Construction, Economic Development, and Real Estate

Rooks wins top award from UM/ULI

Shoreline developer is recognized for a bevy of projects.

November 3, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Rooks wins top award from UM/ULI
Parkland Properties owner Jon Rooks, shown atop his Boardwalk condo development in Grand Rapids, earned the top award at this year’s UM/ULI Real Estate Forum. Photo by Pete Daly
Jon Rooks, owner and founder of Parkland Properties development company in Grand Rapids, has been selected for the top award of the year presented by the statewide University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum.

Rooks will be presented with the Real Estate Excellence Award at the annual UM/ULI Real Estate Forum Nov. 7-8, which this year will be at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

The top award reflects an individual’s lifetime achievements, industry leadership, track record of real estate development projects, and innovations in those developments.

The panel of judges were unanimous in their selection of Rooks for the Real Estate Excellence Award, citing his “longtime commitment and involvement” in the West Michigan development community and his willingness to risk investments in the shoreline area. His “environmental expertise” has allowed him to plan successful developments that were, in effect, some of the first major projects near the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids nominated Rooks for the top award, noting the establishment of Parkland Properties in Grand Rapids in 1989. Rooks has always focused on two specialties, one of which is redeveloping and marketing old buildings in urban areas, adding new vitality to those downtown areas. His projects in Grand Rapids include Boardwalk Condominiums, Union Square Condominiums, Cityview Condominiums and others.

Rooks’ other professional focus has been the development of West Michigan waterfront properties connected to Lake Michigan. Because of that, he also was nominated by Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron for the Redevelopment of the Year Award for West Michigan, in recognition of his Shoreline Inn project on Muskegon Lake. That project also includes Terrace Point Marina, Lakehouse Waterfront Grille and Shoreline Inn Conference Center. Other waterfront projects over the years have included Wharf Marina in Grand Haven, the Weathervane Inn in Montague, White Bay Marina in Whitehall and Bayou Meadows on Spring Lake.

Approximately one-half of Rooks’ projects are started from scratch, with Rooks being the first developer on that property. The other half of Parkland Properties projects are “turnarounds,” where Rooks is the second, third or even fourth developer to acquire a distressed property and make it successful.

Rooks’ business strategy is “to be as efficient as possible,” and he achieves that by staying focused on specific, narrow criteria. One of those is proximity to West Michigan.

“People don’t realize that some of their best opportunities are in their own backyard, and they go far and wide trying to find projects to do. I just think it’s interesting how many opportunities we have right here in the Grand Rapids area. We don’t go farther than 45 minutes from Grand Rapids,” said Rooks.

The other defining criterion is the project type — and there are just two: It’s either on water connected to Lake Michigan, or adaptive reuse of a struggling urban property.

Developers get a lot of pitches from real estate brokers, said Rooks, but if Parkland is presented with a pitch for something that isn’t in that close proximity to Grand Rapids, or isn’t a waterfront or adaptive reuse of urban buildings, “I don’t waste any time spending resources and time on it.”

“Dealing with regulatory issues on shorelines is always challenging for developments,” said Rooks, adding that contaminated soil is often encountered on lakes or rivers connected to Lake Michigan in West Michigan because of past industrial uses of the property. Developments on or close to Lake Michigan require a combination of local permits plus state permits from the Department of Environmental Quality, and federal permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Rooks.

In some instances the local community supports his development proposal and the state or federal officials do not. Other times, it’s reversed, he said, so it takes a lot of expertise and patience to attempt it.

“The interesting thing about those projects on water is that sometimes the permits themselves will double the value of the property. So it’s pretty important to understand what would and would not be allowed, and try to work that out expediently, because it can take four or five years sometimes to get those permits — in which case your holding costs are much higher,” he said.

Rooks, 49, noted that about 20 years ago he received a Young Entrepreneur of the Year award presented to him by Gov. John Engler on behalf of the Small Business Administration.

“It’s hard to believe that was already 20 years ago. So time flies,” he said.

Parkland Properties has an office staff of six, including Rooks, but his total employee count is a little more than 200, which includes the hotel and restaurant staff at the Shoreline Inn Resort on Muskegon Lake.

New projects ongoing at Parkland Properites include the Highpoint Flats apartments in downtown Muskegon in a historic, 90-year-old, eight-story building that once housed a bank and offices. Parkland is also developing home sites on Terrace Point Peninsula on Muskegon Lake, and is seeking permits to build a 96-unit residential development in downtown Grand Haven on the water.

Parkland Properties has been actively involved with the Monroe North Tax Increment Finance Authority, Monroe North Business Association, West Michigan Regional Planning Commission and others in Grand Rapids. It has also been long involved with various civic and business organizations in Muskegon.

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