Florida real estate firm says it is seeking “highest and best use.”
A Florida real estate firm has stepped forward to purchase the long-vacant State Farm corporate campus in Woodbury, one of the largest commercial sites in the Twin Cities.
The 100-acre campus, at the southeastern corner of Interstate 94 and Radio Drive, includes a 400,000-square-foot office building that has been empty since the Illinois-based insurance company left the site in 2004. Since then, at least two interested parties emerged to buy the property during the Great Recession, but no deal was consummated.
Now, Florida-based Elion Partners says it is under contract to buy the site and is working with the city to find “the highest and best use.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
It’s unclear what those plans may entail beyond occupying the office building, which was built in 1996. Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said Tuesday that the city’s comprehensive plan envisions additional development on the property as “a place to work,” as well as complementary retail that would support the workforce.
No formal plans have been submitted to the city.
Juan DeAngulo, partner and chief operating officer for Elion, said his firm was aware of the site for some time. “Our group has an existing relationship with State Farm. It was a matter of timing and feeling like it was the right moment” to move forward with the deal, he said.
DeAngulo added that the office building is in good shape and could be reconfigured for multiple tenants.
“The property has a strategic location, tremendous access, robust infrastructure and untapped potential,” he said.
“Tenants and office users don’t want to be in a corporate campus,” DeAngulo noted. “The overall development will have some urban elements. Broadly speaking, we’ll look at the type of commercial uses that complement an office building.”
He declined to offer a timeline on the project.
Key players in the Twin Cities commercial real estate community have been invited to the annual Woodbury Business Classic on Oct. 3 to discuss possible development on the expansive site. Elion will serve as both an investor and master developer for the project, and had partnered with the Minneapolis-based construction and development firm Kraus-Anderson.
Leasing market sluggish
The news comes after office-leasing activity in the Twin Cities slowed in the first half of this year, according to a July report issued by Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq. The midyear office vacancy rate was 17.5 percent.
One reason for the overall market’s sluggishness is that many deals were struck at the height of the economic downturn “when the market was basically on sale,” the report states. “Companies took advantage of the downturn to lock in low rates and longer-term leases.”
Now the market is experiencing a lower demand for space — a consequence of the bargain-basement leasing activity in slow times, the report notes.
Elion, which was founded in the 1980s, also has invested in a shopping center off France Avenue in Edina and is involved in two other projects that DeAngulo declined to identify.
State Farm was Woodbury’s biggest employer until 2004, when the firm shut down the then-eight-year-old campus in a consolidation. Most of the company’s jobs were moved to Lincoln, Neb., or into a smaller office in Mendota Heights.
A deal to redevelop the site by St. Paul-based Wellington Management fell through in 2011. Beyond the office building, the firm had proposed a 200-unit senior housing complex and a Costco store. The city opposed the big-box retailer for that site.
In addition, a South Dakota businessman proposed buying the site in 2007, but that transaction was never completed.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752