United Properties takes over Ford Centre

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2007 - 4:08 PM

The Bloomington-based real estate company finally closed on a long-awaited deal to invest in property near the planned Twins ballpark.

The Ford Centre, a 268,000-square-foot renovated office building in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, recently changed hands.

Bloomington-based United Properties bought the Class C building at 420 N. 5th St. and an adjacent parking lot from Schafer Richardson Inc. Terms of the transaction, which closed Aug. 31, were not disclosed.

Schafer Richardson has been active in the Warehouse District -- the planned site of a new Twins stadium -- as a residential developer, with projects that include the 710, 720 and 730 Lofts along N. 4th Street. Its other condominium projects include Phoenix on the River and East Bank Mills.

Schafer Richardson had owned the Ford Centre for about 10 years and at one time considered redeveloping the building into a residential property, according to project manager David Frank. The company decided to keep it as an office building, partly because it got busy with other residential projects, he said. It was not actively marketing the property but was approached by United Properties about a year ago, Frank said.

"We had mixed emotions about selling it," Frank said. "It's incredibly well located, and that location will only get better with the addition of the Twins ballpark and the development of a transportation hub close by. But [the sale] allows us to focus on other things."

John Saunders, vice president of United Properties' investment department, said that the 11-story building, built in 1913, is about 70 percent leased to a variety of creative-service businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Other than minor upgrades, he said United has no immediate plans for changes in the building or the parking lot.

Traffic study expands

For more than 15 years the foot-traffic studies done by Minneapolis-based Pedestrian Studies have focused on skyways and sidewalks around Nicollet Mall.

Prompted by the growing number of businesses west of Nicollet, the firm this fall also will begin measuring sidewalk traffic on Hennepin and First Avenues, according to Pedestrian Studies founder Peter Bruce.

Bruce collects the data for his annual studies by hiring temporary workers, who fan out on skyways and sidewalks in front of buildings whose managers pay to participate in the research. The workers use handheld clickers to get hourly tallies of people walking by.

Building owners and managers use Bruce's research to market their properties and negotiate lease terms with tenants. Retailers also use the data to scout locations.

Bruce said he's been getting more inquiries from retail real estate experts interested in how foot traffic has been changing closer to the Warehouse District.

"In most of this district, there are no baseline volumes to even start from," Bruce said. "I did some work when Block E first opened five years ago. Now we have light rail bringing people to Hennepin and First Avenues, the new ballpark causing people to think about the opportunities there, and new transit connections planned to bring more people on an everyday basis."

Bruce said that he hopes to collect enough data on the west side of downtown to make a good estimate of storefronts' visibility to foot traffic, as well as actual traffic passing them.

"The most fascinating question, of course, is how businesses can capture more by doing modest visual and physical improvements," he said.

Bruce expects to have some data by November.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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