Visions for Downtown

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March 1, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Collin Barr, president of the Minnesota Region for Ryan Companies US, Inc., a major commercial real estate firm headquartered Downtown, recently met with the Journal to talk about his work and thoughts on the city. Barr has been with Ryan Companies for more than a decade, overseeing many major development projects in the city’s core. He also serves on the board of the Downtown Council. Here are highlights of the interview.

DTJ: What is the outlook for the year for Ryan?

Barr: We’re more optimistic than 2009, clearly, for us. We see our revenues and profits increasing, which of course we’re excited about. It’s still an extremely challenging economic environment, and the construction/development opportunities are what I’d call nontraditional.

Many of us builders or developers are used to living in a more traditional market. In our case, it’s office, industrial, retail — it’s your standard projects. That’s really not the case today. If we look at the market sectors that are most active — one is senior living, another is healthcare. Both of those are pretty constant. The federal government/ public sector is definitely a growing market area for us. Our office was recently awarded the Whipple building, which is a large rehabilitation project of an existing office building for the federal government adjacent to Fort Snelling. That was quite large for us — in the range of $80 million. We’ve also recently completed a large courthouse — the Warren E. Burger federal courthouse in St. Paul. Another for us is alternative energies. We’re active in three submarkets there — wind, solar and biofuel. There are a number of projects there that we’ve won.

How has the economic downturn affected the culture of Ryan?

You kind of find out real quickly that there are two people in the world — those that are aggressive about being willing to change and those that aren’t. Most people in the business environment today learn to be very rapid with growth and change. The kind of people we have at Ryan fit that because we hire really smart, aggressive and entrepreneurial people. They love

What’s your take on the state of Downtown now?

To me the biggest thing is clearly the ballpark and opening of the Northstar rail line and the transit facility that will connect all of the rail lines — Central Corridor, Hiawatha and Southwest. That’s a really big deal. I think the Vikings stadium is a hot topic for Downtown.

Like we’ve seen the resurgence of what I call the West Central Business District around the new Twins stadium, to me one of the next big things will be the East Central Business District — what happens around the Star Tribune and [Metrodome] facilities.

Other huge news for Downtown is that Target recommitted to about 9,000 square feet in City Center. That’s almost 4,000 employees that they are committing to stay Downtown. … Also, the recommitment of Neiman’s. To have Neiman’s, Macy’s and Saks Off 5th, all still here, that’s a pretty big deal.

Believe it or not, the residential population is still growing because there are a number of condos that aren’t sold yet.

If you had a wish list for Downtown what would be on it?

Personally, I’d love to see a Vikings stadium. I think that would be great. I’d love to see more Minnesota-based corporations investing in Downtown — maybe it’s a Cargill, a General Mills or a Medtronic. I think that would be wonderful.

I’d love to see a more aggressive panhandling ordinance that is enforceable that would help us address the situation.

I’d love to see corporate America come around and help solve the homeless situation, which is happening right now with the Currie Avenue partnership.