A shiny new office campus spanning 16 acres officially opened this month in Omaha for CSG Systems International. Just a week later, construction began on a five-story worldwide headquarters for grain and commodity trading giant Gavilon.
One facility is in suburbia; the other downtown. One houses 1,200 professionals; the other's claim to fame will be a state-of-the-art trading floor.
But there's a common denominator in the pair of office complexes that are among the few to rise post-Great Recession in Omaha: Minnesota-based developer Opus. Although Opus rather quietly has conducted business in the metro area for more than 25 years, the multi-services commercial real estate company now is rebuilding itself nationally — and stepping up its local presence.
Mayor Jim Suttle said he has invited Opus to open an Omaha office so it could engage in even more construction.
Former City Planning Director Bob Peters said it is not surprising that the average citizen would have no idea how far Opus' tentacles already extend locally, as its mostly behind-the-scenes work is aimed at boosting profiles of clients.
“Their role blends into the fabric of the deal,” said Peters, who has consulted on the new Gavilon building. “But Opus has the ability to platform some of the coolest and greatest landscape-changing projects in Omaha.”
Attached to the Opus name is a portfolio of about 30 area construction projects, some for repeat clients, that locally total 4 million square feet, said Marshall Burton, senior vice president and general manager of Opus Development Corp.
The first and largest is the 30-plus acre, $60 million ConAgra corporate campus that in the early 1990s re-energized the downtown business core and revealed the potential of riverfront redevelopment.
An Opus affiliate owns four of the five main buildings and leases them to ConAgra, said ConAgra's Jim Doyle. That's about 700,000 square feet of Class A office space — “a pretty big chunk,” he said.
Doyle said he still deals with some of the longtime Opus representatives who planned the campus and he thinks they have a personal and vested interest in ConAgra and the city.
Opus also has an ongoing working relationship with Creighton University, stemming in part from the fact that the Opus patriarch's son, Mark Rauenhorst, is a 1975 undergraduate and longtime supporter of the institution.
Creighton's Harper Center, which opened its doors in 2008, was designed and built by Opus Northwest Construction LLC and Opus Architects and Engineers. An apartment-living style residence hall — opened in 2006 and carrying the Opus name — was made possible by a gift from Opus.
The Rev. Don Doll of Creighton University, a former professor and personal friend of Rauenhorst's, said the alumnus connection helped bind Opus to Omaha.
Rauenhorst stepped down as the Opus parent company's CEO in 2009 as the real estate market slumped and the Opus network shrunk.
Then known as Opus Corp., the developer at its 2007 peak reportedly had 35 million square feet of space planned or under construction. It had taken on high debt that led to many assets faltering when real estate values plummeted in 2008. Legal battles with creditors and former employees ensued. Three of Opus' regional operating companies filed for bankruptcy.
Opus Corp. liquidated its troubled subsidiaries and settled most of the lawsuits. Now called the Opus Group, the family of companies is picking up business. A Twin Cities Business feature this year named Opus the “most promising comeback” of 2012.
Rauenhorst currently serves on the board of directors for the Opus Group and the Opus Foundation. He is a longtime trustee at Creighton, having served since 1997.
Doll recently blessed the Rauenhorsts at their 35th wedding anniversary. Another visible sign of the Creighton tie is a 15-foot sculpture on campus that honors the university's former president, the Rev. John P. Schlegel. The piece, titled “The Spirit of Jesuit Education,” was a gift from the Opus Foundation and Rauenhorst Family Foundation.
“They've been active in the city,” Doll said. “The company has a very innovative and flexible approach to planning a building.”
Opus will be remodeling the Harper Center, Tom Shaver, president and CEO of the Opus Development Corp., said while in Omaha last week.
The recent Omaha projects, including CSG and Gavilon, come as Opus companies rebuild.
Since 2011, the Opus Group — which includes Opus Holding LLC and Opus Holding Inc., and their operating subsidiaries, Opus Development Corp., Opus Design Build and Opus AE Group — has completed 100 transactions, including signed leases, construction and development contracts, building and land sale transactions across the country.
Among recent regional projects: A Hewlett-Packard 300,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center completed in Des Moines in December 2011; a 174,000-square-foot Iowa Army National Guard in Cedar Rapids that was completed two months earlier; and a 165,000-square-foot worldwide headquarters for TriZetto Group Inc. in Englewood, Colo., to be done next April.
Thursday, Shaver spoke at the ground-breaking for Gavilon's $44 million worldwide headquarters at 14th Street and Capitol Avenue.
He talked of a 30-year “footprint” in Omaha. He also outlined key features of the Gavilon building, such as a grand staircase that will connect a very open trading floor to a mezzanine area.
Shaver said a “fast-track” construction schedule means the predominantly glass-coated facility will be ready by the end of next year. While Opus will own the facility when completed, officials say it typically follows a model where it builds, leases and then sells the property to investors.
Greg Heckman, president and chief executive officer of Gavilon, said Opus' ability to meet an accelerated schedule and Gavilon's overall objectives cinched the partnership. Gavilon and Opus also have a familiarity, as Opus designed the current ConAgra building where Gavilon's nearly 400 Omaha employees currently are based.
“They were able to bring us the complete package,” Heckman said.
CSG's two building campus at 180th Street and West Dodge Road also was on an accelerated construction schedule that took Opus a year to complete. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was two weeks ago.
Other Omaha-area projects include office buildings in Bellevue for defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman; American Family Mutual Insurance in Omaha; and TenderHeart Treasures in LaVista.
David Maenner and Paul LaFave of CBRE/Mega, who represented Gavilon as commercial brokers, said Opus' in-house team specializes in an array of services, including design and construction, and that contributes to its speed and bidding success.
“They have done it so many times,” LaFave said, “they know what is going to work and what's not going to work.”
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