Since Ian Ross founded Somera Road Inc. in 2014, the New York commercial real estate investment firm has done over 50 deals, totaling more than $1 billion and representing about 11 million square feet of space across nearly 40 U.S. cities.
The firm’s most recent acquisition: PPL Plaza in downtown Allentown, a property Somera officially added to its portfolio after submitting the top bid of $16 million at a sheriff’s sale last month.
The office building at 835 W. Hamilton St. and accompanying parking garage at 940 W. Linden St., essentially stuck in neutral for two years while foreclosure proceedings played out, fit into Somera’s focus on distressed, value-add properties in secondary markets that are in need of a fresh start. While the building only has a few tenants, Ross attributed the low occupancy rate to the prior ownership group being overburdened with debt after buying the property for more than $90 million in 2006.
But now, he told The Morning Call on Monday, the property is owned at the right price, giving Somera the ability to offer prospective tenants compelling rent pricing and capitalize on the nationwide trend of suburban office tenants returning to urban cores. With a brighter financial outlook, Ross believes PPL Plaza — due for a rebranding soon — has features that speak for themselves, namely an LEED Gold certification, a rooftop garden space, and architecture that leads Ross to say, “They just don’t build buildings this way anymore.”
“It’s hands down the nicest architectural construction product that we own in our portfolio,” said Ross, Somera’s managing principal. “Going back to the value proposition, we’ll be able to provide what’s hands down the best office space in the market at a fraction of the cost of new construction. One thing we love about our position here is we can provide better product at a lower price than our competitors, and we’re excited to see that next big company come to Allentown and excited to compete to be a space provider for them.”
Ross spoke to The Morning Call about the building’s condition, the property’s tenant prospects — the building was in the running for ADP before the payroll processor selected Five City Centerlast year — and a Kansas City project that Somera carried out that has some similarities to PPL Plaza. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Q: In court documents, the property’s receiver mentioned the Plaza received interest from Blue Cross and Buckeye Partners as potential tenants. Are those deals still alive or are there companies interested in the building now that the foreclosure is over?
A: We’re actively engaged with a handful of prospective tenants that are compelled by the live-work-play environment that can be created in downtown Allentown, especially with the parking ratio that we’re able to provide at our building. There’s a great value proposition here, I think especially as compared to the suburbs. A lot of these suburban users are saying, “Not only is this not the environment that I want to be in out in the suburbs for my newer generation workforce, but if I move down there into the downtown, I can have the right environment at a cheaper price.”
With regard to potential tenants, there’s really no good reason that this building should be empty. I think it’s the worst-kept secret that ADP was strongly considering, and was actually at the finish line, of taking over this entire building. We weren’t really involved at that time, but I think the unfortunate truth there was tenants don’t like potential disruption. They were concerned that the prior ownership didn’t have the capital and the positioning, with regards to the capital structure, to be able to hold onto this asset long term. And I think there probably were concerns about an ongoing foreclosure battle, ongoing receivership, potential bankruptcy, and no tenant wanted to take that risk. But outside of those risks, which are clearly neutered at this point now that you have a sophisticated, low-capitalized owner that owns at the right basis, I think ADP absolutely loved the building.
Q: The Plaza was built in 2003. Are there certain parts you want to refresh?
A: When we look at our portfolio around the country, that’s a lot of times what we’re doing. We’re fixing distressed buildings. [Senior Associate] Basel [Bataineh] and I were in the market a couple days last week, and we were actively looking for ways to spend money improving the asset. The truth of the matter is: This building is in pristine, mint condition. The mechanical engineering, the plumbing, the building’s systems, everything is in perfect shape, even the rooftop garden still looks great. With regard to some of the aesthetic features in the lobby, we might do some upgrades there, but the design has stayed extremely well and the building shows great. For better or worse, there’s not a lot for us to do.
Q: How do you envision the property? Because when you look at development in downtown Allentown, a lot of the construction has been down the road closer to PPL Center. If the Plaza gets full, can it help that end of the district?
