Woodlake Centre in Richfield

MINNEAPOLIS—The Laurus Corp., an Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm, has just entered the Minneapolis market by buying the Woodlake Centre, a 190,000-square-foot office complex in southwest suburban Richfield. Company officials say the city’s economy has really taken off, making quite attractive even those properties that, like Woodlake, need a few upgrades. The price was not disclosed due to confidentiality provisions.

“Like any investor, we love the gateway cities,” Austin Khan, the chief investment officer of Laurus, tells GlobeSt.com, “but we like to cast a much wider net than the top five or six cities. And we feel very strongly about Minneapolis. Compared to the rest of the US, it has a great balance between real estate fundamentals and pricing.”

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tags the market’s unemployment rate at just 4.3%, the lowest among the largest US metropolitan areas, Khan points out. Furthermore, it also sits in the top tier of US metro areas in terms of employment growth.

“It’s the type of growth that is long-term and sustainable,” Khan adds, due to the area’s diverse economy and its role as the headquarters for 19 Fortune 500 companies, including United Health, Medtronic, 3M, Target and General Mills.

The Urban Land Institute recently published its Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014, and found that Minneapolis ranked 20th among US metropolitan areas in overall real estate prospects, and 9th for its development prospects.

That general outlook led Laurus to comb through the city’s submarkets to find “assets that are underperforming from an operational standpoint,” he says. The company, which is affiliated with Ethika Investments, LLC, a real estate investment firm, generally looks for hotels, office complexes and other building types with higher vacancies than similar properties or those that need some physical renovation or financial restructuring.

Woodlake, which sits at 6625 Lyndale Ave. South, already has a relatively low vacancy rate, but Khan says that “from our perspective, it’s an asset that can still benefit from some renovation and investment.” The firm plans to spend about $6 million over the next 12-18 months on new luxury amenities and “convert more of the building to medical tenant use.” It already has a “very nice base” of medical professionals, but with the potential for more, due to the plethora of seniors housing in the immediate neighborhood, as well as the metro area’s vast, internationally-respected medical complex. “We’ve seen a lot of medical tenants move into the area.”

“Off-campus medical office vacancies in the submarket ended 2013 at 6.8%, and on-campus space at just a 3.4% vacancy rate,” Khan adds. “Given the lack of available high-quality space in the market, Woodlake presents an incredible opportunity to enhance the variety of medical and related specialties offered to the community.”