Real estate expert Brent Robertson has reached new heights in his career. As he looked out from the lounge on the 41st floor of the IDS Center, Robertson reflected on his recent promotion to Minneapolis market lead for Chicago-based commercial real estate firm JLL. “In this role, I get exposed to global best practices and being able to bring those to our clients on the user side and on the provider side, to just improve and drive business in the Twin Cities, it’s cool. ” he said. Robertson has spent eight years at JLL helping to lead the global agency’s local office leasing team. He has worked to lease marquee properties like the IDS Center, the RBC Plaza and T3. In his new role, he oversees JLL’s local brokerage business which includes tenant representation and leasing.
Q: What are some of your short-term goals for JLL?
A: We have so many different service lines. A lot of times they cross over with clients and one of our roles is to make sure as we are servicing clients that all of those services are being brought in front of them. Because a lot of times clients don’t know how much we can do for them or we have multiple business lines working with the clients but not interacting better. So it’s really about collaboration, transparency, communication to better service our existing clients. Over time, we are in growth mode. We are still a relatively small office and over the next couple of years we will be continuing to add people across all of our service lines.
Q: You were able to get T3 leased during a time when not a lot of speculative office [space] was being built. What is the future of spec office in the Twin Cities?
A: [T3] was scaled right. What I mean by that is at 220,000 square feet the size wasn’t prohibitive from going spec. Then there were other projects that followed suit … What I think we are going to see is there’s going to continue to be some larger new construction in downtown Minneapolis. With 10 West End and Ryan Cos. going spec on that I think that’s a great indicator not only on developers’ bullishness on the market but also the equity needed to fund those projects. They are buying in on Minneapolis. I’m selling Minneapolis-St. Paul more today than ever. I’m selling my hometown as a great place to do business and trying to convince companies to office here, maybe not move their entire headquarters but take a division and consider the Twin Cities. With more and more speculative office buildings, it tells us that there’s equity out there that also see Minneapolis-St. Paul as a great place to do business.
Q: A recent JLL report mentioned tech employees like having non-downtown options for work. Do you think we will start to see more growth in the suburban office market?
A: Contrary to popular belief, the suburbs are not dead. Millennials are now buying houses and they want to live in the suburbs. You are going to see more and more of the urbanization of the suburbs and West End is the perfect example and the France Avenue/494 area of Edina is kind of the next one I think. I don’t think this means there is going to be a shift [from downtown] but I think you are going to see more and more companies if they are of size, they might have two headquarters or two different workforces, one in the CBD and one in the suburbs.
Q: With all the negative news about WeWork do you think it has made people begin to question the viability of co-working?
A: The answer is no. WeWork is not a business model issue. It’s a growth issue. They just grew too fast. ... But co-working as a business model has proved to be very successful not only in this market but in other markets. It’s not just the sole proprietor who wants an office. But it’s companies that recognize, “Hey I want the collaboration and innovation that comes with officing smart, bright, creative people,” and you can’t get that if you are isolated in an office in a random office building but you get that in the co-working environment. JLL had a report just identifying market saturation for co-working in the Top 25 markets. We came in 24th out of 25 which tells me even with WeWork’s financial troubles, there’s room for still some growth over the next couple of years in co-working in the Twin Cities.
Q: What’s the next hot real estate market in the Twin Cities?
A: The Northeast [in Minneapolis] with some of the projects that Hillcrest and others, has kind of become the next North Loop. We talk about it and we feel from an urban standpoint, the Midway area [in St. Paul] is kind of the next area to get gentrified both from an office and flex user standpoint. In the suburbs, just the continued development along France Avenue in Edina. There’s so many cool projects going around.
Q: Any other JLL projects to look out for?
A: The coolest project our retail group is working on right now is the continued renovation and repositioning of Rosedale Center. ... [We are] working hand and hand with United Properties in the new Gateway project which is going to be amazing. Our team continues to work with KBS on the reintroduction of 60 South Sixth Street [RBC Plaza] which is going to be a super fun project. We’re working with the owners of the Northstar Center. … We also have something exciting lined up for the Crystal Court at the IDS Center.