True North almost ready to head south

April 12, 2010
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True North Architecture and Construction will move back to downtown in a few months after spending the last seven years north of Grand Rapids in Belmont.

As a matter of fact, True North President Dan Henrickson said he plans to have his team watch the July 4 fireworks from the third-floor roof of his firm’s new home at 607 Dewey St. NW, which is across Seward Avenue from the Drueke building that the Israels family has almost finished renovating for IT office space.

“We’re on schedule. We’re on budget. We’re going to move into the building on June 25,” said Henrickson. “We’ll be on the rooftop looking at the fireworks on the 4th of July.”

True North is spending about $2 million on the renovation work that includes adding a third floor to the two-story structure, which is in the city’s nearly tax-free Renaissance Zone. The firm will occupy the top floor, while Agility Health will lease the first and second floors.

“We’re doing, I think, a real nice job on the building. It’s going to be sort of old looking but also new looking at the same time; it’s kind of a combination of the two. So it will look a little different than the other buildings around there, but I think you’ll enjoy what it looks like at the end,” said Henrickson.

The building has 5,000 square feet on each floor, and with the addition of the third level, the structure’s total office space rises to 15,000 square feet. True North added the floor to make the building more marketable and to increase its lease income. Much of the third-floor’s exterior construction is done.

Henrickson said his crew is creating a green roof for the building; that work will be done in two phases. “We’re still bidding that out in different options, and then we’re making provisions right now for solar panels and we’re making provisions for wind turbines, at least for one and up to four,” he said.

“We’re not exactly sure of the timing on that right now. It depends a little bit on how we finish budget-wise at the end of the project. But we’re also looking at taking some of our brownfield credits that we’re getting and utilizing those to offset the cost of those particular items. So it has a little bit to do with how much those brownfield credits end up being, too,” he added. “So it’s a little dynamic at this point.”

True North asked the state in late 2008 for a brownfield tax credit of $380,000 for the remediation work it planned to do to the property. As for finding financing, Henrickson said it wasn’t the easiest thing he has ever done, but it wasn’t the hardest either.

“It was a little bit difficult but not compared to other projects. We entertained three different banks, and Byron Bank ended up coming through for us — partly because we had a full building, which is helpful, and we had a Renaissance Zone extension granted to us last fall, which takes us to the year 2023 (and) adds value to the project, as well as the brownfield component that added value to the project,” he said.

“Now it wasn’t easy — don’t get me wrong. It required a little more equity than is typically required so I had to bring in some partners, which I normally would not need to do in terms of equity partners. But we got it done.”

Henrickson said his firm will completely vacate its Belmont site and lease its current space at 2350 Belmont Center, an address that has drawn interest from at least three potential tenants. He also said being in Belmont the past seven years proved to be good for his company, but it is now time for the firm to return home.

“We were in the Arena Station building (at 25 Ottawa Ave. SW). We did a lot of renovations downtown so we moved into that building right off the skywalk that goes into Van Andel Arena. We were there from 1997 to 2003,” he said.

“We’ve enjoyed it up here in Belmont. It’s been a good experience for us. We were able to grow our companies and do some real estate deals. But it’s time for us to move back downtown.”

The neighborhood to which True North is moving has undergone some major revitalization the past five years or so, with American Seating, Parkland Properties and the Robert Israels family bringing some much needed life back to it. The city’s decision to rebuild Seward Avenue from Leonard to Fulton streets also played a key role in attracting those renovation projects and bringing attention to what was once a largely neglected series of blocks that sit in the shadow of the I-196 highway.

“The whole point of the move was to get to a spot that has the exposure that we were looking for. We’ve got 115 square feet of signage that going to be going on the expressway, so that’s also helpful. It becomes a marketing piece as well as a place for us to do business,” said Henrickson.

“Bob Israels is doing a great job. He is obviously the catalyst for that area and has been for quite some time. He does a nice job, and it’s good to be a neighbor of his. And I see that area growing. I think we got in at the right time.”

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