A: I think the PPL Tower is really the anchor of downtown, and I think our building is inside of that anchor. I think you’ll continue to see these four, five blocks infill inside of those anchors, and I think we’re on the right side of that building, if that makes sense.
Q: Do you think you’ll be hitting the market about the right time? Because City Center Investment Corp. has ADP taking 10 floors of the 13-story Five City Center being built at Eighth and Hamilton street, and then will need to build more office space.
A: Absolutely. With regards to our value proposition and our ability to provide space at highly compelling rates, I think we’re in a great position to attract the next large user to this building. There’s certainly no longer any noise around distressed ownership or anything of that sort. It’s an incredible asset, in great shape. I don’t want to knock any competition, but we can provide better space at a lower price. I think we’re certainly in the market at the right time, and we’re excited about seeing the next great company come to downtown Allentown.
Q: Is there a specific type of tenant you believe will be drawn to the building?
A: I think because of how well designed this building was, it offers itself up to a variety of tenants, whether that’s a single user that wants the entire building or whether that’s single-floor users. The building can be very easily multitenanted. Furthermore, because of the efficiencies of the floor plate, the floor also chops up really well, so if you wanted to look at two, three or four users per floor, we could certainly do that, as well. Again, we often have these problems in smaller floor-plate buildings or older vintage buildings — this is not that. This building was designed to perfectly fit a user, from 5,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet. I think it really leaves us very open to the kind of companies that can fit in here.
Q: When you look at your portfolio, is there a similar property that would serve as a good blueprint for what you plan to do to the Plaza?
A: There’s a building in Kansas City that we acquired in 2016 called the 3Y building, at 300 Wyandotte and the River Market. We bought that building, also architecturally significant, very similar in style, a lot smaller in scale. It’s about 100,000 square feet, all steel and glass, beautiful building that was only about 10 years old that was designed by HOK Architects, which actually occupied a majority of the building. In a similar situation, the building was overleveraged with too much debt and acquired by a tenant-in-common group at too high of a purchase price, where come renewal, HOK — the firm had renamed to Populous — Populous couldn’t get a compelling enough rate as compared to alternative options in the market.
We ended up acquiring that [mortgage] note, taking title of the property and, as of today, we are now 100% leased at the asset, fully occupied with multiple tenants and an average lease term of about eight years. It’s been a great success story taking that building from entirely vacant to entirely occupied.
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The PPL Plaza in Allentown is headed in a new direction and preparing for a new name.
The new owners invited media inside for a tour Wednesday after purchasing the property in a sheriff’s sale last month.
The building, though 16 years old, was way ahead of its time and offers a lot of modern features.
The biggest change up is the plaza. The new owners want to make it more of a communal space. The water fountains go, but they’ll add more places for people to sit and beef up entertainment.
The PPL Plaza has a spectacular lobby skylight, rooftop gardens and countless eco-friendly features.
The PPL Plaza building was sold at a sheriff’s auction to Somera Road for 16 million, a fraction of what it cost to build it. It most recently was home to Talen Energy, a PPL spinoff.
The owners aim to make the building once again attractive to tenants, who recently have gone for newer, cheaper builds thanks to the Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
The old PPL Plaza Is in the NIZ, and the new owners could be eligible for NIZ benefits for new improvements like upgrading the lobby and revamping the plaza space.
Ian Ross says there’s a lot of vendor interest in the vacant restaurant space, especially with 2,000 ADP employees soon to move in just down the street.
“A lot of vendors want to play into that and be accessible from a street front perspective,” Ross said.
About a half a dozen companies have already expressed interest in moving into the building.
“Companies are saying I want to be downtown,” Ross said.
The new owners aren’t naming those companies, but they say they expect tenants will start moving in by the end of the summer.
A fairgrounds-area property has sold for about $9.3 million — three times the amount at which it last changed ownership hands a mere four years ago — and its warehouse is slated for a major overhaul from a New York City company.
