As Good as Gold
The year 2019 marks Treystar's golden (50th) anniversary. In recognition of this milestone, we're going to feature snapshots from our history in this newsletter and on our website. We hope you enjoy walking down memory lane as much as we do.
The First Decade
Robert Brown started Treystar by building two large mobile home communities in Kalamazoo County. Thanks to his expertise, hard work, and persistent desire to discover and cultivate opportunity, Treystar grew quickly from these humble roots. 1968: Bob, Susie (his wife), their two sons ("Brownie" and Fritz) and their dog (Blue) pack into the car and return to Kalamazoo after a 10-year hiatus. The family previously resided in Colorado, Idaho and Texas, where Bob had worked in plant management and sales with Boise Cascade Corporation. His tenure with Boise Cascade gives him the confidence to risk his own capital and chase his dreams of opening his own business.
Bob's first independent venture "50-percent interest in Colonial Acres, a mobile home community on Sprinkle Road in Portage. Bob buys the remaining shares by the fall, and then procures his own back hoe and bulldozer with the intent of developing more land between the original property and the Kalamazoo Airport.
After toiling with his "big trucks," Bob's crew informs him he'd "be better served by doing something else." To that end, he purchases and zones another 55 acres on the west side of Kalamazoo on KL Avenue (aka Colonial Manor).
Bob oversees the construction of 200 additional sites at Colonial Manor. (Bob and his partners build 650 mobile home sites over the next three years. A Detroit-based developer purchases Colonial Acres and Colonial Manor in 1982.) Bob and his mentor (Carlton Reed) spend their waking hours in a 10-x-10 office above the Capital Movie Theater on South Street. Within these close quarters, the two businessmen look after 40 or so tenants at Colonial Acres and brainstorm other potential investments.
Inspired by continued growth, Bob now invests in a machine tool company. LeVanes, Inc. manufactures precision plastic components for GM and Ford, as well as other non-automotive industries, and proves to be a very worthwhile transaction. Bob and a new business partner, Jay DeBryan, renovate his second office space on the corner of Walnut and Burdick Streets. Bob enters the business world of banking this same year.
One meeting with a family friend, one scuffle in an Ann Arbor bar (stemming from the ever-contentious Michigan vs. Ohio State football game), and one rumor over the impending foreclosure of major Kalamazoo bank leads Bob and four partners to take over the reigns of Industrial State Bank (ISB).
Bob acquires Valley Plastics, another molding operation. By 1975, Valley Plastics expands from its Plainwell location into a new 17,000-square-foot building on Kilgore Road. Because mobile home communities, banking and manufacturing facilities don't keep him busy enough, Bob joins forces with a German immigrant to seed the invention of a high-pressure painting and cleaning device. An instant success, the product receives an exclusive contract with Sherman Williams. Bob sells it outright to the paint company in 1977.
The Second Decade
From 1980 to 1989, Treystar started growing into today's leading real estate developer and manager in Kalamazoo County.
Bob, Bob Rizzardi and Harley Koets buy an office building on the corner of Edwards and East Michigan Ave. Contractor Bob Kalaward and architect Bob Kiefer are hired to create what would become the Main Street East building, a historical office building with a four-story atrium and skylight. Bob and his partner Bill Becker set up shop in the landmark building. Craig DeNooyer (of the DeNooyer auto family) joins Bob's team to encourage other local businesses to move into Main Street East.
Detroit Bank and Trust buys Industrial State Bank (ISB) from Bob and Ron Bieke. Ron goes on to represent Detroit Bank and Trust's efforts in outstate acquisitions, while Bob joins the Board of Directors. Detroit Bank and Trust moves into the Gilmore building and becomes Comerica in 1981.
Sullivan Building is acquired, designed by one of the country's most prominent office architects, Louis Sullivan. Bob owns the only "Sullivan" in Michigan and one of the most famous office buildings built in Kalamazoo before 1950.
Doyle Building joins the fold, a Queen Anne-style beauty built in 1891 by talented stone mason Bill Doyle. The original first two floors of the building housed the Kalamazoo Paint Company, while the top two floors were rented out as a rooming house, part of which was infamously known for being a brothel. (During their renovation, Bob, Bob Rizzardi, Harley Koets and Bob Kiefer discover where the former "working ladies" hid the books with the names of their clients!).
Bob and Craig DeNooyer invest with Joe Gesmundo and Jim Morren as part of the Moors Investment Group (MIG). The MIG had begun building single-family housing around The Moors, an 18-hole championship golf course. The four men enter a bitter fight with St. Joe Bank regarding rising interest rates and the loan terms on The Moors property. (This two-month epic battle basically includes three or four meetings with standoffs, stalemates and yelling.) Bob and the others win the war, but all have to put down a $100,000 guarantee note on a $1 million line of credit to keep the project moving forward. Bob and Craig seed MIG further still, and then decide to form a new company called Sarasue (later changed to Treystar Holdings, LLC) to hold all of their real estate investments.
Bob's father (Robert Sr.) passes away in February. Before his father's death, Bob and his siblings persuade their dad to bequeath his $2 million estate to form a foundation that would benefit area college students and the Kalamazoo business community (with special focus on the family's beloved University of Michigan). That foundation was and remains the Monroe-Brown Foundation, which provides more than $1 million each year in scholarship/internship awards and other educational contributions.
Sarasue again taps Bob Kiefer to design the Inverness Project, comprised of upscale duplex units off the 18th hole on The Moors. With some challenges, 16 units sell out by the fall of 1986.
Next the group tackles The Lakes, 40 two-story units located around two artificial lakes. A better fit for the market of the time, the units sell as soon as completed.
Bob relinquishes lucrative Valley Plastics to Jim Haas, owner of Summit Polymers. (Valley Plastics was one of two molding companies in the U.S. with contacts for the design and manufacture of dashboard air vents for Ford and GM vehicles.)
Bob and Ron Bieke leave Comerica to found Arcadia Bank. They also form Arcadia Investment Management under the leadership of Jack Wattles, as well as a venture capital arm called Arcadia BIDCO. The three Bs—Bieke, Brown and Becker—run Arcadia BIDCO from an office in the Comerica Building. Arcadia BIDCO takes up the lion's share of Bob's work life from 1986-1994, during which time the group provided the seed capital for over 20 startup companies throughout southern Michigan.
A couple of airline tickets to D.C., one meeting with an inexperienced lawyer, a quick sandwich and beer for lunch, two sheets of lined notebook paper, and some serious guts and wits, and Bob and Ron Bieke leave our nation's capital with ownership of another bank, for less than their original—and quite aggressive—purchase proposal. (The duo had gained control of Muskegon Federal Savings Bank, which had gone into foreclosure due to high interest rates and the ongoing recession.)
The Haymarket Building is purchased from Gordie Rogers, an architect with modern finesse. Bob admires the open, unfinished concept of this iconic downtown Kalamazoo building (Treystar's present office location), which was originally the Sears building. Ironically all the iron for the Haymarket Building was made at what is now known as The Foundry, which will come into the timeline in 2016.