CWD Is Newest Name On The Block

May 30, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — You might have known that Peter Secchia had a hand in this, too.

The chairman emeritus of Universal Forest Products Inc., former ambassador to Italy, leading fundraiser for Millennium Park and longtime real estate investor met with Second Story Properties President Sam Cummings and Jade Pig Ventures co-owner Scott Wierda about a year ago. That informal discussion planted a seed that grew into a new commercial real estate investment firm that is making its market debut today.

“Scott and I met with Peter about a year ago and ended up having lunch together, and we talked about the real estate industry in general. Scott and I have known each other for a long time and we just started sharing our experiences and what we thought were the weaknesses in the current market and the opportunities,” said Cummings.

Cummings and Wierda then contacted their mutual friend Dan DeVos, president and CEO of DP Fox, and shortly after, the three agreed to form a new “full-service boutique investment, development, brokerage and property management firm” they’ve named CWD Real Estate Investment.

And as they often say, the rest is history — or will be very soon.

The Second Story Properties signs are coming down today and being replaced by ones that plug CWD Real Estate Investments, as Cummings is rolling his firm into the new one. Cummings began Second Story in 2000 after running Macroe Properties for 10 years. Wierda will continue to own Jade Pig with Brian DeVries, and DeVos will continue with DP Fox, a diversified company he owns with his wife, Pamella.

Cummings and Wierda are co-managing partners in CWD, with DeVos as a partner. The trio brings a cumulative 70 years worth of varied experience to the new firm, with Cummings in urban real estate, Wierda in suburban properties and DeVos in both. The backgrounds for Cummings and DeVos are mostly in office properties, while Wierda has largely focused on retail spaces.

“We found it interesting that we had such different experiences. Just collectively we were able to talk about a lot of things that needed to happen in the marketplace and where there were opportunities,” said Wierda of himself and Cummings. “And we’ve known Dan for a long time and we found that he had a similar opinion.”

The company’s goal is to be a fiduciary for its clients and offer them insights into real estate investments as part of their portfolios and long-term investment strategies. The target clientele are high-net-worth individuals and corporate entities.

“We felt we could bring a lot to the marketplace by representing models that are a little different than current ones. We have all historically represented our own portfolios; we felt the opportunity was to bring our collective experience, and naturally offer that up to our customers as a third-party fiduciary,” said Wierda.

While some might not see the economic climate as the best time to start an investment firm, the trio feels otherwise. They acknowledged that today might not be the best of times, but they don’t see the current condition as the worst, either. In fact, they feel West Michigan offers a lot of opportunities for them and their clients.

“What got me talking with these guys was (that) I think there are opportunities out there. From a real estate perspective, it certainly has been difficult for a lot of people, unfortunately. On the other side of that, though, it may be a good time to buy real estate,” said DeVos.

Investments won’t be limited to new properties. CWD will also look into expanding existing developments, as all three have successfully done in the past.

“We’re really looking collectively at building a diversified portfolio of real estate for ourselves and others. And part of that is really being disciplined about how we handle real estate as an integral part of a portfolio of investments,” said Cummings.

“One of the best things that we can bring to our clients is that we actually think like owners,” added Wierda, meaning they offer more than a transactional relationship.

CWD, which stands for Cummings, Wierda and DeVos, has set up its office in the same location that Second Story Properties occupied on the third floor at 15 Ionia Ave. SW. The partners recently finished expanding that space by 2,500 square feet to better accommodate their clients and 14 employees. Cummings said that CWD already has clients aboard, but he appropriately wouldn’t identify any — not even Secchia.

“It is one of those things, as you’re around people, that you respect and admire; you like being around them and, obviously, we’ve been friends for a long time. This is sort of a natural evolution of our businesses coming together,” said DeVos.

“But it’s also an evolution of our friendship and respect for each other coming together in a new way and being able to work together on a real regular basis. And for me, that’s very exciting.”

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