The address is 1414 Fourth Ave. S., with the property located within an opportunity zone and near Wedgewood-Houston. The buyer was commercial real estate firm Somera Road, which plans to convert the building to creative office and retail uses. According to a release, the project will be called WeHo Crossing and will eventually offer 60,000 square feet of office space and 12,500 square feet of retail and restaurant space. An early-2020 completion is eyed.
The seller was 4th Avenue South Ventures GP. The partnership acquired the roughly 4-acre property in January 2015 for about $2.9 million, according to Metro records.
Lance Bloom, a vice president with Colliers International Nashville, brokered the deal.
Grooms Engine Warehouse previously occupied the now-empty building, which spans about 115,000 square feet and opened in 1950.
The sale is the equivalent of about $80.40 per foot (based on the building’s size).
“As Nashville grows and becomes a prominent global business hub for the knowledge economy, we are seeing substantial demand increase for offices that provides unique and creative workspaces for the millennial employee set. WeHo is no doubt on the verge of becoming the next big neighborhood of Nashville,” Ian Ross, principal of Somera Road, said in the release, adding the site is near the future SoHo House, restaurants, apartments, condos and makerspaces.
“It’s exciting to watch this neighborhood grow right before our eyes and it’s hard to find a more rapidly developing ‘cool’ neighborhood across the country,” he added.
According to the release, Somera Road has enlisted Manuel Zeitlin Architects for design. Charlie Gibson, Cushman & Wakefield, will represent Somera Road on office leases, with Elam Freeman, Baker Storey McDonald Properties Inc., representing the company on retail leases.
Of note, Somera Road plans to update a Gulch property home to a former Gibson Guitar facility. The company will undertake a 45,000-square-foot mixed-use development at the Church Street site, which was the subject of legal action after Gibson decided to sell the property to a different New York investor. The remaining structure at the site was once home to Gibson’s Valley Arts brand (read here).
Somera Road previously acquired a nearby property, also from Gibson, at which it currently is retrofitting what had been a piano showroom so as to accommodate a bowling and arcade facility. The firm also owns two Gibson properties in Memphis, the result of what were the Nashville-based guitar company’s 2018 restructuring efforts. Nashville-based ESa is overseeing architectural work at the future bowling building, the address for which 1121 Church St.
The Somera Road Fourth Avenue South transaction represents the latest in various real estate moves involving properties located near The Fairgrounds Nashville (read here, here and here), Wedgewood-Houston and Chestnut Hill.
Established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, opportunity zones are tools designed to stimulate low-income and transitioning communities with private capital. The law provides a federal tax incentive for investors to re-invest their capital gains into so-called opportunity funds.
Originally published by the Nashville Post: https://www.nashvillepost.com/business/development/commercial-real-estate/article/21065663/fairgrounds-site-sells-for-triple-2015-price
AUTHOR William Williams
New York-based Somera Road Inc. bought the 4-acre property at 1414 Fourth Ave. S. on April 23 – with plans to overhaul the building, as depicted in this rendering.
A real estate investor from New York City bought a property in the buzzy Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood on Tuesday — with plans to overhaul the industrial building on-site.
Somera Road Inc. now owns the 4-acre property at 1414 Fourth Ave. S., immediately south of downtown. The developer is rebranding the building as “WeHo Crossing,” with plans to create 60,000 square feet of office space and another 12,500 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The project is set to debut in early 2020.
“There is a dearth of high-quality, creative, immediately available, unique space — similar to what Austin went through three or four years ago,” said Ian Ross, managing partner of Somera Road. “We can create that here, rather than some generic steel-and-glass building.”
Somera Road’s development cranks up Wedgewood-Houston’s transformation another notch, coming right on the heels of Apple Music and London-based boutique hotelier SoHo House signing leases for the nearby May Hosiery mixed-use development. (Those developers just revealed plans for another such project in the neighborhood, featuring the iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard from the old Greer Stadium).
