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Sunday, 27 April 2014 22:00

Priceline expands call center operations in Wyoming

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Priceline plans to expand the Booking.com call center it operates in Wyoming by about 25,000 square feet to make room for as many as 150 additional employees. Building owner Franklin Partners is investing $800,000 for tenant improvements at the Eastern Avenue facility, which is now fully leased. AMI Entertainment Inc., a provider of digital jukebox technology, also has an office in the building. Priceline plans to expand the Booking.com call center it operates in Wyoming by about 25,000 square feet to make room for as many as 150 additional employees. Building owner Franklin Partners is investing $800,000 for tenant improvements at the Eastern Avenue facility, which is now fully leased. AMI Entertainment Inc., a provider of digital jukebox technology, also has an office in the building. COURTESY PHOTO

Connecticut-based online travel services provider The Priceline Group Inc. is expanding its existing call center facilities for Booking.com in the city of Wyoming.

One of three Booking.com operations in the nation, the West Michigan call center will grow by an additional 25,000 square feet at the 4147 Eastern Avenue facility it leases from Franklin Partners LLC. The expansion will make way for an additional 150 employees, a spokesperson confirmed to MiBiz.

Franklin Partners will act as its own general contractor on the project and is investing roughly $800,000 for tenant improvements. Grand Rapids-based Concept Design is providing the architectural services. The target date for completion is June 1, said Gary Tamminga, director of facilities for Franklin Partners.  

“We’re fully leased (at the property) now,” said Don Shoemaker, principal for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based Franklin Partners. “We have a new 10-year lease commitment with (Priceline), and we’re remodeling the entire space for them.”

Project plans call for a full interior renovation, including new furniture and carpeting as well as the addition of a fitness center and new food service amenities that will be managed by Compass Group USA.

Priceline is contracting with its own European furniture supplier for an additional 150 telescoping workstations as its headcount at the facility grows from 500 employees to up to 650 workers after the renovation, Tamminga said.

Booking.com will occupy roughly 75 percent of the 100,000-square-foot property on two floors once the project is done. Entertainment technology developer AMI Entertainment Network LLC leases the remaining 25,000 square feet in the building.

“(Booking.com) wants to have a very fresh image and wants the amenities for their employees at a little higher level than the standard call center,” Tamminga said. “Booking … could have located anywhere but came to Grand Rapids because of the available workforce and, interestingly, the availability of multilingual people. Plus, they appeal to the college-age residents and there are number of institutions to draw from.”

Since entering the Grand Rapids-Wyoming market in 2008, Priceline has expanded its operations twice at the Eastern Avenue location.

The Right Place Inc. and Wyoming city officials originally lured Priceline to the state in 2008 with a seven-year $3.9 million state tax credit and local tax abatements worth $1.1 million, as MiBiz previously reported. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. supported the project with $200,000 in job training assistance. At the time, the project was expected to create $7.7 million in new capital investment and 424 jobs at the company.

When Franklin Partners first signed a lease agreement with Priceline, executives with the travel services provider were concerned they wouldn’t be able to reach the 400-employee mark at the Wyoming location, Tamminga said. However, the company has experienced a period of strong growth, he added.

The Priceline Group Inc. portfolio of brands includes Booking.com, priceline.com, agoda.com, KAYAK.com and rentalcars.com. The Booking.com website boasts that more than 625,000 room nights are reserved through the company’s online platform each day.

Booking.com also has 115 offices in 50 countries, according the company’s website.

“Anytime we can add good-paying jobs in Wyoming, we’re excited about it,” said Bob O’callaghan, president of the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce. “When (Priceline) first moved in, they were under the assumption that it would be a trial-and-error effort to see if (they) were going to stay here. This shows the economy in Wyoming is continuing to turn the corner.”

While Kentwood has had more recent success with new and expanding businesses, Wyoming has been slower to make a recovery from the recession, O’callaghan said.

“We’re just starting to see the positives after five or six years of downturn,” he said. “It’s not as good as we would like to see, but it’s coming along. Hopefully this (expansion) is another sign of adding more jobs and keeping more dollars in the community in the future.”

 

Franklin Partners to renovate 25 Ottawa

Franklin Partners could make a decision as early as this week on the design concept it will pursue in the renovation of the Arena Station building at 25 Ottawa Avenue SW in downtown Grand Rapids.

The company purchased Arena Station in December, and the site was the firm’s second downtown office building after 99 Monroe Avenue, as MiBiz first reported.

“What we’re doing is really dramatically different, but not unlike what we did with 99 Monroe,” said Principal Don Shoemaker. “The designs also fit with the Arena South visioning plan, making it a more retail-friendly environment.”

Franklin Partners is meeting with its design team this week to review sketches and make a final decision on the direction for the project, Shoemaker said.

Wright Heerema Architects of Chicago is designing the exterior and common areas, and Grand Rapids-based Concept Design is responsible for the tenant space planning and layouts. Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. is again serving as the construction manager on the project.

Work on Arena Station could start as early as June 1, Shoemaker said.

“We have a lot of enthusiasm for the project and more plans are brewing,” he said.

Industrial deal still waiting to close

Franklin Partners has yet to close on the 885,000-square-foot former Steelcase Inc. manufacturing facility at 5565 Broadmoor Avenue SE that it signed an agreement to purchase on Jan. 17.

The acquisition was expected to close in the first quarter, but the deal has yet to be finalized, said principal Don Shoemaker.

Closing is taking longer than expected, but Shoemaker said he hopes the deal moves forward soon so his firm can begin marketing the Class A industrial space to potential tenants.

To date, the company has purchased roughly 1.5 million square feet of industrial space in the Grand Rapids market.

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