Hooker Stays Focused On The Big Picture

November 5, 2007
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His Company Builds Buildings That 'Have
A Positive Effect'

Joe Hooker's profile is rising steadily along with the build-out of the Michigan Street Development project, which will be the end result of one of the most complex and dynamic real estate deals in the city's recent history.

Hooker is the day-to-day manager of all the real estate owned by The Christman Co. of Lansing, which is both development partner and construction manager on the $250 million Michigan Street Development. The partners are developing a four-tower medical and life sciences research complex on five acres, with a footprint that spans the north side of Michigan Street from North Division Avenue to Coit Avenue.

The unique public/private development is considered a strategic economic project for West Michigan's growing life sciences corridor. It alone is expected to create as many as 2,000 health care jobs over time.

As Christman's development services manager, Hooker makes the recommendations about how to handle any real estate issue that might come up in conjunction with the development or any other Christman project he's involved in. 

For several years Hooker worked in Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C., as a sports marketer. He got his start in real estate development with an Ann Arbor developer in 1996 while earning his master's degree in business at the University of Michigan.

Following that, he took a position as project manager with Talon Development Group of Detroit. His boss at that time is now a partner in The Christman Co., which is how he hooked up with the firm five years ago.

"The important thing to me is getting up everyday and doing something I love to do," Hooker reflected. "I love this job because each project brings a new group of people to work with who are interesting and give me the opportunity to learn from them, which enhances my ability to serve customers and advance my career.

"I don't mind putting in the time because it's so enjoyable."

Hooker said the master's degree he earned from U-M gave him the financial tools to be able to take on a project of this magnitude. Plus, he has the strength of The Christman Co. and its partners behind him. Having grown up here, he's well acquainted with this market, and that has helped, too, he said.

Hooker was born, raised and still resides in East Grand Rapids. He is the youngest child of Robert L. Hooker, a local philanthropist and retired business owner who was a partner in  Mazda Distributors Great Lakes with Peter Cook, another well-known philanthropist in Grand Rapids. Like father, like son: Hooker shares his dad's enthusiasm for the greater Grand Rapids community.

Michigan Street Development will have 100,000 square feet of lab space spread across three of its towers. The 180,000-square-foot Secchia Center office condominium will house Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, which will be situated at the far west end of the development, near the base of the hill and directly across the street from the Van Andel Institute. Another tower will house Spectrum Health's $78 million Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavillion, which is being developed separately.

The complex will feature a 2,300-square-foot parking ramp underneath it. Additionally, the top three floors of the seven-story building at 25 Michigan St. NE will have a 95-room, dedicated-use hotel for patient families and visiting scientists.

Hooker has proven to be a "trusted and respected" business partner in the Michigan Street project, said Bill Rietscha, vice president of facilities for Spectrum Health. What stands out about Hooker is his integrity and his "we'll make this work" attitude, Rietscha said.

"Joe was committed to success and was always available, responsive and prepared. I also was very impressed with his knowledge of the complexities of the real estate world. He did some complicated and unique things to make this a reality," Rietscha said.

Hooker said working on the Michigan Street project has been an exciting experience and, at times, a very humbling one, because the high visibility of it forces him to stay extra focused. 

It has also been a challenging experience in that there are so many intricate and significant pieces to the project, he said. Spectrum Health, Van Andel Institute, Michigan State University, RDV Corp. and the city of Grand Rapids are all key stakeholders in the project, Hooker pointed out. He is in close communication with them every week.

"It has taken a large amount of management to bring all the key stakeholders together and work with each one to deliver up to their expectations," Hooker observed.

Hooker is simultaneously involved in the Front Street Property LLC project that will bring a new three-story downtown office building to the west bank of the Grand River. The building will be located at 678 Front Ave. NW about a block south of the Sixth Street Bridge and will feature 46,000 square feet of office space atop a two-story parking deck. Plante & Moran PLLC will occupy two floors of the building, The Christman Co. will take up half of the third floor, and the remaining 3,000 square feet will be available for lease.

Hooker further is overseeing the renovation of an old theater on the campus of Georgia College & State University.

Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong met Hooker when Christman first presented its plan for the Michigan Street Development project to city commissioners. The two developed a good working relationship as the project moved forward, DeLong said, and that relationship has carried over to other projects Hooker is now working on with the city, such as the Front Street project. 

"He's kind of a practical visionary," DeLong said. "He's able to conceive a goal and knows how to work through the process of making it a reality. He is creative, flexible and also very patient and persistent. Joe has great integrity and is very concerned about delivering what he promises he will deliver. All those traits make him an excellent partner."

John Byl, environmental attorney and partner at Warner Norcross & Judd, describes Hooker is "very high energy, very bright and very capable."

"He can handle very large, complicated projects," Byl said. "He really was the leader in putting together the Michigan Street Development project. All those buildings now going in — it really started with Joe."

Michigan Street Development is the largest project — in dollar amount and in every other aspect — that Hooker has worked on to date. Previously, he represented Christman as part of the development team for the 44-acre Wilson Crossing development at Wilson Avenue and M-6. He was also involved in Christman's $35 million City Center project in East Lansing that included 39 urban condominiums, 55,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail space and a 750-space parking deck. It was the first project in Michigan to receive a functional obsolete designation for single business brownfield credits, Hooker pointed out.

"City Center really shows the breadth of what Christman tries to achieve in its development projects, which is helping communities grow smartly," Hooker remarked.

"The community benefits through the real estate projects we undertake, because they continue to be an asset for the long term."

In one word, Hooker's average day is "busy." He believes the Michigan Street Development will have an extremely significant impact on Grand Rapids because of the quality of the jobs that will be housed within the towers, the ripple effect of secondary job creation and the immediate impact it will have on developing the Medical Mile.

"Anyone can go out and build buildings," he remarked. "The opportunity to go out and build buildings that have a positive affect, not only on local businesses and institutions but also the community as a whole — it only adds to the excitement of getting up and going to work every day." CQX

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