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Sunday, 22 June 2014 22:00

CWD solidifies downtown GR presence with new headquarters

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CWD Real Estate Investment knew that creating usable space in the former Masonic Temple facility on the top floor of 50 Louis Street NW in Grand Rapids would be a difficult undertaking, so it partnered with GMB Architecture + Engineering to create a glass-enclosed, freestanding additional floor, which became part of CWD’s new headquarters. The project also preserved many of the architectural elements that gave the space its character. CWD Real Estate Investment knew that creating usable space in the former Masonic Temple facility on the top floor of 50 Louis Street NW in Grand Rapids would be a difficult undertaking, so it partnered with GMB Architecture + Engineering to create a glass-enclosed, freestanding additional floor, which became part of CWD’s new headquarters. The project also preserved many of the architectural elements that gave the space its character. PHOTO: NICK MANES

A multitude of factors went into CWD Real Estate Investment’s decision to buy, restore and move its headquarters to a recently acquired historic property in downtown Grand Rapids.

The real estate development firm recently vacated its longtime offices in the Blodgett Building at 15 Ionia Avenue SW in favor of a larger space and naming rights on the Trade Center Building — now the CWD Building — at 50 Louis Street NW.

CWD Managing Partner Sam Cummings said employees were “really on top of each other” after years of growth at the Blodgett Building location, where Cummings had been working for the last 19 years.

The seven-story Trade Center, built in 1896, offered some crucial advantages for CWD, Cummings said, but first it needed to be renovated.

“Overall, the building was in pretty poor condition,” Cummings said, noting the facility had been “band-aided for (almost) 40 years.”

Executives said the company invested around $4 million in the building renovation.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA) provided funding for the project as well with $436,900 in tax incremental financing, $35,000 in streetscape funds and $50,000 in Building Redevelopment Investment Program (BRIP) funding.

CWD served as the general contractor for the remodel of the building and partnered with Holland-based GMB Architecture + Engineering for the redesign of its own 8,000-square-foot offices.

The history of the building — as well as the challenges that went into making certain spaces functional — was also of interest to CWD, Cummings said.

The 70,000-square-foot facility housed a Masonic Temple until 1953. But figuring out a use for the building’s top floor posed the biggest challenge of the project, Cummings said. Eventually, the firm opted to move its offices to the space, which needed to undergo considerable changes.

“Being the former Masonic Temple, (the building) had unique characteristics and we wanted to preserve them,” said Brad Hemmes, vice president at GMB Architecture, who noted that much of the space’s interesting woodwork was kept intact in the renovation. “I think we were able to do that. … It’s one of the most interesting office spaces in downtown Grand Rapids.”

Even though the company only had to move two blocks, the new facility sits even closer to the center of the city, which is in line with CWD’s general guiding principles, Cummings said. The building, purchased by CWD in 2012, is located between downtown’s central business district and the entertainment district south of Fulton Street.

“It was close to our previous building but also it was a move toward the core, a move toward the center of the city,” he said. “We think (it) is important to accentuate and keep occupancy in the core.”

When CWD purchased the building in 2012, it was only 40 percent occupied, but the firm has managed to increase occupancy to 89 percent with new tenants including Start Garden, Veolia Energy North America LLC and Ideomed Inc.

As a firm, CWD’s vision has focused on the rejuvenation of the central downtown area. Cummings was one of a handful of people working on development projects in the downtown area around the time of the construction of the Van Andel Arena in the mid-1990s. That project is often cited as a significant milestone in downtown Grand Rapids’ turnaround.

CWD is also one of the larger downtown property owners. Earlier this year, the developer announced plans for a mixed-use hotel development near the Trade Center Building at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Louis Street, a site currently used as a surface parking lot. Other uses on the site could include a restaurant, retail and possibly residential, the company said at the time.

“The vision is about more than making money,” Cummings said of the firm’s focus on the city’s core downtown area. “This is a business for us, but it’s also a passion. The revitalization of our city and contributing to the place of our community — that is important for us now that we have such a significant footprint in the city.”

The downtown office market remains a hotbed for real estate deals, according to a first quarter report from Colliers International’s West Michigan office. The first quarter of 2014 was the “13th (and counting) consecutive quarter of decreasing vacancy” for office space in the West Michigan market, with the activity concentrated in the downtown and central business district.

Of the 47 real estate deals in Kent County in the first quarter, 14 of them occurred within those areas, according to the Colliers report.

During the project, CWD principals decided that the building’s top floor — formerly the site of one of the two official temples in the old building — would be best suited for the company’s own offices given the challenges of renovating the space, Cummings said.

To meet its own needs for space, CWD opted to build what Cummings described as a glass-enclosed, free-standing additional floor, supported by 19,000 pounds of steel.

“We looked at the spaces throughout the building and this one sort of cried out to us as the most interesting, but also the most difficult,” Cummings said. “So we looked at this space and said, ‘That’s probably our biggest challenge and also our best opportunity to increase leasable space and create a space that exemplifies our creativity and creates a memorable impression.’”

Crews jokingly referred to the additional structure as “the birdcage,” Hemmes said.

The firm’s intent was to create a space that would make an impression on clients, Cummings added.

“Quite often, we are the first stop for people visiting Grand Rapids, so we wanted to make it memorable,” he said. 

Read 4063 times Last modified on Sunday, 22 June 2014 09:45