New York-based real estate investment banking firm Chesterfield Faring has announced a refinance of the Wickfield Center of Ann Arbor, MI, former corporate headquarters of the bankrupt and liquidated national bookseller chain Borders.
The refinance is in support of a bustling market in the former HQ’s space. The two-building complex, sporting a total of 330,000 square feet of rentable space, was sold to Hughes Properties earlier this year by Colliers International, who has been retained to list the available rental space. The South Ann Arbor property has major tenants in Gold Star Mortgage, who is renting 68,000 sq. ft. Colliers itself also rented 16,000 sq. ft to Prime Research, a strategic communication research firm.
The Prime Research lease appears to be part an parcel of a technology trend that some say felled Borders, a once mighty-bookseller. In the Ann Arbor News, Brendan Cavender of Colliers International Ann Arbor who listed the building and represented PRIME in the deal said the new office’s footprint will cover about 85 percent of the second floor and Cavender said that another tenant is in final negotiations for the remaining office space.
“This is really a great development for the whole area,” Cavender said.
“The technology companies here are fueling growth in the retail and restaurant spaces as the new young employees move into the space. With Barracuda, Menlo, Google, and now Prime Research, you have a real density here of tech companies.”
Another Technology Vs. Traditional Retail Story?
The store closings of Borders in 2011 caused pain among fans of the bookstore business, a low-margin gentleman’s game that depends utterly on customer experience and a near-irrational expressions of customer loyalty. The emotional investment of customers into Borders in its earliest days in Ann Arbor was the store-floor half of a love story that went all the way to the top management. How did technology figure in its arc?
Technological innovation at Borders – albeit of a decidedly pre-internet type – was strong. Its inventory control system, developed in the 1970s and based on 3″ square cards was innovative and powerful enough to produce a spin-off business (Book Inventory Systems) that sold to independent bookstores around the world until 1994.
But it was a fateful decision about technology and internet retail in specific, some say, that sealed the fate of the global chain.
Most brick-and-mortar retailers had to make a decision in the very earliest part of the 21st century: was internet a distraction or was it a synergy? Borders, like so many retail businesses faced a struggle with their own online presence, and in 2001 made the decision to outsource their online retail to Amazon.com. That surrender to its most dangerous competitor was a disaster for Borders and a huge coup for Amazon. The highly personalized customer experience Amazon could deliver appealed to Borders customers far more than Borders expected. The program would end in 2007 with Borders scrambling to reclaim their online heritage, but by then, industry observers say, it was too late.