New life for old buildings

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Friday, January 14, 2011
— When it comes to preparing lease agreements or selling commercial buildings, Bill Mears doesn’t describe the last couple of years as the busiest in his real estate career.

Far from it, in fact.

“2009 was the pits, and 2010 wasn’t a whole lot better,” said Mears, a principal and one of the founding partners of Coldwell Banker Commercial McGuire Mears & Associates in Janesville.

That said, Mears senses that the local commercial market might be improving.

In the last 30 days, he has helped fill more than 200,000 square feet of vacant commercial space in Janesville.

“Things started getting better toward the end of last year,” he said. “This year, there seems to be more movement in the market.

“I’m not super excited yet, but inquiries are picking up.”

Mears recently helped broker a deal that is bringing Melster Candies from Cambridge to a 102,000-square-foot building at 4017 Whitney St., Janesville. The building, the most recent home of MCI Mechanical Contractors, is being renovated for the manufacture of Melster’s product line.

On Wednesday, Mears said a manufacturer of products for the power generator industry had signed a lease for about 50,000 square feet of the vacant ThyssenKrupp plant on Delavan Drive.

Both are good news for the local economy and its tax base, said Mears, who has helped his company to several consecutive years as Coldwell Banker Commercial’s top brokerage firm in Wisconsin.

David Stone, chief financial officer for the Darien-based Professional Power Products, said the former ThyssenKrupp/Gilman plant will provide flexibility for his company, which needs a place to store the heavy equipment his customers want modified.

The Janesville plant has cranes on its former assembly floor, which is important to Professional Power Products. The heavy-duty cranes will allow the company to move heavy equipment and will provide the possibility for future production work.

“We use cranes in our production process, and that facility gives us some flexibility for the future,” Stone said. “We added 80 production positions in the last year, so our company is growing.

“There is potential down the road for the Janesville plant, but we don’t have any plans on the books right now.”

Professional Power Products, which moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in 2001, now employs about 250 people.

Like Mears, Stone said his business started picking up in the latter half of 2010 and is looking good for this year.

Mears said he expects to see more similar activity.

“We’re seeing an uptick in leasing,” he said. “Sales are still soft, and values are down.

“The private sector is sitting on a ton of money that it’s just not willing to invest right now. Still, we’re seeing steps in the right direction.”

On a smaller scale, one of those steps is a building Mears has leased at 340 Midland Road in Janesville.

Until 2004, the building was the home of Data Dimensions, which moved to a newer building a few hundreds yards away.

Data Dimensions’ departure presented a serious challenge to Norm Weitzel, the owner of the 13,000-square-foot building.

Because of the nature of Data Dimensions’ information technology business, the building was a maze of rooms and hallways.

“It was basically left obsolete as a single-tenant building,” Mears said. “One of the things we bring to the table is our market knowledge, and we were able to say to the building owner that he’d have to redo the interior as office suits.

“It just wasn’t going to work for a single tenant.”

That’s what Weitzel did, and the building—Palmer Park Office Suites—is now fully rented to five tenants.

StarTech Computing led the parade with a lease for about 2,000 square feet. Since last fall, the provider of information technology services has been joined by Bourns Automotive, Kelly Services, St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital and ESDN, an e-commerce network that bridges the gap between jewelry suppliers and retailers.

Mears said the property offers easy access to highways from an uncongested location.

It’s also unique in that it was recently an empty, single-tenant building that is now producing revenue for its owner from five different sources, he said.

“These days, if you’ve got a building leased up, you’d better be counting your luck stars,” he said. “And we are.

“We’re still showing up every day, humping as hard as we can and doing what we’re supposed to be doing. I think things are slowly heading in the right direction.”

Last updated: 4:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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