Balke Brown Transwestern tries its hand at marketing business park
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Mike Hurley, vice president of Balke Brown Transwestern, airs confidence when he talks about the potential development of University Park, a project that has stymied SIUE officials for years.
“We think the difference is going to be concerted, intentional marketing,” he said. “We’re going directly to companies that have worked with SIUE students before. We’re going to companies that are looking to collaborate with the university. We’re changing our tune a little bit. We’re not just marketing land, we are genuinely trying to create a collaborative business park that benefits everybody.”
Niche fields that have a synergy with the university would be a prime choice.
“For example, the university has a very strong arts and science program, dental medicine, pharmacy, nursing, engineering, along with a number of other disciplines,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is concentrate on companies that would fit that model. We’re not just looking for a company to come here and occupy space. We’re looking for somebody that would get involved in the SIUE culture.”
The university students would provide a great resource, and the right company could provide the means for those students to further train in research.
One of the biggest costs for business is human resources.
“Hiring new employee, having to train them, having them leave, having to train new ones,” Hurley said. “We really feel like this is a great opportunity for us to save companies significant costs by doing a collaboration with SIUE.”
Hurley pointed out there is already substantial bio research science done on campus. The NCERC bio fuels center is among the park’s tenants.
“We’d like to push that long. Find people that do research and development, people that require the best and brightest young folks to come work for them would be a great fit. We have 14,000 students here, highly educated, driven and ready to contribute.”
Hurley said a brochure to market the property is ready to go. The property was officially put on the market at the beginning of September.
“These are very long projects so it will take some time to procure the proper amount of interest and actually build a building. We know exactly what parcels we have available. We know where all the infrastructure is. If somebody came and said, ‘I need a 20,000-square-foot facility on this campus,’ we’d be able to deliver.”
Hurley isn’t prepared to discuss specific lease costs.
“We’d rather leave that as an ‘it depends’ situation,” he said. “It depends on what kind of a build-out they want. Do they want us to build it, do they want to build it themselves? Or do they want us to build it and lease it out? What kind of tenancy it would require, etc. It would be a very comparable, competitive lease rate for the market.”
He said the company is not prepared to tell somebody what their lease rate would be without knowing what kind of building they want.
Location would be less of a factor than the actual cost to build, he said.
“For instance, do we need to build a big warehouse with wide open ceilings and no offices, or do we need to build a space with extra security, reinforced floors and offices made out of marble? There’s too many variables to say what we would do for charging.”
Of the 330 acres, he said there are sites totaling 138 acres to develop, which does not count the existing buildings and green space.
“We can provide anything from a 2-acre site to a 60-acre site. The green space is an amenity,” he said. “University Park controls the zoning. The desire is not to create a business park covered in asphalt but to have one where greenspace and natural areas or trails complement buildings. We have a little bit of a blank slate. A company can come in, get the building they want, in a location they want, with certain amenities they want.”
A number of factors have kept the park from moving toward development, but the market is definitely better now that it was before the recession hit around a decade ago.
“I don’t think anybody tried this (marketing strategy) eight, 10 or 15 years ago. It was more about marketing the ground to companies. I would say this is a great environment for this now. Companies are growing. People are looking for new sites,” he said.
Because it is an affiliate of Transwestern, a national commercial real estate company, Balke
Brown can tap into a substantial network of contacts, Hurley said. The company has 35 offices throughout the U.S.
And while Balke Brown has experience with major development it has not done much in a college setting, he said.
“We don’t have anything that’s directly on a campus like this, so it’s a pretty unusual situation. Our main headquarters is the old Arena site (near Forest Park). That’s a very large park where we have built office, retail, and multifamily so that would be a pretty good example of something we’ve taken from a piece of ground to build a business park – we spent over $250 million on the site.”
Balke Brown is based in St. Louis but has substantial presence in Southern Illinois, managing and leasing buildings in towns like Fairview Heights, Belleville, Shiloh and Edwardsville.
Among other things, it represents HSHS and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital on its medical buildings and real estate needs in Southern Illinois, he said.