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Real Estate Bisnow
January 8, 2012 

Urban Partners
Invests Big in LA

Join us for Bisnow's LA State of the Market. Our event of the year reviews key trends and issues for the next year. Thu, Jan. 24 at the Beverly Wilshire. Register today!


The urban pioneers at Urban Partners are investing heavily in SoCal—both ground-up development and value-add properties. The latest is Vivere, a 92-unit luxury apartment community in Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle.


We chatted with founding principal Paul Keller and VP of capital markets David Walker. The latter, who joined the firm last fall, is responsible for procuring debt and equity for both Urban Partners and Harbor Urban LLC, a sister company formed by the acquisition last year of Seattle-based Harbor Properties. Urban’s robust near-term pipeline includes a dozen deals in various stages of readiness and up to 1,200 units just in SoCal. In the Northwest, the focus is more on ground-up development, with six projects starting development by mid-2013. The investments range from $12M to $40M-plus and from four to 40 stories.

Bisnow (PropManage)

Urban Partners, HQ'd in what is apparently an MC Escher painting, continues to build its SoCal team, recently promoting Del Morais to VP of finance. And 25-year vet John Gunn rejoined the firm as managing director. (By the way, this is actually the Bradbury Building downtown, which may look familiar. Find out why in the next pic.) The firm is focusing on SoCal markets such as Pasadena and elsewhere in LA County, Orange County, and north San Diego County. In addition to its existing pipeline, Urban Partners hopes to make another six investments over the next 18 months. The Vivere property, acquired in partnership with AREA Property Partners from Macquarie Bank, includes 3.3 acres entitled for an additional 244 units; Urban plans to begin construction in Q3.

The Bradbury is known to sci-fi fans as the site of the climactic scene in Blade Runner. David and Paul have tried, without luck, to get a walk-on role in any of the movies filmed there. The building was restored by one of Urban Partners’ three founding partners, the late Ira Yellin, a pioneering revitalization leader. (His family office, which sold the Bradbury to Goodwin Gaw years ago, recently announced plans to revamp downtown’s venerable Grand Central Market.) Last year, Urban was active on the buy and sell side, selling its University Gateway student housing community near USC for a record-setting $204M. It also bought multifamily development land in Oxnard’s RiverPark and has one parcel left on which it will build 150 units.

Antique fire hoses that are no longer operable are part of the building’s period charm, as is the fireplace in Paul’s office. The company likes being in historic downtown, he notes. It was founded in the late ’90s on the belief that there would be real opportunities pursuing infill, transit-oriented developments and investments. He’s a native of Vancouver and moved here in the early ’60s. In his off hours, Paul is a stand-up paddle boarder. David, originally from the East Coast, has been here for 16 years and, “when my knees allow me to,” enjoys skiing.

The London Group Realty Advisors president Gary London tells us the firm recently added seasoned retail and hotel experts to augment its residential and financial expertise and add to its platform of strategic and analytic services. Gary, keynote at Bisnow’s third annual LA State of the Market (Jan. 24 at the Beverly Wilshire, sign up here) says the company is responding to the mixed-use, urban development trend. Much of what is built in the future is going to look substantially different than what was built historically, as businesses that store info in the cloud require less square footage per employee. “That has translated into a dramatic reduction in the demand for office space, even in an economic environment that’s recovering.” Gary and his wife have three sons: six-month-old identical twins Hunter and Bentley, and three-year-old Matthew, who speaks fluent Portuguese.

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