Street Talk

Street Talk: No smoke and mirrors

Skating along.

May 27, 2016
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As Sam Cummings said in the Business Journal’s page 1 story today on the real estate market, speculative office space just isn’t happening.

News came last week that the 12 Weston project on South Division Avenue has stalled long enough to make its developer, Peter Secchia’s Sibsco LLC, put the project on hold and explore other options for the site.

The Colliers report mentioned that building new space is the only way to ensure Grand Rapids continues its growth. That opinion might hold true for retail — and, to an extent, residential — but there are many buildings with vacancies that are ripe for renovation and upgrades to house better office space.

There was only one tenant announced for the eight-story structure proposed for 12 Weston — Adtegrity, which was to be the anchor tenant. The company was slated to take three floors.

Charlie Secchia, principal of Sibsco, said to start construction he wanted to have the building at least 80 percent leased, and there just wasn’t enough interest in the building at this time. He said leaving part of a new building an undeveloped blank slate isn’t that uncommon, but because of the site’s location and the Secchia name, the development’s pause has garnered more attention.

“The good news is it’s visible and people see it. It’s easy to complain about, but it’s also easy for developers to envision something there,” Secchia said.

Secchia told the Business Journal the land was bought at a great price — although costs did increase due to the removal of dilapidated buildings and back taxes. Sibsco has done much of the construction site and environmental work on the location, but what happens next is up in the air. The 12 Weston site could still be developed by Sibsco or it could be sold to another developer.

“I’m not withholding anything. I’m not sure what will happen there; we’re evaluating it now,” he said. “We’re looking at some other ideas, some mixed-use, residential components. We may sell it. I don’t want it to sit for too much longer as it is right now. It’s not pretty.

“Somebody is going to do a great project there, it just might not be us. And it may be us.”

While Secchia cites costly construction and rent as reasons Class A office space isn’t being built, Cummings said the construction costs are similar to those in every other city, but Grand Rapids’ rents are still low.

Rents in renovated projects can be much lower than in newly constructed Class A space, and there could be 500,000-plus square feet of renovated office space in the next two years, Secchia said. In the long run, the lower rates could save a tenant millions of dollars.

“We have a lot of office space downtown, a lot of buildings that are dated that are being renovated,” he said. “If, (with) new construction, you need to charge $24 a foot, and a Class B, nicely renovated building is between $14 and $18 a foot, people do the math and that’s big money. Bottom-line savings — that’s pretty big.”

Secchia said the economy in Grand Rapids is really solid, but the relatively full occupancy rate downtown is deceptive.

“It’s kind of a false number because of the number of buildings being renovated right now,” he said. “That impacted our 12 Weston site, and again, I’m not hiding behind smoke and mirrors. Just, to me, it seems silly to dwell on a project that never started. I think it’s a good thing that it never started, that the market didn’t show a need for it.”

Home team

Imagine if your career became a movie, starring an iconic Academy Award-winner as you?

That’s what happened to Herman Boone, whose high school football-coaching career was portrayed in the 2000 blockbuster film “Remember the Titans.”

Boone, who was played in the film by Denzel Washington, served as the keynote speaker for the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan’s annual luncheon May 19.

“To the beautiful ladies who blessed us with your presence hoping that Denzel Washington would be here, let me be the first to let you know that he isn’t coming,” Boone teased.

“I can’t seem to get rid of this vitiligo (a disease Boone suffers from that causes white patches of skin), which is passed on from Michael Jackson,” he said. “And I’ve heard from my doctors it’s going to turn me white. But I said, ‘That’s OK. Then I’ll have the chance to be on the other side for a change.’”

In 1971, Boone became a football legend after he served as the first consolidated head football coach of the newly integrated T.C. Williams High School Titans in Alexandria, Virginia. Boone was a strong leader who brought white and black players together, winning the 1971 Virginia state championship.

Boone, now 80, works to make fair housing a reality across the nation. Unfortunately, housing discrimination will continue, he said, meaning those who fight for equality must be vigilant.

“The work you do is local … it must never slow down. And you can never take a vacation because, when you sleep, these crooks are waiting, planning,” he said.

Puck drop

A Grand Rapids Griffins staffer with proven off-ice abilities is ready to test her skills on the rink.

Tara Boliard, a season-ticket sales account executive for the Griffins, has been invited to participate in one of three free agent camps the National Women’s Hockey League will hold next month.

Having recently completed its inaugural season, the NWHL is the first U.S. women's hockey league to pay its players. The league’s four northeastern-based teams counted eight members of the silver medal-winning 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey Team among its player ranks last season.

A 28-year-old forward and defenseman, Boliard will showcase her talents June 24-26 at HarborCenter in Buffalo, New York, in hopes of securing a contract with either the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale or New York Riveters. In preparation, she resigned from her position with the Griffins Friday to dedicate herself to a full-time regimen of skating and off-ice training.

“If I want to compete with the best players in the world, I need to skate every day and commit four hours to the gym every morning,” said Boliard. “The Griffins have been outstanding in accommodating my schedule to this point, and I can’t thank them enough, but it’s time to get more intense with my training.”

While earning a sports marketing degree from Davenport University, Boliard captained the Panthers during the ACHA Division I program’s first two seasons, overcoming a broken leg suffered during her senior season in 2013-14 to earn a fifth year of eligibility.

The Canton, Michigan, native spent her freshman through junior seasons at Buffalo State College after walking on to the NCAA Division III team in 2010-11. She earned All-Academic Team honors in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Boliard began playing hockey at age 13 for Little Caesars. She competed for Team USA Selects as a 17-year-old, then later was a member of Little Caesars’ Senior A national championship team before embarking on her college career.

While concluding her academic and athletic career at Davenport, Boliard spent the 2014-15 season as an inside sales intern for the Griffins, finishing her tenure as the top ticket and revenue-producing group sales intern in the department’s history. Following a brief ticket sales stint with the Detroit Tigers, she returned to the Griffins full time last August and is projected to finish third in the AHL in new season ticket sales for 2015-16.

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