An education group that hoped to buy the iconic Steelcase pyramid has filed a lawsuit, claiming the office furniture company and its real estate broker reneged on a deal to sell the property for $3 million last May.
Education Campus Investors (ECI) filed its lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court on Wednesday, Nov. 19, several days after Nevada-based Switch announced plans to convert the pyramid and its surrounding property into the nation’s largest data center east of the Mississippi River.
In the lawsuit, ECI asks the court to order Steelcase to honor an agreement to sell the building and 14 acres for $3 million. The group also asks for compensatory damages above $25,000 against Steelcase and their broker, Colliers International.
Last May, Steelcase sold the building at 4400 60th St. SE to Norman Development LLC, a Nevada company that plans to lease the building and surrounding property to Switch, which operates two similar “Supernap” data centers in Nevada.
Switch, which was looking to expand east of the Mississippi River, has said it will invest $5 billion and hire 1,000 employees over the next 10 years if the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder approve a trio of bills granting sales and property tax relief for large data centers.
ECI, which had whittled the price down from $7.5 million, envisioned creating a preschool through graduate school (P-20) that specialized in science, technology, engineering, arts and math education.
When the sale to Norman was announced last May, ECI President Jerry Zandstra said they still hoped to salvage the purchase. The lawsuit renews that effort, claiming Steelcase and Colliers hid the fact they had another buyer for the factory.
“After its covert sale of the property to Norman Properties, Steelcase actively sought to hide its wrongful conduct by causing public statements to be published in the media declaring that ECI had terminated the purchase agreement when in fact Steelcase knew that it had entered into another and subsequent contract to sell the property,” the lawsuit said.
Steelcase officials said ECI had missed several deadlines to close the deal and Steelcase wanted to consider other offers for the building.
“In early April, ECI determined that the closing requirements of the agreement could still not be met by the close date of April 30, and decided to terminate the agreement. No further purchase agreement has been executed with ECI since that time,” Steelcase spokeswoman Laura Van Slyke told MLive and The Grand Rapids Press.
VanSlyke declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday except to say, “We believe this lawsuit has no merit; otherwise, we do not comment on ongoing litigation.”
Steelcase built its Corporate Development Center in the late 1980s for more than $100 million. After abandoning the 663,000 square-foot structure in 2011, the company put it on the market for $19.5 million — about $3 million less than its taxable value.
The company has declined to disclose the sale price to Norman Properties. Steelcase reported a $2.8 million gain related to the sale in a subsequent earnings report. However, a company spokeswoman would not verify the price, citing confidentiality agreements with Norman.