DOWAGIAC — A Dowagiac building is under new ownership.
Martin Shrader and Jay Looney, of technology company Digital Farms LLC — the new owners of The Business Center of Southwestern Michigan, 415 E. Prairie Ronde St. — were present during Monday’s Dowagiac City Council meeting at City Hall to thank the council for their support.
“We acquired the facility several months ago, and we are underway with substantial improvements and renovations,” Shrader said. “We’ve been working with [City Manager Kevin Anderson] from time to time to make sure he knows what we’re doing. Things are progressing and going very well.”
“We appreciate your investment in the community and your commitment to the community,” said Mayor Don Lyons. “The improvements you’re making in that building are substantial, and we’ll serve both your interests and ours for years to come.”
Founded in 2009, The Business Center of Southwest Michigan is a multipurpose, 617,000 square-foot facility that provides spaces, incubation services and networking services for businesses in southwest Michigan. The space the business center currently occupies once belonged to a number of local manufacturers, including Rudy Furnace Manufacturing, Rudy’s Sundstrand, Modine and National Copper Products.
Shrader and Looney — who live in Indianapolis, Indiana and Dallas, Texas, respectively — travel to Dowagiac every one to two weeks to work at the site. Brian DeLong, the longtime property manager of the business center, will stay on to handle the day-to-day operations of the facility.
“Under Brian’s leadership, The Business Center of Southwestern Michigan started to lease out a number of spaces and investments into the building,” Anderson said. “They took a building that was dead, kept it going and built it into something of value. Martin and Jay are continuing that endeavor and reinvesting into the community. They’re taking that facility and turning it into a valuable asset.”
The facility will continue to offer office and warehouse space to potential tenants while also serving as the location for Digital Farms’ new technology center. The duo plans to host a grand opening ceremony for the technology center this fall.
“We bought it because we’re really fascinated with it,” Shrader said following the council meeting. “It’s got a lot of resources. We’re building a technology center. [Jay] is overseeing that, and I’m running the commercial real estate side of it. We’ve been leasing a pretty significant amount of space for warehouse distribution. With the technology center, we’re bringing in a lot of fiber optics, power and power distribution to the area and it’s going to be really awesome. We’re trying to create jobs and we’re trying to create economic and technology impacts.”
Since taking ownership of the business several months ago, Shrader and Looney have been hard at work reshaping the facility.
“We’ve already leased another 200,000 square feet of the building,” Shrader said. “We’ve taken plus or minus 30,000 square feet for real estate with another 60,000 square feet reserved for expansion space for our technology center. We’re deep in construction work and trying to get everything moving. We’re making a very substantial investment in the community. We plan on being here for a very long time.”
According to Shrader, Digital Farms has opened discussions with Southwestern Michigan College to see if interns or employees in technology-related programs can get paid, on-the-job experience with the company.
For Shrader and Looney, this property acquisition was made as an intentional investment into the greater Dowagiac community.
“I’ve been in real estate for a long time,” Shrader said. “Companies will come into a community and build a Target, build a Home Depot, build a Lowes’ and get on an airplane and fly home. We have a different approach. We came to Dowagiac, took the asset, figured out what to do with it and plan to integrate it into the community in any way, shape, or form. It can be done.”
In other business, the council passed a resolution to purchase a parking lot currently owned by Jansen Valk Thompson Reahm PC for $50,000. The accounting firm recently purchased the former Huntington Bank property and is willing to sell the adjacent parking lot to the city.
“This lot has long served the community’s parking needs,” Anderson said. “By taking ownership of the parking lot, residents and visitors are assured that these parking spaces will remain available for public use. This purchase has been on the city’s radar screen for several years as an opportunity to enhance parking for people who live, work, or shop downtown. With the library development and the concert venue now fully operational, the purchase of the parking lot is a timely addition to the city’s public parking system.”
According to Anderson, several aesthetic improvements to the lot are being planned for next summer.