UMULI Real Estate Forum in sight

September 27, 2008
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With the University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum only a few weeks away, the details of the forum are filling in and the seats are filling up.

“I’m proud to say we’ve broken all our records for everything for any conference,” said Tom Wackerman, chairman of the forum, which is set for Oct. 15 and 16. “I think that’s a direct result of all the great response we’ve gotten from both the business community in Grand Rapids who have really reached out to us and said, ‘This is a great thing,’ but equally important, the business community in Southeast Michigan who’ve said, ‘Wow, I really want to see what’s going on over there.’”

Wackerman said the forum, being held in West Michigan for the first time, is now taking registrations, but pre-registrations for the “West Side Story: Grand Rapids, Grand Vision, Grand Region” themed conference had already been successful.

The two keynote speakers will be John Carroll of Carroll Investments, a real estate development firm in Portland, Ore.; and Charles Hales, senior vice president of HDR, an architectural, engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, with Michigan offices in Ann Arbor and Ludington. Both played a role in the development of Portland’s streetcar and light-rail effort and will address the subject of development-oriented transit on Thursday afternoon during the forum.

There will be a walking tour of downtown Grand Rapids on Wednesday and a bus tour of surrounding neighborhoods on Thursday.

“The walking tour takes us down into Heritage Hill and down to Heartside, center city, so we’ll be a little bit in neighborhoods, but that is really going to be more about the specific building and its immediate surroundings,” said Wackerman. “The bus tour, however, is going to be looking at the different neighborhoods.”

Wackerman said the bus tour will have three main stops, but will add a new element for the forum.

“What’s interesting about the bus tour — and we’ve never done this before — is that in addition to the three big stops, there’s 30 some-odd points of interest along the bus route, which we’ll point out as we drive. Then between those points of interest we’ll be listing any building for sale or lease that’s right on the route.”

When attendees board the bus they will be given a list of all the available properties within the city and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Hopefully what will happen (is), when they get to the end, they’ll go, ‘I have a much better idea of not only what makes up Grand Rapids, but what’s available here to start making some deals,’” said Wackerman.

Wackerman said there are many positives coming out of Grand Rapids, such as location, people investing in the community, cooperation, and — even when there’s not cooperation — communication. He noted that the area does need work on mass transit. Still, he believes other cities in Michigan can learn something from Grand Rapids.

“One of the points I’m hoping that (the forum) will make is not a specific real estate practice issue, but it’s the issue that, in the middle of a seven-year state recession, even in the middle of a national recession, here is a city with cranes up, where things are happening, where economic vitality is still not only an objective, but in many cases is implemented.

“What I hope people take away from that is that when they go back to Flint, when they go back to Detroit, Saginaw or Jackson — any of the cities that are really trying to work on economic vitality — they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe the issue is internal. Maybe the issue is not that everybody is beating up on me; maybe it’s that I have to do things different.’

“If people came away with that and used Grand Rapids as an example, I think that would be fabulous.”

For forum information and registration, visit

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