Hoats Is Back Downtown

April 14, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — He left a good position as a property manager with an established commercial real estate firm in June to start his own company, which he ran from the kitchen table in his Caledonia home.

Then, seven short months later, Charlie Hoats found himself overseeing office properties — not only for his fledgling operation, Trio Real Estate Management Services, but also for an investment group based in Ann Arbor. Three Oaks Group owns some of the most familiar and respected downtown Grand Rapids office addresses — all situated within blocks of each other — along with more properties scattered throughout the metro market.

Three Oaks Group’s holdings include the Waters, Ledyard and Trust buildings, a trio that offers an aggregate of 496,917 square feet on 22 floors along a two-block stretch of Ottawa Avenue that runs south from Lyon Street to Monroe Center.

When Three Oaks came into the local office market, the firm allowed the sellers’ managers to continue overseeing the properties. But early this year, Three Oaks decided to make a change — and that was when Hoats stepped in.

“I had been talking with them about a variety of things, one of which was having them use Trio for all their management. Another one was coming into whatever management company they might form and bringing my Trio accounts in with me, and that is eventually what happened,” said Hoats.

When Three Oaks bought the Waters Building at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW from the Waters Corp. a few years back, it also took ownership of Waters Realty and Development Inc. — the entity that managed the properties the Waters Corp. owned.

“They decided to start with Waters Realty as their model, adding a couple of people and some resources, and I was one of the people that kind of came in to help them run the thing and get things moving,” said Hoats.

Hoats joined Waters Realty on Jan. 1 as the firm’s director of business development. But he also remains president of Trio, which manages roughly 200,000 square feet of space on its own, separate from the Waters Realty spaces that total about 1 million square feet. Hoats said the affiliation wasn’t a merger — more of a joint venture.

“No money changed hands. No contracts were signed or anything like that. But it’s been a lot of fun. They’ve been wonderful guys to work for, and we’re enjoying applying the Waters management models to all these properties,” Hoats said from his office in the Waters Building.

“I’m also the business development guy. So I’m out knocking on doors and meeting with potential clients and trying to add to the (property management) portfolio.”

Hoats has been very active in commercial real estate here for quite a while. He joined the management division at Paramount Properties eight years ago, before it became affiliated with Grubb & Ellis and merged with Commerce Realty, and stayed there until last June when he started Trio. He also served two hitches as president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of West Michigan and another one as the group’s past president.

Hoats told the Business Journal that he enjoyed the months he worked from home, where his wife and business partner, Holly, handled the bookwork. But he added that it felt good to be back downtown and in the thick of things again.

So why did he leave downtown in the first place?

“I kind of got the bug. I felt that working for a larger company had run its course a little bit. The company went through a lot of changes, the largest of which was the merger with Commerce Realty, and that had good and bad effects for everybody,” he said.

“I wanted to see what it’s like in a small office. I started in a small office when Grubb & Ellis was just Paramount Properties in 2000. It was just Mike McDaniels and I, and we managed about 1 million square feet by ourselves. I like that feel.”

Today, Hoats has a bit more space to manage and develop — about 1.2 million square feet — and is in the smaller office he yearned for at Waters Realty. He works there every day with Pete Mason, the general manager, and a few days a week with the guy who taught him the ropes.

“I’ve actually had the good fortune to have Mike McDaniels join me again over here. He is semi-retired. He left Grubb & Ellis at the end of January and wanted to work part-time, so I’ve got my mentor in the office with me,” he said.

Hoats still has Holly with him, too, as his partner and the duo makes up Trio. So here is the burning question that enquiring minds have asked him since last summer: Who is the third partner?

“That was the big mystery around town,” he said. “People knew it was my wife and I, but everyone thought there was a third person. I heard quite a few funny rumors about who the third person might be. But my wife and I have three boys, so we named it after them.”

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