Minnesota’s Oppidan: Work during the Great Recession paved the way for today’s success

Oppidan sold this retail development in Brainerd, Minn., last year.

Oppidan sold this retail development in Brainerd, Minn., last year.

by Dan Rafter

How good of a year did Oppidan Investment Company have in 2013? The development firm based in Minnetonka, Minn., developed 783,467 square feet of property across the country in the second half of the year alone.

That second-half surge means that for the entire year of 2013 Oppidan developed more than 1.8 million square feet.

Also in the second half of 2013, the company sold 342,353 square feet of retail space, 12.13 acres of land, 114 apartment units and 50 home sites.

What was behind this big success? Joe Ryan, president of Oppidan, said that the brokers at his firm laid the groundwork for 2013’s success by the way they conducted themselves during the worst days of the Great Recession.

“We had to weather the storm during the down times just like everyone else. And we we weathered it well,” Ryan said. “And once the economy started to improve, we were aggressive in expanding to new parts of the country. We’ve also broadened our base. We’ve taken on industrial work and we’re doing more on the residential side. Those were areas that we weren’t tackling in the past.”

The downturn was not an easy period for Oppidan. Like all real estate development companies, the work dried up.

But Oppidan maintained its relationships with its lenders. It didn’t reduce its staff. And, most importantly of all, it paid all of its bills.

When the economy started to heat up, Oppidan’s clients and vendors remembered this. The company’s actions have now paid off in the form of a full pipeline of projects.

“There was never a more difficult time than running our company through the downturn,” Ryan said. “But it was also the most educational time for us. We came off better and stronger. We developed better relationships. There is not a greater accomplishment. We did it. We got to the other side and we didn’t lose a friend or miss a payment. I’m damn proud of that.”

Some of the bigger projects completed by Oppidan in 2013 included the 130,000-square-foot Watford Plaza retail center in Wattford City, N.D., completed in July of last year, and the 180,000-square-foot Southgate Crossing in Minot, N.D. Southgate Crossing, which was completed in August of last year, includes a Cash Wise Foods, Petco, Gordmans and Great Clips.

Oppidan also built a 40,000-square-foot Orchard Supply Hardware for Lowes in Los Angeles and remodeled a second Orchard Supply Hardware, this project totaling 50,625 square feet, in Van Nuys, Calif.

Oppidan also started several construction projects last year, including an 8,712-square-foot retail building in Minot, N.D.; the 140,000-square-foot Westview Plaza project in Stanley, N.D.; the 50-lot residential development Woodland Hills II in West Des Moines, Iowa; and the 1.5-acre Tioga Retail outlot in Tioga, N.D., among others.

North Dakota’s Bakken region has been a big market for Oppidan. And Ryan expects the region to remain an important one as oil companies continue to remove large deposits of oil from the ground there.

“North Dakota is another geographic diversification for us,” Ryan said. “But it’s just a part of our diversification strategy. North Dakota will be with us for a long time. They are just scratching the surface of the oil available there. There is great opportunity in that market.”

While developing projects in North Dakota, Oppidan has created several long-lasting relationships with clients. Those relationships are now paying off in additional work in markets such as Texas and Canada.

“We are credible,” Ryan said. “Many of the companies that rushed into North Dakota to take advantage of the activity there haven’t been. Many talk a good game but don’t deliver. That’s not how we operate. People have seen us take on work in North Dakota and finish it. We’ve brought projects to the market and sold them.”

Ryan, like other developers, says that North Dakota’s oil production isn’t a boom. He refers to it instead as an industry, one that will provide new jobs and opportunities in the Bakken region for decades to come.

“North Dakota is as important to us as any other of our markets,” Ryan said. “It’s not any more important or any less important. But it is exciting. It’s a lot of fun because it’s so fast-paced there. There is great demand. It’s not easy, though. It’s not for the faint of heart. But we are having a ball up there.”

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