Higher Education and Real Estate

Pyramid Campus is on tenuous ground

Plans for a STEM hub are on hold as sides haggle over real estate.

May 15, 2015
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After a series of renegotiating meetings and changes, the agreement between Pyramid Education Campus Investors and Steelcase Inc. for the iconic Pyramid building is uncertain.

The pending $7.5 million purchase agreement between Steelcase and the Pyramid Campus may no longer be on the table after nearly two years of collaboration and discussion.

The Pyramid Campus, an education group that envisions placement of a STEM and arts learning environment in the structure, announced the finalized $7.5 million purchase agreement Nov. 26, 2014, with an anticipated close date in February 2015.

The purchase agreement also included a commitment on behalf of Steelcase to collaborate in the research and design planning for the innovative educational hub in the roughly 663,000-square-foot facility, which was built in 1989 at 6100 East Paris Ave. SE, Caledonia.

“Steelcase has been actively searching for the right opportunity to convert the former CDC Pyramid building to a facility that would best serve the local community,” the company indicated in an official statement May 8, 2014. “For several months, we have discussed the development of a multi-use education hub, led by Jerry Zandstra.”

Zandstra, co-founder of the Pyramid Campus, said the organizations have been working on a transaction for almost two years, and it is complicated due to the size and complexity of the building and the vision of an educational community.

“We have had multiple deals in place. At one point, right at the beginning, Steelcase was just going to donate it, but they were putting some restrictions in there we didn’t like,” said Zandstra.

“We went on to another (deal) including the building and area of 181 acres, and we looked at 40 acres they wanted to include and decided it was not land we needed or wanted, so it was reduced to 141 acres. There have been a lot of different versions of this.”

Steelcase indicated in its official statement that Pyramid Education Campus Investors LLC requested an extension on the close of the proposed $7.5 million transaction for April 2015, and “based on guidance from ECI, Steelcase granted the extension with the new close date.”

The revised deadline was April 6.

Zandstra said, based on the pending re-zoning application with Gaines Township and waiting for approval from the state of Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, the organization asked for an additional extension, which was refused by Steelcase. The rezoning request includes changing part of the acreage from I-1 Light Industrial to a Planned Unit Development.

The application for zoning approval was submitted by Todd Schaal on behalf of the Pyramid Education Campus Investors and received Dec. 17 by Gaines Charter Township. The rezoning proposal had an objective to provide an avenue for future development to occur on-site and use the existing structure for future phases that included a fine arts/gymnasium building, higher education dormitory buildings, technology and leasable office spaces, restaurants, expanded parking, sidewalks and new entrances.

“I told them I needed a couple more weeks. I have to get through Gaines Township and I have to get through the state meeting to ensure we can do what we need to do in there,” said Zandstra.

“They said no, so we sent them a letter and asked for the security deposit back, and that agreement ended. They had a board meeting the next week and they decided to demolish the building. We had more discussions.”

However, Steelcase’s official statement indicated after ECI “determined that the closing requirements of the agreement could still not be met by the close date of April 30, and decided to terminate the agreement,” no further agreements were “executed with ECI since that time.”

In a Pyramid Campus press statement May 9, Zandstra said the two organizations had agreed to a purchase price of $3 million and a “timely close.” Based on an email exchange between Steelcase and Zandstra April 22 and 24, Zandstra said they believed there was a deal and a discussion for Steelcase to continue operating “in parallel paths” with continued plans for demolishing if ECI failed to close since there was no threat to the timeframe.

Upon failing to receive paperwork to continue with a purchase agreement, Zandstra said he learned a new investor made a higher cash offer for the building. Steelcase’s official statement indicated that, since the transaction was terminated in early April, the company decided to evaluate other sale options.

“We fully support ECI’s mission and vision for the education hub and wish them the best as they also evaluate other options,” the company stated.

If ECI is not able to secure the Pyramid building, Zandstra said there hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion pertaining to alternate property, despite a number of individuals having emailed him about available sites in West Michigan.

“Right now, the Pyramid is the perfect facility for us. It has infrastructure; it is the right size,” said Zandstra. “There are a hundred things that make this the perfect building for us, so we aren’t even looking at other options.”

Zandstra anticipated having a discussion with Steelcase late last week to receive an update on the status of the deal.

“It is our single hope Steelcase honors what they said they would do and lets us do what we’ve committed to do. When I say they have been great partners in the past two years, they really have been. They have been phenomenal,” said Zandstra.

“My perspective is, this is a glitch. They are examining another possible offer, but from our perspective, we have an agreement.”

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