By KEVIN NEVERS
The Lake Erie Land Company (LEL) is opening a new chapter in the story of
Coffee Creek Center, after finalizing a joint development partnership on
Thursday with a Chicago-area developer and builder.
LEL’s new partner is Chesterton Development Partners LLC (CDP), whose
principal is James Gierczyk of Gierczyk Inc. Midwest, a long-time developer
and builder of retail, office, medical, and industrial projects based in
LEL attorney Tom Godfrey declined to discuss the contractual details of the
partnership but described the arrangement as a “joint development deal
designed to develop out our projects over a 10-year period.”
In general terms, the partnership will work like this.
LEL will continue to assume responsibility for design and permitting. LEL
will also install, as it always has, all infrastructure such as roadways and
utilities prior to any construction. LEL is “the land developer,” Godfrey
noted. “We’ve always said that we don’t build ourselves.”
CDP, meanwhile, will put its resources and muscle to work to get out the
builders. “Part of (Gierczyk’s) responsibility,” Godfrey said, “is to bring
the builders and get things built. . . . He’s basically utilizing his vast
network of builders and contractors in that industry to participate in that.
. . . He understands and appreciates what LEL has started with Coffee Creek
(Center) and (the Estates of) Sand Creek and wants to bring those ideas
through to the market.”
Gierczyk, Godfrey added, has been involved in projects across the country.
“Some of them are significant projects,” he said.
Godfrey emphasized that the partnership is “an arm’s length business
transaction” in which both LEL and CDP remain wholly separate entities. “The
things that play to Giercyzk’s strength are there for them and the things
that play to LEL’s strength are their for us,” he said.
Under the partnership CDP has the option as well to purchase land from LEL,
and in fact as part of the deal penned on Thursday CDP acquired 18 lots in
the Estates of Sand Creek and approximately 42 acres in Coffee Creek Center.
What CDP does with that property is up to CDP, Godfrey said. CDP could build
on the land itself. It could sell that land outright to a third party. Or it
could joint-venture the land with a third party, as indeed CDP is doing with
those 42 acres in Coffee Creek Center, which “mirror up,” as Godfrey put it,
with the acreage on which PBR Development of Chicago has proposed the
construction of a 380,317-square foot retail mall.
In short, the first fruit of the new partnership could be the single largest
project to date in Coffee Creek Center.
Godfrey declined to comment on CDP’s joint-venture with PBR. “The exact
nature of the relationship between Gierczyk and PBR is their own business,”
Godfrey did say, though, the CDP is interested not only in the commercial
development of Coffee Creek Center but in the residential too.
Which raises a question. The three persons most associated with the original
conception of Coffee Creek Center—former LEL President Jerry Mobley, former
NiSource Chair, President, and CEO Gary Neale, and former NiSource Chief
Financial Officer Steve Adik—have all retired. Their vision of Coffee Creek
Center heavily incorporated the so-called New Urbanism and Traditional
Neighborhood Development: a style of development which recalls the
communities of old, with mixed uses, high density, smaller yards, minimal
setbacks. In the absence of Mobley, Neale, and Adik, how committed are the
new joint development partners—how committed is CDP—to that vision?
As committed, Godfrey said, as the marketplace will allow them to be. “What
we’re trying to accomplish here is to match up the goals and objectives of
Coffee Creek Center with the marketplace. The market is always the final
determining factor. Hopefully we raised the bar for the type of development
we’d like to see for all development.”
The formal joint development partnership between LEL and CDP would appear to
be an extension of a more informal relationship between the two which has
existed for some time. In the April 2005 edition of Lake Magazine, Gierczyk
Light Harbor Realty of New Buffalo, Mich., an affiliate of Gierczyk Midwest
Inc., ran a teaser for “the World’s Best Kept Secret, in Chesterton—Coffee
Creek Center and Sand Creek.”
At the time Light Harbor Reality was marketing Light Harbor Moorings, a
10-unit upscale townhouse project in New Buffalo developed by Gierczyk
Midwest Inc., but—as one of several realtors with which LEL has had a casual
relationship—was evidently trying to get its feet wet in Chesterton as well.
And as Godfrey told the Tribune in a story published on April 28, 2005, it
was the 24-unit Mission Hills condo project in the Estates of Sand Creek
which initially attracted Light Harbor’s—and Gierczyk’s—interest in Coffee
Gierczyk himself was not available for comment today.
According to the website for Gierczyk Midwest, the firm has been in business
for nearly 40 years and offers a full range of development and construction
services: land use and architectural design, space planning, turnkey design
and building, project and construction management, renovation and expansion,
site location and analysis, full service brokerage, lease management, and