Smith Haughey will move into the future with historic building reuse


 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
An advertising agency in the triangular corner building where Monroe meets Ottawa Avenue named itself Justice & Monroe based on the 19th-century name given to Ottawa, and that name is still displayed across its “prow.” 
Ironically, when the law firm Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge moves in to the soon-to-be renovated building, it will return to being called the Flatiron Building.
The reason for that, according to John Green of Locus Development, in charge of the adaptive reuse project, is to preserve the historical link to the origins of the 150-year-old building.
“It’s probably one of the better recognized properties in Grand Rapids because of its unusual shape, like the historic Flatiron Building in New York,” Green says.
That other Flatiron Building was designed by Daniel Burnham, a Chicago-based architect who was also in charge of the 1893 World Exposition there. Oddly enough, he had no hand in designing the lesser-known but still culturally significant “flatiron building” in Chicago’s Wicker Park.
Bill Scarbrough, Chief Operating Officer of Smith Haughey who began his legal career at a large Chicago firm,  is familiar with urban “repurposing” projects. He points out that the Flatiron Building’s unique architecture is occasioned by the fact that there are several streets in downtown Grand Rapids  which run at angles to the underlying rectilinear grid.
Scarbrough said that the interior buildout for the law firm’s occupation of the building’s second, third, and fourth floors will be handled by different firms than the building redesign. Design Plus Architects will shape the inner office space and Wolverine Construction will execute it, while the “core and shell” of the building will be through Cornerstone Architects and Orion Construction under Locus Development’s auspices.
In reality, the new Grand Rapids Flatiron Building will entail joining three existing buildings, currently called the Flatiron, Groskopf and Herkner buildings. Green said that when he and the Locus Development team were exploring the renovation, they discovered some walls in the buildings that were obviously former exterior walls, featuring some of the “billboard”-related advertisements that old companies used to display on the streets.
All of the work must be done with attention to the most minute details of historical accuracy to please historic preservationists at the local, state and Federal level (and to qualify for historic preservation tax incentives). For example, they are not allowed to enlarge any door or window openings to larger than in the original building, which precludes atrium or open areas which span several floors.
Green with partner Andy Winkel has worked in the sphere of historic preservation on most of the Locus Development projects, such as Hopson Flats and the new “38” complex at 38 Commerce.
Because the building is being renovated to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, Green said he was pleased to see that there are increasingly options which meet historical criteria but are also energy-efficient.
Scarbrough explains that the firm really wanted to stay downtown, and reusing an existing building appealed to them for aesthetic and practical reasons.
Smith Haughey has about 90 lawyers today, 50 of them in Grand Rapids with about 30 in Traverse City and ten in Ann Arbor, the firm’s newest location. “The growth we’ve seen at our firm has been pretty much steady and gradual,” Scarbrough says, “and we expect that kind of trend to continue.”
Noting that the Flatiron Building will actually offer slightly less space than their current building, Scarbrough says that the firm is committed to using the space more efficiently.
Recent changes in the expectations of staff support by newly hired, computer-savvy attorneys allows law firms to cut back on space a little. Scarbrough says that fortunately, most of the reduction in the firm’s support staff has come from attrition, but whereas there would formerly have been one legal secretary per lawyer, now there is likely to be one per every three. Smith Haughey will also start rotating Of Counsel attorneys to share the same offices, based on them being there less than five days a week. Partner and associate offices will be the same size in the new building.
One of the most exciting prospects about the new space for Smith Haughey is a proposed rooftop deck, available for client meetings, and adjacent to a similar multi-purpose space indoors on the floor below — with spectacular cityscape views and lots of potential for meetings and catered events.
Scarbrough further notes that if there is one potential change in direction that Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge will take, it would be in emphasizing growth in the non-litigation area, on the transactional side. “By putting ourselves right in the middle of downtown,” he says, “we hope to indicate our intention to serve the businesses surrounding us.”
The move is currently planned for summer 2010.