Somera Road’s purchase also calls fresh attention to the fact that this fast-changing neighborhood lies within an Opportunity Zone. Those zones, created in the federal government’s 2017 tax law overhaul, grant investors lucrative tax breaks in order to entice them to back developments or companies located in those traditionally low-income areas.
Somera Road’s project is the latest in a spurt of local Opportunity Zone dealmaking that has also included the potential relocation of an aerospace manufacturer to North Nashville, apartments in that same part of town and a development in East Nashville.
Ross said he had been evaluating the prospective purchase before the government finalized its list of Opportunity Zones. “It makes a good deal better. It doesn’t really help make a bad deal good,” Ross said of the tax benefits. “We’re not making deals make sense because it’s in an Opportunity Zone. But it is really additive to our investors, if the deal works.”
The purchase price was not immediately available in public records. A spokeswoman for Somera Road declined to disclose the project cost.
This is Somera Road’s first investment in Wedgewood-Houston, after making its local debut by purchasing two buildings in the Gulch from Nashville’s Gibson Guitar Corp. Ohio-based entertainment concept Pins Mechanical Co. is moving into one of those buildings.
- Manuel Zeitlin Architects: design
- Charlie Gibson, Cushman & Wakefield: broker representing Somera Road on office leases
- Elam Freeman, Baker Storey McDonald Properties Inc.: broker representing Somera Road on retail leases
- Lance Bloom, Colliers International: broker who arranged the land sale
The project would involve 60,000 square feet of office space and 12,500 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
“There is a dearth of high-quality, creative, immediately available, unique space – similar to what Austin went through three or four years ago,” said Ian Ross, managing partner of Somera Road. “We can create that here, rather than some generic steel-and-glass building.”
The existing industrial building on the property will be renovated into this office and commercial space.
This is Somera Road’s first investment in Wedgewood-Houston, after buying two buildings in the Gulch.
Somera Road’s project is named WeHo Crossing.
Originally Published By Adam Sichko – Senior Reporter, Nashville Business Journal
TPG Real Estate Finance Trust has provided $60.2 million to Somera Road to finance the acquisition of 30-story office tower in Kansas City, Mo.’s financial district, according to HFF, which arranged the debt.
The floating-rate bridge debt helped facilitate Somera’s off-market acquisition of Kansas City’s City Center Square building, a 657,070-square-foot office tower at 1100 Main Street.
Leon McBroom and Mark Katz comprised the HFF debt placement team that represented Somera Road.
“This was a highly stressful closing that bridged the holidays and the new year – the teams were incredibly responsive and professional, working around the clock to get this deal over the finish line,” Ian Ross, a principal at Somera Road, said in a prepared statement. “We have been a long-time believer in continued growth of the downtown [Kansas City] market and we believe the timing and the supply and demand dynamics are just right to bring this asset back to Class A status.”
Specifically, the debt proceeds will finance renovation, rebranding and repositioning efforts aimed to make the asset the “premier downtown office tower” in the city, according to information from HFF. The additions will include a fitness center and tenant lounge, dining options, a renovated lobby, a hospitality center and a conferencing center. Somera will also add retail terraces and public seating to the property’s exterior.
A spokeswoman for TPG RE Finance Trust told Commercial Observer in a statement that while the firm typically targets larger loans in primary markets, it looks to provide this type of transitional financing in secondary markets to strong sponsors.
Built in 1979 and designed by , the building encompassing an entire city block and two-acre lot and has a Kansas City streetcar stop located outside the entrance to the property. The tower is home to the Kansas City Business Journal, law firm Dollar Burns & Becker, data advertising firm Pinsight Media, and marketing analytics firm Alight Analytics. There’s also a U.S. Post Office and a Country Club Bank on-site. Colliers International Senior Vice President Phil James handles leasing at the property.
In February 2018, Commercial Observer reported that City Center Square backed the second-largest loan ($32.5 million) in Värde Partners’ first ever collateralized loan obligation (CLO) transaction, known as VMC 2018-FL1. At the time of securitization, the asset was only 52 percent leased, with 70 tenants, making it one of the riskier assets in the $368 million pool.
