Available one big pyramid towering amid office glut

November 23, 2009
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The Steelcase Inc. pyramid in Gaines Township is going up for sale soon, and will reportedly be listed by CB Richard Ellis. However, Drew Miller, managing director of the CBRE Grand Rapids office, said the firm couldn't yet talk about it publicly.

According to a Steelcase spokesperson, the six-story building, officially named the Corporate Development Center, has 663,000 square feet of space and is on a 125-acre site. About 333,000 square feet is office, with the remainder R&D laboratories and building support space.

A prominent local professional in commercial real estate, who asked to remain anonymous, indicated he didn't think the property would move very quickly if offered as office space. The office vacancy rate in the Grand Rapids market has increased this year, to 19.9 percent by the end of the third quarter, according to a report from Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce. The vacancy rate was about 15.5 percent two years ago.

Steelcase contacted commercial real estate companies for proposals on how to market the property. Deb Bailey, Steelcase’s director of corporate communications, said the company is still reviewing those proposals. Bailey was optimistic regarding the sale of the property, noting that even the Pontiac Silverdome sold last week to an undisclosed Canadian firm (which later in the week was contested and granted an injunction in Oakland County Circuit Court in a suit filed by another interested party, Silver Stallion Development Corp., according to Crain’s Detroit Business).

Gaines Township planner Brian Tingley said he has heard that the pyramid "could be used for some type of technical use," such as engineering. "Or even potentially some type of educational collaboration. … I know that CB Richard Ellis is trying to identify these sectors … that they can target."

Gaines Township officials are keen on keeping the building occupied; it generated $1.28 million in property tax revenue last year. The building, which cost $111 million to build, opened in 1989.

Steelcase confirmed in July that the 500 employees working in the pyramid would be reassigned to corporate headquarters a few miles away in Grand Rapids. It has since been announced that the company will receive a tax credit from the state as an inducement to "retain" 350 of those jobs.

In regard to the history-making design of the pyramid, including its open design to stimulate the exchange of ideas between departments, Bailey commented, “Yes, it is an innovative center, but it really separated groups (from Steelcase headquarters) by 20 minutes — and 20 minutes is important. So we are glad to be one group, all together.”

Keller sees hope in Washington

"We are getting a really nice response from this (President Barack Obama) administration," said Fred Keller of Cascade Engineering.

"We" is the federal government's Manufacturing Council, which Keller has chaired since it was established in 2004. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Council serves as the "premier national advisory committee on manufacturing," with the 14 members representing America's small and medium-size manufacturers.

Keller said the council has already met twice with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Keller, in his role as chair, said he has made the trip to Washington three or four times since Obama took office. The most recent trip was to meet with Ron Bloom, the president's manufacturing czar.

"This administration has been very interested in what we have to say, as a council," said Keller.

In August the Council sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce, stating that the finance industry has been discriminating against small and medium-size manufacturers. Many finance companies "impose prohibitive covenants or are no longer willing to work with manufacturing companies," the letter states. The council suggested a solution could be government-guaranteed loans and/or receivables, for domestic companies manufacturing in America.

Another encouraging sign, according to Keller, was Obama's announcement last week that he will nominate Metro Detroiter Nicole Lamb-Hale to the key post of assistant secretary of Commerce-Manufacturing and Services. She is a former managing partner of the Detroit offices of Foley & Lardner LLP, and has served as deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Commerce since May.

The council's top two priorities are committing the U.S. to energy independence, and reversal of “failed trade policies of the last two decades" that have resulted in "record manufacturing trade deficits that are unsustainable."

Riders in the storm

Metro Cab of Grand Rapids was able to parse through a legendary bureaucracy last week, winning a $10 million contract with the Wayne County Airport Authority for a seven-year contract to provide metered cab service from a concession at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

According to Crain’s Detroit Business last week, the deal was up for bid because the previous provider, Detroit Metropolitan Airport Taxicab Association, lost its contract for allegedly missing $534,600 in concession payments. That matter is being adjudicated in the courts.

ArtPrize: more of the same

Rick DeVos last week called an “invitation only” information session for would-be sponsors of his ArtPrize, now entering its second year. DeVos indicated almost everything would stay the same, except for what will not be the same … or something like that.

The event is scheduled to last one day longer and in the same time frame as the 2009 event. The biggest change is that “save the date” cards are already being sent to artists around the world, and the community is notified with almost a year of warning, rather than last year’s event announcement in April and emergence of details at the end of July. But while the creators indicated that “there will be other changes,” those changes were not divulged.

Those invitation-only, would-be-sponsors, however, indicated greater confusion in regard to what the sponsorships offer. Ranging from five closing-night sponsorships at $50,000 a pop, to “your logo” on a T-shirt or map, the return on investment may just be kinship with “the family.” The ArtPrize crew also indicates they expect venue sponsors to hold more receptions (not just an opening night event).

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