Real estate developer Ryan Dembs dead at 49

Suburban real estate developer Ryan Dembs, a resident of Franklin, died Sunday. He was 49.

Dembs, who was president and CEO of the eponymous Farmington Hills-based Dembs Development Inc., spent more than a quarter-century in commercial real estate, building a career developing industrial and flex buildings, largely in Oakland County.

A post on the website of The Dorfman Chapel says funeral services will be held Tuesday at Temple Israel at 5725 Walnut Lake Road in West Bloomfield Township.

The cause of his death is not yet known. A message was left with Dembs’ company Monday morning.

“His company was built in a way that it can continue to operate and thrive in his absence,” said Brian Raznick, partner for Southfield-based law firm Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss PC who has represented Dembs and his companies for years. He also described himself as one of Dembs’ closest friends and his family’s attorney.

“He was a very extremely successful real estate developer, building some of the premier buildings in and around the metro area,” Raznick said. “But what he should be remembered for is all of his contributions to the community, and the things he would be proudest of are his wife, Lindsay, and his boys, Dylan and Harrison.”

In recent years, Dembs’ company developed the $23 million GKN Driveline North America Inc. headquarters in Auburn Hills and a 75,000-square-foot speculative research and development building in Novi.

The firm also developed the new 108,000-square-foot new office and R&D facility for supplier Martinrea, a division of Canadian supplier Martinrea International Inc., in Auburn Hills.

In March 2020, a joint venture between Dembs Development and Southfield-based Pitt Investments landed auto supplier Marelli as the anchor tenant for the former Federal-Mogul Corp. headquarters in Southfield, which the joint-venture paid $3.5 million for in May 2017.

He was also listed among Crain’s Detroit Business’ 50 Names to Know in commercial real estate in 2016.

Gary Weisman, principal and co-owner of Southfield-based developer General Development Co. along with Bruce Brickman, said Monday that he knew Dembs for about 15 years and the two had a “professor-student” relationship. When they first met, Weisman outbid Dembs for a piece of Novi property and, the day after, agreed to let Dembs into the deal in a joint-venture capacity.

“We would be partners together instead of it having it been a win (for me) and a loss (for him),” Weisman said. “It was like a mentor/mentee relationship that has lasted until yesterday. Even last week, we launched a new real estate venture concept that was residential in nature. This relationship built over these years in industrial moved us even in a different direction.”

But Dembs, Weisman said, was more than just a prominent real estate professional.

“Ryan loved real estate,” Weisman said. “But it was a means to an end. His life’s contribution was his generosity and his sweetness and his insatiable interest in the world around him. His whole life was about his family and his kids. Real estate was what he did for a living, but his family was his life.”

Steve Gordon, president of Southfield-based brokerage firm Signature Associates Inc., said he had known Dembs since Dembs’ childhood because he did business with Dembs Roth, the development company run by Dembs’ father.

“As he has grown up and progressed, I was so impressed with his development and maturity,” Gordon said. “He was just a cool, very cool guy. Although I don’t do all his business, we have had a very special, almost family, relationship, me and Ryan. It’s a tragedy.”

Gordon described Dembs as someone who was athletic and physically active, playing tennis, racquetball and basketball, as well as running, lifting weights and doing yoga.

“He was a phenomenal athlete,” Gordon said.

Jeffrey Schostak, president of Schostak Development, the development arm of Livonia-based real estate company Schostak Bros. & Co., called Dembs “one of the most talented combinations of developer, contractor and entrepreneur in this town.”

“However, he was far more than a real estate partner to anyone who knew him,” Schostak said. “Ryan was a great family man and a wonderful friend. He was pure class, and I felt lucky to call him a close friend. Ryan will be sorely missed by everyone.”