GRAND RAPIDS — After more than a half-century of being virtually empty, the upper floors of three historic buildings at the center of downtown are expected to be abuzz with activity.
Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge has signed a deal that will move the law firm into 25,000 square feet spread across the upper three floors of what is collectively called the Flat Iron Building, 100-114 Monroe Center.
The buildings, built between 1860 and 1870, house Groskopf’s Luggage & Gifts and Mexican restaurant Cinco de Mayo on their ground floors. A portion of the former Blake’s Turkey at Monroe Center and Ottawa remains available for lease to a retail tenant, with the western portion of the storefront being transformed into a lobby for the law firm.
The 103-employee office is downsizing from a 38,000-square-foot, two-floor space it has occupied inside the Calder Plaza Building, 250 Monroe Ave. NW, for about 30 years.
Lisa Young, marketing director for the firm, said smaller office space reflects changing trends in the legal industry, including standardized office sizes for all lawyers, elimination of a hard-copy law library, and the increasing trend of allowing lawyers to work from home when they don’t need to be in their office.
“The world has changed so much from when we moved into our current building 30 years ago,” said William Scarbrough, the firm’s chief operating officer.
At one time, the firm had one secretary for every lawyer, he said. Today the ratio is three lawyers per secretary.
Scarbrough said the finances of the deal made sense because of the relatively depressed real estate market and the competition for large tenants. He also said there was overwhelming support among the firm’s partners for being in a renovated historic building near the center of the city.
The firm wanted to stay a short distance from downtown courtrooms since most of its lawyers are litigators, he said.
“This is right in the middle of downtown, easy to find for clients,” Scarbrough said. “Financially, the edge also went to Flat Iron.”
The buildings are owned by Locus Development, which announced plans to spend at least $4.5 million to renovate them to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification. The build-out plan for the law offices is being designed for a separate LEED designation.
The project already has qualified for $527,000 in brownfield rehabilitation tax credits and $225,000 in grants from the Downtown Development Authority. Construction is slated to begin in late fall with occupancy by July.
Locus, which occupies a portion of the second floor of one of the buildings, will relocate this fall to space in its recently completed building at 38 Commerce Ave. SW.
Locus’ John Green said Smith Haughey’s move reflects a shift of the center of downtown activity that has taken place over the past two decades.
“‘Central City’ has moved from Calder Plaza to Rosa Parks Circle,” said Green, who co-owns Locus with Andy Winkel.
The renovation is expected to include a rooftop deck, where the firm can entertain. Employees and visitors can park at five nearby ramps or at a Ellis Parking-owned surface lot adjacent to the buildings.
Green said the firm will have room to grow into the neighboring and connected Ledyard Building. Locus is a minority owner of that building.
Smith Haughey was founded in Grand Rapids in 1941. It has 52 lawyers in Grand Rapids, 29 in Traverse City and eight in Ann Arbor.
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