Roo Grayson to move, expand

UPDATED — Four years after opening Roo Grayson just north of Central and Woodlawn, Karla and Julian Binns plan to reopen their store just west of the intersection. They’re moving to a former medical building they purchased at 6200 E. Central next to Williams Ace Hardware.

“It’s three times the size,” Karla Binns says. “It’s scary. It’s very scary, but it’s extremely exciting.”

The existing space at 515 N. Woodlawn is more than 6,000 square feet. The new space is almost 18,000 square feet.

Elyssa Seymour and Steve Martens of NAI Martens handled the deal.

Binns says the move, which she hopes will happen in September, will allow her to sell more bedding and furniture and have a bigger design center and a new rug line. The store also will add a silk floral department with the move.

Since former neighbor Twigs closed, Binns says, “We have so much traffic for that kind of thing.”

She says she’s been listening to customers and what they say they want to buy. Binns says she knows sometimes people go outside of Wichita to find what they want.

“I know it’s fun to go out of town and shop,” she says. “I’m trying to do my best to bring what everyone is asking for to Wichita.”

You don’t say

“Tom referred to it as a twit’s tweet.”

NAI Martens CEO Steve Martens on president Tom Johnson’s reaction to his plan to start tweeting in the new year

Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group is now NAI Martens; NAI John T. Arnold Associates drops its NAI affiliation

Steve Martens (left) and Tom Johnson of the newly named NAI Martens.

WICHITA — Turns out Steve Martens will have to order new stationery.

“We have left Grubb and Ellis,” says the CEO of what formerly was known as Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.

The company now is an affiliate of NAI Global and will be known as NAI Martens.

Wichita’s John T. Arnold Associates previously was an NAI affiliate and now is an independent operation.

“We’re just kind of relooking at our … working model,” says John T. Arnold president Marlin Penner. He says he and executive vice president Don Arnold decided to focus on the clients they have and simplify their operation. NAI asked that they retain the affiliation until it could find another one in the market.

“We have a huge respect for Steve and his organization, and we’re just thrilled they’re taking it over,” Penner says. “It was the right thing for everybody involved.”

California-based Grubb & Ellis filed for bankruptcy early this year and eventually sold to BGC Partners.

At the time, Martens told Have You Heard? that there was a chance the firm could remain an affiliate or go another direction.

“We wanted to find the right fit,” he says.

“We looked at virtually every other opportunity that was out there,” says NAI Martens president Tom Johnson. “Anyone that’s not in the market is someone we talked to.”

NAI is a group Martens talked to before deciding to affiliate with Grubb & Ellis in 2000.

“Over the years, they have really grown and matured as a company,” Johnson says.

C-III Capital Partners completed its purchase of NAI Global this summer.

“C-III brings to them the capital they need to grow and really develop that company,” Johnson says.

With more than 5,000 employees in 350 offices, NAI Global is the largest international network of commercial real estate firms. All its affiliates are independently owned and operated, which is key for Martens and Johnson.

If a company has affiliates and corporate offices, the affiliates “sometimes are stepchildren,” Johnson says.

“With NAI, everybody is on the same footing.”

He says the affiliates can share best practices in a noncompetitive way.

“It allows us to up our business from an entrepreneurial standpoint,” Johnson says.

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Martens Commercial Group’s Grubb & Ellis affiliation in flux

WICHITA — Steve Martens soon may have to order new stationary for his Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group. Then again, maybe not.

Martens’ company is an affiliate of the California-based Grubb & Ellis Co., which filed for bankruptcy Monday and is working on a deal to sell to BGC Partners.

That’s the parent company of Grubb & Ellis rival Newmark Knight Frank.

“The indication is that the Grubb name and brand remains in the market and that the new buyer is very interested in retaining the affiliated members of this new entity,” Martens says.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll want to remain with them, though.

“We have been researching the … alternatives but no decisions have been made.”

At one point, Grubb & Ellis had almost 60 affiliates. Now, it has about 35.

Martens says he looks forward to seeing the business plan for the new entity and will then make a decision.

“Obviously, these are big changes,” he says, “and what the end result of … those big changes will be, we’ll have to find out.”


Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group to do real estate forecasts at Wichita Area Outlook Conference

WICHITA — After a decade of doing commercial real estate forecasts every January, Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group is now going to partner with Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research to do the forecasts each fall.

Steve Martens’ company will be a major sponsor of the Wichita Area Outlook Conference and provide an exclusive commercial real estate forecast at the conference.

