The Quiet Guys

April 28, 2008
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David Levitt And
Brad Rosely Shy
Away From The
Public Eye, Even
With A Spotlight

They like to stay under the radar and see themselves as foot soldiers, not ranking officers, in the ongoing commercial transformation that is taking West Michigan into its post-industrial, knowledge-based economy.

Still, Dave Levitt and Brad Rosely agreed to speak with CQ and talk about how their four-year-old firm, Third Coast Development Partners LLC, came about and where it has been so far.

As they tell it, the partners first met when Levitt was responsible for two business units at Steelcase Inc., the world’s largest office furniture maker, and Rosely was a sales associate with S.J. Wisinski & Co., a successful commercial real estate firm that has since evolved into The Wisinski Group. Rosely was brokering a piece of investment property that Levitt was interested in buying for his family, and a year later they decided to go into business together.

“I think we met in 2002 and started Third Coast unofficially in ’03. Officially, in ’04 is when we actually named it and created the LLC. When we decided to form our company, I left Steelcase and got my real estate license,” said Levitt.

“Our licenses are still with Wisinski, but we’re a completely separate company. Third Coast is owned by Brad and I and nobody else,” he added.

They did work together as sales and leasing associates on a few projects while they were putting together Third Coast’s biggest urban development to date, the highly praised Mid Towne Village. The $50 million mixed-use project is being built east of downtown’s core business district, along a stretch of Michigan Street that most locals refer to as the “Medical Mile.”

The Commercial Alliance of Realtors gave its project-of-the-year award to Third Coast for Mid Towne Village in 2004, the same year the firm formally opened for business — which isn’t a bad way to begin.

Rosely and Levitt said the affiliation they formed has worked very well to this point, mostly because each partner has skills and talents that complement the skills and talents of the other partner.

“The attributes that he is good at, I’m not so good at. The ones I’m good at, he isn’t so good at. I’ve heard that from many people, both clients and friends — that we work really well together because we’re not the same,” said Rosely.

“I think it was pretty evident early on when we started working together that we both had skills that the other guy didn’t. So Brad had great vision and has great vision. He understands how projects come together and has a great eye for how to figure out how to make a project real,” said Levitt.

“Until I can see a design on paper, I can’t make sense of it. And that’s his area of strength because he can really conceive a project from early on. It’s a great skill,” he added.

They named their company Third Coast because of the firm’s location and because of its geographical focus. For them, the name is self-explanatory.

“I think it says it all, right? The Third Coast is where we’re located, and our area of focus tends to be the Great Lakes area. We’ve done stuff in West Michigan. We’ve done stuff in Chicago. We’ve done stuff in Ohio,” said Levitt, who Rosely credited for coming up with the name.

“We’ve done projects elsewhere, in Texas and in Toronto, Canada, and all over. But most of our activity tends to be around the Third Coast, from Chicago to Cleveland, but clearly with Grand Rapids as the center,” he said.

Levitt was born in Chicago and moved to Grand Rapids in 1994. He earned an MBA from the University of Michigan and a Certificate in Logistics Management from Michigan State University. In addition to Steelcase, he worked at Chrysler Corp. and Amoco Oil Co. He lives in East Grand Rapids with his wife, Stacey, and their four children.

Rosely was born in Benton Harbor but grew up in Quincy, Ill., which is two hours north of St. Louis. His parents and most of his family, however, were raised here. He earned a degree in banking and finance from Southern Mississippi University. Rosely and his wife, Mary Anne, live in Ada. They have two children.

Construction of the Mid Towne Village has been under way for roughly two years. When it’s finished, it will have more than 100,000 square feet of medical office space, 60,000 square feet of professional office space, 40,000 square feet of condominiums and a 15,000-square-foot park. All the spaces will intersect with each other in a setting that easily qualifies as a separate walkable community.

The Women’s Health Center, Park Row Condominiums and The Omelette Shop are in the village, and Third Coast has a lot picked out for a new Hyatt Place Hotel, in case a feasibility study favors building one there. But even with the hotel, there still is room in the village.

“There are three other lots. One is under consideration for the Hyatt Place and that is very close, and there is one that fronts Michigan Street. So, basically, there are three lots down and three lots to go,” said Levitt.

Levitt said putting Mid Towne Village together was a lot of fun and a lot of work. He and Rosely had to buy 48 homes in an older and decaying section of the city before they could lift a shovelful of dirt.

The village was the first project of its type in the city and only one of two in the state at the time to earn brownfield credits due to the land’s blighted condition.

“I knew we had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into when we started this. It’s been a great education. You know, it’s been almost five years now and it’s been a great project. If you look at it, we exceeded our own expectations and I think we exceeded the community’s expectations in terms of the quality of the stuff that is going in there,” said Levitt.

“It’s kind of neat to take your family in there and show them something you’re really proud of. Those buildings will be around long after we’re gone. Our kids and grandkids will be able to point to those buildings and say those are ‘cool things,’” he added.

The village isn’t their only project in the hopper right now. They’re redeveloping a former industrial site in Holland, and they’re putting up a new building just east of the village on Michigan Street that Spectrum Health will use as a child care center for its employees.

Rosely didn’t hesitate to answer “absolutely” when he was asked if he was pleased with the business results Third Coast has achieved in its short history. That success, though, has had a downside for Rosely and Levitt. It has put them under a few media spotlights, like this one, that they probably would have preferred to avoid. Being on center stage isn’t as comfortable a place for them as it is for other developers.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve really tried to keep our name — although it might not seem like it — not on the front page of the paper. We like to keep our projects to ourselves, be real quiet and just do our business,” Rosely said.

“We generally try to keep a pretty low profile,” said Levitt.

Rosely and Levitt attributed a portion of their success to just being lucky. Rosely pointed out that Mid Towne Village went public before many of the other projects on the Medical Mile were unveiled. But he also noted that Spectrum Health was already putting buildings up in the neighborhood prior to their announcement, so they couldn’t lay claim to the notion that they “invented” medical development on those urban northeast-side blocks.

“I don’t want to say we were ahead of the curve, because Spectrum was already there. But with all the things that have been going on, we’ve been lucky. There’s no doubt about it. Are we good? Yes, we’re good. But you have to be lucky in order to succeed,” he said.

“So I can’t be more excited about what we’ve got going on and what we’ve done. The accolades that we’ve received from our peers is that ‘you guys are what developers should be.’

“So when we do a project, we not only try to make money, but we also try to be proud of that project at the end of the day.” CQX

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