With the subprime mortgage crisis only a few years away, 2005 was not the ideal time to found a real estate firm. But as the housing market limped along during the Great Recession, nimble startups such as The Excelsior Group (TEG) created opportunity by being smart, patient and having a willingness to quickly diversify. “The recession forced us to be thoughtful and diligent to avoid the pitfalls that were abundant. That thoughtful and careful approach allowed us to build a stable foundation; had we started the company earlier, we may have been enticed to chase the over-heated market. Through very wise leadership and a conservative mindset, we were positioned well for future growth,” Senior Vice President Jennifer Gordon says.
As it celebrates its 10-year anniversary, TEG credits its entrepreneurial spirit and ability to diversify with creating the conditions for the rapid growth it is experiencing today. In the past decade, the full-service investment and management group has acquired or developed 1.9 million square feet of commercial space, 32,600 square feet of retail, 250 hotel rooms, and 800 apartment units – mostly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. TEG’s size doubled from 35 employees to 70 in the past two years and its success continues to draw talented people to the company.
Since its founding by father and son team, Kim and Chris Culp, TEG has specialized in commercial real estate ownership, acquisition, management, development, commercial leasing and homebuilder finance. While the firm does not do its own building, it does develop properties and land. The firm also has found success partnering with other companies to co-develop large projects. Those relationships form at the beginning of a project, and TEG remains involved from the design and construction phases through the warranty period, usually taking over as a third-party manager once a building is done. “We want to partner with other quality organizations. One, because it’s in line with our core values, but two, because we have wise leadership who would rather be the best than the biggest.”
DEVELOPING A MARKET
TEG has developed a close understanding of the Twin Cities market during the past decade. Gordon says two bifurcated demographics have emerged in that time period: millennials and empty nesters. Each group has its own needs when it comes to multifamily housing projects. Higher-priced, quality finished units attract empty nesters who are often moving to an apartment from a custom home, Gordon says. At the same time, apartment projects must include a range of affordable price points to lure potential tenants who are on their first or second job out of college.
In developing multifamily projects, Gordon says TEG aims to satisfy both groups with the design and amenities. “We design to a more classic aesthetic,” she explains. “We’re not going to be the most eccentric, trendy design in the market, but we are forward thinking with how function meets design and service.”
Downtown Minneapolis is undergoing a transformation as developers pour $1.5 billion into 40 acres of contiguous land around the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium, which is expected to open for the 2016-17 NFL season. Included in that redevelopment is Edition, a 195-unit apartment building with 25,000 square feet of retail space and parking that is expected to open next March.
TEG is partnering with Ryan Companies on the project, which will overlook a new 4.2-acre urban park and feature views of U.S. Bank Stadium. The Edition site includes two smaller buildings, each with about 30 units. “Having two boutique-sized buildings will help attract a demographic that appreciates the feel of a smaller building, yet desires access to the amenities within the larger community.”
Aside from Edition, TEG has been involved in two other high-profile projects in the market: 222 Hennepin Apartments in the heart of Minneapolis and Vintage on Selby, located in a vibrant neighborhood on St. Paul’s west side. Both properties have similar high-end design features and are mixed-use with Whole Foods stores located on the street level. The 286-unit 222 Hennepin building opened in August 2013 and was sold for $109 million in March 2015.
Vintage on Selby is still under construction and is scheduled to open on Dec. 1. The 210-unit building will be amenity-rich. Vintage also will bring new grocery options to the area through its 40,000-sqaure-foot Whole Foods. “The neighborhood and the city are really excited about having this addition to the neighborhood,” Gordon says.
Deciding whether to pursue a project is often just as much about the relationships TEG has built as it is the financial numbers. Each of those three Twin Cities projects is a collaboration between TEG and Ryan Companies, a national master builder firm. It is not an exclusive relationship, but Gordon says TEG and Ryan are aligned on values, goals and philosophy, making for a strong continuing partnership.
TEG’s ability to attract and retain talented people is what sets it apart from other full-service real estate firms, Gordon says. Since its beginning, the company has sought out employees who can support its diverse projects and quickly respond to its customers and partners. “They really have embraced our culture and helped create the business and brand that we have,” Gordon says of TEG’s staff.
When a company doubles its staff over two years – like TEG has – it risks losing some of itself as it absorbs the personalities and professional traits of its new employees. To help those team members better align themselves with TEG’s goals, the company started a training program called “TEG University.” The first class was held in July and focused on the company’s culture. “It’s more challenging as you grow to maintain culture, but it’s a really important part of who we are,” Gordon explains.
Ensuring all team members share the same vision and approach will be increasingly important as TEG prepares for its next phase of growth. While the company’s development projects have been in multifamily, Gordon says a solo development is on the horizon. TEG recently purchased seven acres of land at the West End of St. Louis Park, Minn., where, in the next few years, it plans to build two class A office buildings totaling 500,000 to 800,000 square-feet.
October 21, 2015 | By Tim O’Connor, Construction Today | Original Article