“We feel it is a stronger avenue for us to reach customers and clients with relevant commercial real estate information,” Martens says.

It’s a bigger one, too, since CEDBR director Jeremy Hill is expanding the conference’s reach.

“It’ll give us statewide coverage,” Martens says.

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Martens Cos. adds Hospitality Management division

UPDATED — The Martens Cos. has a added a new division.

The company already has Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group, Martens Appraisal and Huffman Corridor Consulting. It also added Receivership Services Corp. earlier this year.

Now, the company has formed Hospitality Management.

“It was an opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of,” says CEO Steve Martens.

Due to the company’s role as a bankruptcy court trustee and through state court receiverships, Martens says his company has managed a half dozen properties over the years.

With the new division, the company is now actively pursuing those opportunities.

Its first deal is managing 122 rooms in Blackwell, Okla., at the Comfort Inn and the Best Western.

Martens also now has a small ownership in those properties.

“We are having discussions with other motel (and) hotel owners and pursuing other business,” he says.

It sounds like Martens is open to other new divisions as well, though he isn’t talking specifics.

“We’re just looking for opportunities and new business and . . . ways to grow and expand.”

With the new divisions and with other employees he’s added in the last 20 months or so, Martens says his company now employs more than 100 people.

“That’s kind of a big deal for a little company.”

Robert Eyster purchases the former Protection One building with plans for new residential and commercial development

WICHITA — It’s getting to the point you can’t call Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey nascent developers any longer.

Eyster has purchased the former Protection One building at the northwest corner of First and Market, which makes the sixth downtown property he’s bought to redevelop in less than a year.

“In the process of looking for buildings that have kind of been neglected or buildings that are too big or too small for people . . . we’ve looked at probably all the buildings downtown,” Ramsey said.

That’s how they found the 7-story, 171,000-square-foot Protection One building, which the former Kansas Gas and Electric Co. built in 1953.

“That building has got some very dynamic bones to it,” Ramsey said. “It just spoke to us.”

He and Eyster are renaming the building the Lux and creating luxury apartments and possible condos along with commercial on the first two floors.

“It sounds like a really exciting development,” said Patrick Ahern of Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group, who was one of the agents who handled the deal.

Ahern, who specializes in downtown properties, said, “More people living downtown will attract more retail and give more vibrance to downtown and that area in particular.”

He said the sale of that much Class B downtown property “potentially helps the market because it’s less space for other buildings to compete with.”

Ahern and Steve Martens represented Protection One, and Marty Gilchrist and Grant Tidemann of J.P. Weigand & Sons represented Eyster.

Eyster has already purchased and is redeveloping the former Zelman building, the Board of Trade building, Victoria Park Apartments, the two-story building at 100 S. Market and Kelly Donham’s former property on Douglas between Main and Market.

With the help of Kansas City, Mo., architect El Dorado Inc., which designed the Finn Lofts on Commerce Street, Eyster and Ramsey hope to use a lot of the 1950s architectural elements already in the mid-century modern building. That includes light fixtures, door knobs and railings.

“They have actually cataloged everything they could in the KGE building in the hopes we . . . could repurpose those elements,” Ramsey said.

Farha Construction is the contractor and Builders Inc. is managing the building.

“This is really going to be a unique facility,” said Larry Weber of Builders Inc.

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Kansas Court of Tax Appeals substantially raises fees for commercial property owners wanting to appeal property tax valuations

UPDATED — Commercial property owners who want to appeal their property tax valuations now have something else to complain about.

The Kansas Court of Tax Appeals in Topeka today voted to change the filing fees for those appeals after the Legislature slashed its funding earlier this summer.

“We now have the highest filing fees in the nation for commercial tax appeals,” said lawyer Jim McIntyre.

Fees have doubled, tripled or gone even higher. McIntyre said a lot depends on the number of parcels within a property and what county it is in.

What used to cost, say, $125 to appeal now might cost $1,600 due to the number of parcels, he said.

“It’s going to be a mess.”

He plans to file a lawsuit against the state this week to stop the fees from taking effect.

“A lot of people have a lot of money at stake here,” McIntyre said.

According to Sedgwick County, there were 3,618 appeals of commercial property taxes in 2010.

Since January, there have been 522, all of which required fees.

Until a few years ago, the entire budget for the Court of Tax Appeals came from the state’s general revenue fund and property owners didn’t have to pay to contest their valuations.

In recent years, the majority of the budget still came from the state, and commercial property owners made up most of the rest with filing fees.

Now, commercial property owners will fund about two-thirds of the court’s budget.

