Street Talk

Mysteries of the pyramid are revealed

Musical chairs

October 15, 2012
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The news of the $19.5 million price tag on the Steelcase pyramid in Gaines Township wasn’t on the street very long before the Business Journal received a cryptic message from a reader, apparently predicting the future use of the huge office/R&D building that cost the office furniture company $111 million to build 23 years ago.

Here’s a clue: Luxor. As in, Las Vegas. A casino pyramid.

The same casino rumor was heard when the GRBJ first shared the news leak in 2009 about the planned sale of the Steelcase pyramid. Its immense size — more than 570,000 square feet — and its appearance always leads to speculation on what it might be used for in its, well, afterlife.

Don Hilton Sr., supervisor of Gaines Township, has heard the casino rumor before, but he is adamant in adding that he has never heard it from any official source.

When told the pyramid — actually called the Steelcase Corporate Development Center — does resemble the Luxor hotel/casino in Vegas, Hilton said he wouldn’t know.

“I’ve never been there and I’m not a person to visit casinos,” he added.

Hilton, who is in his 20th year as supervisor, then pointed out the obvious: If the Steelcase building ever was to become a casino, the process would certainly take a long time to happen — if ever. So no one need be concerned about a casino in Gaines Township.

Hilton said it appears to him that Steelcase built it as a sort of status symbol — “and it certainly served that part well.”

Based on its cost to build, one might assume the Steelcase pyramid is a property-tax gold mine for the township, but that isn’t necessarily so. According to township records, in 2011 the building and the 125 acres it is on were assessed at $9,496,200 for tax purposes, and the tax bill was $427,984.46.

However, Hilton said the township itself only receives about 3 percent of all property taxes collected there. The rest goes to the state, the county and the schools. They don’t spend much money at Gaines Township Hall, mainly just for police and fire services.

For 2012, the assessed value on the pyramid has been set at $8,767,900, so there will be even less collected in property taxes than last year.

In 2008, the pyramid was assessed at $27,693,897 for tax purposes. That went up in 2009, to $28,912,424. Then — perhaps as a reflection of plummeting commercial real estate values throughout Michigan during the recession — the assessed value in 2010 came in at $10,719,300, and it’s been dropping ever since.

When asked about the assessments, the township’s assistant assessor, Wendi Huston, said there always has been a lot of time spent on that, and the matter has been before the tax tribunal in the past. One reason the pyramid is so difficult to assess is that comparable structures are the most common reference point for making assessments, according to Huston.

“It’s the only building of its kind,” she said. “There’s nothing to compare it to.”

As for the asking price of $19.5 million versus the current assessed valuation of $8,767,900: Under state law, an assessed valuation is supposed to reflect about half of the probable market value of the property. So maybe that asking price is just a little high — but then, don’t sellers always start out setting a price on the high end?


Say it ain’t so, Joe

A fixture in downtown business and a longtime downtown advocate announced his retirement last week. After 40 years in the hotel business, Amway Hotel Corp. President Joseph Tomaselli said he is retiring at the end of the year.

Tomaselli added that he was young enough and had enough energy that he wanted to try out a few new things and will head back to his hometown for a while.

“I’ll be going back to St. Louis for a period of time,” he said. “But I have plans to be back — and when I say I’ll be back, I mean it.”

Tomaselli currently serves on the Convention and Arena Authority, the Kent County Aeronautics Board and the Downtown Development Authority.

“It’s been my pleasure to work with Mr. Tomaselli on a number of things,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris.

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