By Ioana Neamt, Associate Editor
The Opus Group has been a steady presence in the Twin Cities for six decades. Founded in 1953 by Gerry Rauenhorst, the company is still based in Minneapolis, with eight regional offices in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Phoenix and St. Louis. It has been a busy year for Opus, as the company completed a number of unique projects in Minneapolis alone: The Nic on Fifth, VÉLO, Venue at Dinkytown, Stadium Village Flats and The Station on Washington.
Dave Menke joined Opus in 1995 and has 27 years of experience in real estate development. Currently the president of Opus Development Co., he is in charge of overseeing all real estate development for Opus’ Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Indianapolis offices. As Opus continues to expand its presence in the Twin Cities, Menke agreed to share some insights regarding its current and future plans.
Q. How did you get into real estate? What drew you to the field?
A. I earned my bachelor’s degree in business finance from the University of Minnesota and started my career in real estate through commercial brokerage, specifically office leasing and investment sales. I was drawn to commercial real estate because of its multi-faceted nature, including finance, design, construction, operations and more. With development, there is always a unique challenge to overcome because no two projects are alike. I’ve been with Opus for nearly two decades, and what’s exciting for me is that we have the ability to work on large, complicated projects with an experienced, integrated team. There’s not a problem or challenge we haven’t encountered and successfully overcome. It’s great to see projects rise out of the ground and work with people who take pride in what they do.
Q. Opus has grown a lot over the past few years. To what do you attribute this growth and what differentiates Opus from other players in the market?
A. Our design-build approach is unique because each project is created by one integrated team of experts, allowing us to mobilize all of Opus’ resources at any stage of a project. Our construction team collaborates with our designers and developers to deliver high-quality buildings.
Moreover, I believe that what elevates Opus’ work is our people. Opus is led by an experienced team that has worked together successfully for decades and is supported by dedicated, industry-leading professionals. We operate across the country and have proven capabilities in all sectors – office, industrial, retail, institutional, residential and government. For any project or challenge we face, we have the expertise to tackle it.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the multifamily market in Minneapolis these days? Activity in the apartment sector seems to show no signs of slowing down.
A. Minneapolis has continued to see low vacancy rates and high rental demand from a broad range of renters. We anticipate continued strong demand as the city looks to expand the approximately 35,000 residents currently located downtown to 70,000 over the next 10 years. Well-located, well-conceived projects will continue to see strong demand even as the supply of housing stock increases in the central business district. We’ve successfully delivered a broad range of quality housing to everyone from professionals to students to Baby Boomers right here in our backyard.
Q. You recently told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that Opus is known as a “downtown developer.” What do you think drives residents to downtown Minneapolis? What’s the appeal there?
A. Opus has been the dominant developer in downtown Minneapolis for several decades and has had the opportunity to contribute to the city of Minneapolis’ vision for future growth. The appeal of downtown is its vast amount of office space combined with numerous retail, entertainment and now living options – a true live, work and play environment. Furthermore, the city of Minneapolis has made a commitment to transportation, with multiple bus lines and light-rail options that make it an easy commute or destination for employees and residents. Along with The Nic on Fifth™, we’re continuing to work on a new downtown headquarters expansion for Xcel Energy and have plans to develop two additional multifamily towers at the north end of downtown’s Nicollet Mall. These projects will continue the transformation of downtown Minneapolis.
Q. Opus recently completed the development of three luxury high-rise apartment projects in downtown Minneapolis (The Nic on Fifth, VÉLO and Venue at Dinkytown). Is there a strong demand for luxury housing in the city? Tell us a bit about these projects.
A. These projects, ranging from luxury high-rise to boutique urban living to student housing, are ideal for the Minneapolis market and have been very well received.
Following the recession, we made the decision to leverage our multifamily expertise. Specifically, we saw an underserved space in the student housing sector and we used the University of Minnesota as a launching point, but have since taken that success to a number of other universities across our platform. To date, we’ve developed or started construction on nearly 1,600 beds in eight projects across six universities.
Venue at Dinkytown is our third student housing project completed at the University of Minnesota. It’s a 246-bed development positioned adjacent to campus. Venue at Dinkytown’s doors opened in August, only one year after the start of construction, and it is being well received. When the project welcomed its first residents, it was already 97 percent leased.
We have also been busy developing luxury, multifamily market-rate rental projects and taking advantage of record-low apartment vacancy rates and providing unique living options in the area.
The Nic on Fifth opened its doors in September, setting a new standard for finishes, quality and amenities. Skyway access and a light-rail station at its front door make The Nic on Fifth truly a one-of-a-kind development. The building is 26 stories, prominently placing it in the Minneapolis skyline. It’s a real point of pride for our team and a testament to the great work they can do.
In the thriving North Loop neighborhood of downtown Minneapolis, we’ve also recently completed VÉLO, a boutique, six-story luxury apartment with 101 units. Minneapolis’ stature as one of America’s most bike-friendly cities was the catalyst behind the branding and design for the project. VÉLO, French for bicycle, includes unique amenities targeted not only toward bike enthusiasts and commuters but also around walkability and sustainable lifestyles.
All three projects feature ground-level retail, offering added convenience to residents.
Q. The Nic on Fifth was the first high-rise luxury apartment project in downtown Minneapolis in nearly three decades. Tell us what this project means for Opus. What kind of challenges did you face while working on it? And what has been the market’s response to it?
A. I think our early success at The Nic on Fifth is settling initial skepticism over the demand for a project like this. Leading up to its opening, The Nic on Fifth was 40 percent pre-leased. Nearly all of those residents were signing up sight-unseen, before they had the chance to see the downtown Minneapolis skyline views or completed amenities. They fell in love with the design plans and the idea of downtown living. For me, it’s exciting to watch this project come to fruition as residents continue to settle in and make the building come to life.
Any urban high-rise is always challenging from a construction and delivery perspective. Fortunately, our expertise in this type of construction and our integrated platform of design, development and construction allowed us to deliver The Nic on Fifth on time and on budget.
The success of The Nic on Fifth raised the bar within the development community in the Twin Cities. Urban living is meeting a new standard, and it is exciting to be a part of this evolution.
Q. The Nic was designed to achieve LEED Silver certification. What other Opus projects are seeking LEED certification and how have your buildings benefited from the certification?
A. Our team’s design-build portfolio includes more than 14 million square feet of green projects, including more than 40 LEED-certified buildings across sectors totaling 10 million square feet. Furthermore, more than 40 Opus team members are LEED-certified professionals. Our longtime commitment to sustainability is a point of pride for us and is always top of mind when developing and building new projects.
Q. What’s next for you and Opus, both overall and in the Twin Cities? Is the company planning any other projects in the area? How do they fit into your overall company strategy?
A. We’re active across virtually all sectors, with multifamily, industrial and office in highest demand. In the Twin Cities area, we’re working on a build-to-suit for Xcel Energy’s corporate headquarters expansion in downtown Minneapolis. We’re pursuing multifamily projects in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Denver, Phoenix, St. Louis and Chicago, as well as multi-tenant office projects in Denver and Phoenix. We also have student housing projects and several speculative industrial projects underway across the country, as well as a 1.6 million-square-foot project for ConAgra Foods in Frankfort, Ind. Our focus is to continue to design and develop creative, well-conceived projects for both our own account as well as the customers we serve.
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