In the deal, which was rated by Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA), the CLO’s KLTV—a loan-to-value-like indicator derived from KBRA’s cash-flow analysis—was at 128.3 percent, which was riskier than any CLO transaction the agency had rated the previous year in 2017.
BY MACK BURKE JANUARY 29, 2019 3:45 PM
A substantial renovation will be coming to City Center Square after Somera Road Inc. bought the building in mid-January for an undisclosed amount.
Dallas-based Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP said in a release Tuesday that the company secured $60.2 million in acquisition bridge financing on behalf of Somera Road.
According to the release, Somera will use proceeds from the loan “to renovate, rebrand and reposition the property as the premier downtown office tower in Kansas City.”
Located at 11th and Main streets, the 30-story, 657,070 square-foot building is home to the Kansas City Business Journal, Pinsight Media + and Alight Analytics. Its market value last year was $17.37 million, according to Jackson County property records. The building’s occupancy rate is 50 percent.
The renovation will include a “state-of-the-art fitness center and tenant lounge, numerous in-house dining options, a fully-activated lobby, a hospitality center, a conferencing center and a revival of the property’s iconic lightwell,” the HFF release said. “Furthermore, Somera Road intends to activate the exterior with retail terraces and public seating.”
HFF Director Leon McBroom and Senior Managing Director Mark Katz represented the borrower.
Representatives from HFF and Somera Road could not be reached for comment before publication.
By Miranda Davis – Staff Writer, Kansas City Business Journal
Village Square Center in Hazelwood spans nearly 22 acres, is about 40 percent occupied and was last renovated in 2006.
Appraised for $4.2 million and owing more than $18 million on its mortgage, the center was named one of St. Louis’ most delinquent properties at the end of last year by data analytics firm Trepp.
And for Somera Road Inc. the dilapidated mixed-use development ticked all of its boxes.
The New York-based commercial estate investment firm targets value-add, opportunistic acquisitions. Over the past three years, Somera Road has invested nearly $1 billion in 9.5 million square feet across the U.S., including in Kansas City, Indianapolis and Memphis. Property types under Somera range from industrial to student housing, said founder and Managing Principal Ian Ross.
Of particular interest are properties distressed due to bankruptcy, partnership disputes, and in the case of Village Square Center, loan defaults.
“We take a very active asset management approach to turn the lights back on,” Ross told the Business Journal.
Built in 1965 as a retail destination for north St. Louis County, Village Square was converted into an office park in 1998. Cash flow issues led the loan to be transferred to a special servicer in 2010 and a foreclosure followed in 2012. The property’s appraised value fell 84 percent over a 12-year period to $4.2 million at its most recent appraisal in May 2018, according to Trepp. (Several free-standing buildings at Village Square are not part of the loan’s collateral, Trepp added.)
Its position along one of the most traveled corridors in the region at Lindbergh Boulevard and Interstate 270, proximity to office development near St. Louis Lambert International Airport and such long-term tenants Convergys Corp. and Concentra Health made Village Square the right opportunity, Ross said.
Somera Road bought the property at auction for an undisclosed price and closed on the deal in mid-December.
“The optionality with regards to its existing bones, as well as the magnitude of the physical dirt, provides a lot of options,” Ross said.
Somera is working with the city of Hazelwood, which commissioned a market study in 2016, on the best options for redevelopment. The firm’s managing director, Fergus Campbell, and senior associate, Michael Ervolina, met with City Manager Matt Zimmerman and Community & Economic Development Coordinator Becky Ahlvin as recently as last week. Somera has also met with architects and brokers from such firms as CBRE, Colliers, Balke Brown Transwestern and L3 Corp.
It’s early to project when residents and commuters could see progress at Village Square, Ross said, but he added that “we want to embrace what’s good about the property.”
“It has excellent tenants already. We want to make it an even better working environment.”
By Steph Kukuljan – Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal Jan 29, 2019, 2:24pm CST