“What it does, it restricts access to the courts,” said Jim Hudson, co-owner of Tax Adjustment Specialists, which is one of several Wichita-area companies that help commercial and some residential property owners appeal their taxes.

For small tax issues, he said, the increased fees will mean “it’s just no longer feasible to take those cases.”

Hudson said $25 is about the most commercial property owners have to pay in other states in this area.

“In fact, most of the surrounding states don’t charge anything to file,” he said.

All Kansas property owners — residential and commercial — can make an informal appeal to their county appraiser’s office through a hearing for no fee.

The next level is a small claims division of the Court of Tax Appeals that’s generally used for residential property appeals.

The highest level for appeals is to the judges with the Court of Tax Appeals.

Residential property owners generally don’t have to pay anything to appeal their property taxes unless they take it to the highest level of the court, which isn’t as common as taking it to the small claims division.

That’s part of why McIntyre is filing the suit.

“They’re treating commercial taxpayers worse than residential taxpayers — far worse,” McIntyre said.

He said the suit will allege denial of federal constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

He said the new fees also violate the state Constitution’s classification scheme in which commercial properties are taxed at 25 percent of their fair market value and residential properties are taxed at 11.5 percent.

“In my opinion, that classification requires that residential . . . homeowners pay based on a proportion of use,” McIntyre says. “That prohibits the Legislature from setting the filing fee at zero.”

McIntyre says that companies asking for industrial revenue bonds or that groups, such as churches, asking for tax exemptions also will have to pay significantly more.

McIntyre says he’ll name Gov. Sam Brownback in the suit.

“Brownback says he’s a big supporter of business, yet the people being gouged here are businesses,” McIntyre said. “The bigger the commercial taxpayer, the more they’re getting gouged.”

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Receivership Services Corp. is newest Martens Cos. subsidiary

WICHITA — There is now a fourth subsidiary of the Martens Cos.

Receivership Services Corp. joins Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group, Martens Appraisal and Huffman Corridor Consulting.

“Our firm, really going back to the 1970s, has provided receivership services to lenders and others that are looking for an operator and trustee on a short-term basis to operate property where there may be some type of dispute between parties,” says CEO Steve Martens.

Lenders who foreclose on properties often ask that owners are replaced by receivers while they sort out their differences.

“With the economic downturn, we started to see quite a bit of activity in 2010 and that is carrying forward in 2011,” Martens says.

“In the current environment, it made the most sense to just offer this under one umbrella.”

He says the business draws on all aspects of what his company does, including property management, valuations, strategic positioning marketing and sales of properties.

“The receivership business . . . typically is a rapid-response type of business,” Martens says. “You get a phone call, you’re on standby, the court makes a ruling and you’re on your way.”

Andy Braun, a vice president with the company, will be the point person for the new subsidiary. He’ll continue in his other duties as well.

Tom Johnson joins Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group as president

Steve Martens (left) and Tom Johnson.

WICHITA — Last fall, Have You Heard? checked in with former WaterWalk president Tom Johnson after hearing he might be working at Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group.

At the time, it wasn’t true. Now, it is.

Johnson has acquired an interest in the company and is its new president.

Former president Steve Martens remains as CEO and also remains president and CEO of parent company Martens Cos.

“Tom has very unique credentials,” Martens says.

He says Johnson has management and strategic development experience guiding real estate companies and understands the business locally and nationally.

Before joining WaterWalk, where he worked from 2002 to late 2009, Johnson was president of CB Richard Ellis/Oklahoma in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and vice president and general manager of the commercial division of J.P. Weigand & Sons.

“With the talent we have in this organization, Tom’s going to be able to work with them and get them to the next level,” Martens says.

The company employs 25 people, 20 of whom are licensed sales people.

There are 40 employees in total at three companies under the Martens Cos. umbrella.

That includes the brokerage group, Martens Appraisal and Huffman Corridor Consulting.

Grubb & Ellis/Martens Commercial Group also has offices in Lawrence and Hutchinson.

The addition of Johnson frees Martens to focus more on business development and regional and national investment opportunities, though Johnson adds, “I’m sure he’s going to remain hands-on.”

Martens and Johnson have been friends — and friendly competitors — since the 1970s.

Johnson has owned Trinity Realty Advisers for years and says he “basically dusted it off” after WaterWalk and took Martens up on an offer for office space.

He did some consulting with Martens as well.

“I had an interest in doing something back in the brokerage business again,” Johnson says.

Martens says he hadn’t been looking for a new president, but Johnson’s availability got him thinking about possibilities.

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