But it was that lunch meeting a couple of years ago that was the precursor to last week’s news about the Eastland Center shopping mall being sold in Harper Woods.
It was Vigliotti, long a behind-the-scenes dealmaker in Detroit well-known for his boisterous laugh, who played a role in bringing Riverside, Mo.-based Northpoint Development LLC to the struggling mall on Vernier for a new warehouse development, said Martin Krall, one of the brokers on the deal representing Northpoint (the Royal Oak office of JLL also worked on the deal).
Vigliotti, described by longtime friends as a “Renaissance man” because of his wide variety of interests, would never see the deal that ultimately arose out of that meeting come to fruition.
He died in early May at age 73 after a battle with lung cancer.
At that lunch, Krall, a Vigliotti deputy who is also with Greater Development LLC, first met Tim Conder.
Conder, who for nearly two decades was senior project manager for real estate at General Motors, knew Vigliotti and his business partner John Miller from his days at the Detroit-based automaker, where he worked from 2000-18 before leaving for Northpoint, one of the most active industrial developers in the region with projects in Detroit, Warren and Shelby Township, and now Harper Woods.
Over the decades, Vigliotti and his Detroit-based Ralph Vigliotti Realty Inc. — founded by Vigliotti’s family — helped GM piece together land and other properties on various deals, Krall said, as did Matt Cullen, the longtime head of GM real estate and one of Dan Gilbert’s top deputies.
Among them: New Center Commons, the High Rise Industrial Park, an old 2 million-square-foot GM assembly plant on Fort Street and others.
That Vigliotti/Conder relationship, forged over the years, brought Conder and Krall to the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.
“Were it not for the discussions with Vigliotti, we probably wouldn’t be in discussions on anything, let alone Eastland mall,” Conder said of his company, which has no less than 4.6 million square feet in various stages of development. “I’ve been around the block a couple times with folks in Detroit and New York and Chicago and you’ve got some sharks out there, but he was a good soul, a good father, a real good real estate guy.”
Krall said Vigliotti tasked him with pointing Northpoint in the direction of sites suitable for the type of development they were looking to do.
“Tom said, ‘Marty, you’ve got all the maps. Show them where to go.’ That’s really where Eastland spawned,” Krall said.
Tom Jr., Vigliotti’s son, recalled an adventurous father who enjoyed skydiving, sailing — the younger Vigliotti said his dad’s boat got caught in a storm in the 1970s in the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean and sunk — scuba diving, fishing and skiing.
“He would go to work and love coming home and leaving work at work and just spending time with the kids, whether it was taking us on ski trips or boat trips,” Tom Jr. said.
It wasn’t just GM that Vigliotti worked with.
He also worked on projects for Ford Motor Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Motor City Casino-Hotel, Little Caesars and Olympia Development of Michigan, according to submitted biographical information.
“He was a grassroots kind of real estate guy in that sense who could connect with anybody, the executives and he could go door to door in neighborhoods with every kind of demographic and connect with them and be successful,” Cullen said.
For Krall, the work Northpoint is doing is an extension of Vigliotti’s work over the years.
“They take the stuff that nobody wants and breathe life into it, and that’s exactly what Vigliotti did,” Krall said of Northpoint. “That’s what’s so interesting about the whole deal. That’s what Tom did the last 40 years, when it wasn’t cool and fashionable to buy old auto plants.”
He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Maureen; daughter, Ellie Rowland (Nick); son, Tom Jr.; and sisters Mary McHale and Anne Cesario (Mark).