education in the state, according to Bolt.

Over the last 10 years, GMBae began working to diversify its market segments as part of a growth strategy, said Bolt. That included a return to its roots in some industrial construction projects. “We’ve done quite a bit of that recently, as well as starting to get into more work in health care,” he said, and in senior residential and senior assisted-living developments.

One of Visbeen’s latest design projects was the new, high-end 28,000-square-foot A.K. Rikks clothing store going up on 28th Street in Cascade Township. However, over the years, Visbeen has focused mainly on high-end home construction — “doing a lot of custom homes,” as Bolt put it. One major project Visbeen worked on was the Boardwalk development of homes in South Haven on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Both GMBae and Visbeen have been working on the Cornerstone University campus in Grand Rapids for more than a year on projects including the new baseball stadium. Working together on the Cornerstone projects was like “the last piece of the puzzle,” said Bolt, and led the two companies to contemplate a real merger “and really take advantage of each other’s strength.”

“By formalizing the relationship, we can draw on each other’s expertise,” said Wayne Visbeen. “GMB is hungry to grow and has an incredible reputation for getting things done. It’s exciting to become a part of a growing and dynamic organization and to offer our clients access to a broader array of services. We like the idea of becoming part of an established and commercially successful brand.”

About 10 percent of GMBae’s work has been out-of-state, according to Bolt, but he noted that Visbeen “has a lot more connections outside the state, which is another advantage of having Wayne involved with us.” One of Visbeen’s projects was designing the Brooklyn Museum Shop in New York.

Visbeen Architects has an office in Chicago, “so now we’ll have a Chicago presence, which will help” in pursuing more work in that region, said Bolt.

Some of GMBae’s most recent projects out-of-state were office furniture showrooms for Haworth and a major industrial plant under construction in Colorado. Bolt was not at liberty to identify that plant due to confidentiality agreements with the client.

GMBae claims to be one of the largest construction design and engineering firms in the Midwest.

Industrial construction — especially in Michigan — is “probably the biggest growth we’ve seen in the markets we work in, in the last year,” said Bolt. “I think a lot of industries were on hold during the recession and now have started to come out of it a little and are excited about growth and building.”

The return of the Michigan economy has GMBae “very optimistic for what we are seeing in the next few years. The forecasts look good for us,” said Bolt. “That’s why we want to take advantage of that by adding to our company and growing it now. We want to prepare ourselves for that future.”

One of GMBae’s most recent engineering projects was a solar energy system it designed for the city of Grand Rapids at Oak Industrial Drive. The system is designed to yield a 25 percent energy cost savings to the city at that facility.

GMBae has been active in sustainable design for years, with LEED-accredited professionals on staff in all A&E disciplines and positions of leadership, according to their website. The firm’s projects include the CityFlats hotels in Holland and Grand Rapids, the Calvin College Covenant Fine Arts Center and Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex, the Van Andel Soccer Stadium at Hope College and a variety of projects for Gentex Corp.

While the Visbeen firm will remain in its headquarters for now, long-term plans are to merge the GMB and Visbeen offices in Grand Rapids at some point, noted Bolt.

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