West Coast Firm Buys
West Michigan Buildings

October 26, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — There is a new real estate investment firm in town.

Virtú Investments of San Francisco recently purchased 230,000 square feet of fully leased industrial space from First Companies Inc., a local firm that owns and manages commercial properties and does design and construction work.

The sale involved five buildings at four southside suburban addresses, and the structures range in size from 23,500 square feet to 65,270 square feet.

"They purchased the buildings for the long-term cash flow of the properties. We spent a lot of time with a number of their representatives, their financial people and their third-party representatives on why they want to be in West Michigan," said Colin Kraay, an investment advisor with Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce, of Virtú Investments.

The industrial and investment divisions at GE|PC represented First Properties in the transaction. Grubb & Ellis did the same for Virtú Investments. The deal has closed.

Kraay said Virtú was interested in the metro area because the firm saw the market as a good investment.

"It's got a good, steady rental base. They can purchase properties for around replacement value. They can get a good, steady return for their equity, and we're incredibly more affordable than California to purchase real estate. So when we asked the question of why they're buying here, they said, 'Why wouldn't we?'" said Kraay.

GE|PC Industrial Vice President John Kuiper explained when a potential out-of-town client comes here, his firm encourages the executives to stay at a downtown hotel so they can get a first-hand look at the entertainment and cultural options the city offers and see the new developments being built. Kuiper said all the activity they find in the central business district usually leaves those clients with a positive impression of the metro area, and the executives from the Bay Area company were no exception.

"Whether it's investment properties or large industrial users, I'm selling the market — the West Michigan area — as much as any individual property," he said.

"I think it's almost something where Grand Rapids sells itself. It's not just downtown, it's the overall atmosphere. Downtown is a component of that, but the market sells itself," added Kraay.

First Properties President Jeff Baker said his firm put the buildings on the market because it was the right time to make that move.

"This is a group of well-constructed buildings that have mature tenants, tenants that are going to be here for a while and have grown, for the most part, to the capacity of where they're going to be. What we like to do is take tenants from birth to maturity. When they get to maturity, the timing gets right for us to look at selling these buildings," he said.

Although First Properties no longer owns the structures, Baker said the company isn't walking away from its longtime tenants as his firm will continue to manage the spaces. He said the buildings' tenants represent a fairly broad mix of business types.

"We are also going to reinvest the money back into West Michigan real estate, so it's a win-win for us, too," he said.

"It was a mix that the financing components really liked," said Chad Barton, also a GE|PC investment advisor who worked on the deal.

Kuiper added that one tenant group not in that mix is automotive.

"Companies coming into the market tend to shy away from auto-related manufacturers right now. Our local ones are strong, but they're not from a national perspective," he said.

Virtú Investments has acquired a large portfolio of residential, office, industrial and hotel properties since Michael Green and Scott McWhorter formed the company in 1997. The firm valued its portfolio this year at over $500 million with more than $150 million of private equity under its management. Virtú Investments has three other offices in the western U.S. besides its San Francisco headquarters.

A price for the local sale wasn't disclosed.    

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