Blue Bridge Now Spans The Industry

May 21, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Blue Bridge Ventures LLC has reorganized and expanded.

The 4-year-old privately held commercial development firm recently formed a holding company called Blue Bridge Limited LLC. Limited then spun off two more divisions: Blue Bridge Commercial LLC, the brokerage unit, and Blue Bridge Management LLC, which will provide management and maintenance services for client properties.

The new additions allow Blue Bridge Ventures LLC to focus solely on creating projects for the firm, its core business, and leave the selling, leasing and management chores to the other divisions.

Jack Buchanan, Howard Hansen, and the firm’s newest partner, Michael Sytsma, will co-direct the groups, at least from the start.

“We will gradually phase out of this control once we get up and going,” said Buchanan.

Although the three units will operate independently, none will function in a vacuum. The trio will compare notes on a regular basis to provide potential leads for each other.

Each unit, though, will be responsible for its own overhead and capital formation, and each unit’s associates will share in any excess profits a division may have regardless of how the other entities perform.

Blue Bridge primarily started as a development firm. But with Buchanan being an original partner in the award-winning Brass Works Building, the company filled that space and then managed the renovated office structure at 648 Monroe Ave. NW. And now the partners feel the time is right to offer these services to others in the market.

“We had a lot of people that weren’t the right fit for Brass Works, for various reasons. So we found there was an opportunity to then broker some of those people to different spots,” said Buchanan.

“What we want to do is separate ourselves from the brokerage things so we’re more of a pure client and a customer like everybody else. So if a broker has a lead, they’re not only seeing that we’re a match, but some of the clients that they have might also be a match, as well,” he added.

The reorganization also gives the brokerage unit a chance to make more money by being a separate entity from the development division, yet the brokerage gives the development side a chance to deepen its coffer, too.

“Brokerage found a deal and it went to development. We will develop it and then it will go back to our brokerage, which will be responsible for going back out and leasing or selling it,” said Sytsma. “We have an opportunity to do that, although the brokerage is operating on its own.”

Sytsma added that Blue Bridge brokers are in a very good position because the project development division is hungry and is actively seeking deals.

We’ve got the skill set. We’ve got the capacity. And we’ve got the understanding to be able to get things done and do it pretty efficiently,” he said.

Hansen said that he would be taking on more of the firm’s administrative duties than he has in the past and would also spend more time with the property management unit. Doing those tasks, he felt, allows Buchanan and Sytsma to have more time with the other divisions.

“I took care of the day-to-day kinds of things and freed Jack up. Now I am freeing both of them up to do what they do best. Whether we have titles in the new company or not, those are kind of the roles that we’re going to play,” said Hansen.

Buchanan told the Business Journal that each entity would be more autonomous than when all were under the Ventures umbrella. Flushing out brokerage and management to be on their own, he felt, will make each more profitable and the overall company more valuable.

Buchanan is confident that his brokerage can go head-to-head with the area’s established commercial real estate firms. He felt Blue Bridge’s culture — which has a history of investing in the market like clients do — and its attitude toward making those investments will make the brokerage division competitive.

“A lot of brokers say to clients, ‘I don’t own property so I don’t compete with you.’ That’s not our philosophy,” he said. “It’s sort of being like a stockbroker. I wouldn’t trust a stockbroker who wasn’t in the market, who wasn’t risking capital and understanding that I’m putting a lot of money in the market and he is giving me advice on stocks.”

The partners felt that expanding the firm was a natural thing to do, as the company grew and gained expertise in management and brokering the last few years. They said the next logical step was to give each its own identity and autonomy, which they feel should allow each to grow even more.

“Blue Bridge Ventures, which has been doing development work — we’re growing that one, as well,” said Sytsma. “But because of the volume that we’re going to drive through there, it almost necessitates that we have these separate entities.”    

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