Dan Unruh said one of his favorite parts of the commercial real estate business is creating new and different uses for existing buildings.
That’s exactly what his commercial real estate and development firm, InSite Real Estate Group, is doing at Taft and Ridge in west Wichita: taking a 26,000-square foot former American Family Insurance regional office building and converting it into a 16,500-square-foot retail center.
Unruh said he likes “to see something nobody else sees and create an adaptive reuse, either a site or building, that adds value to the market.”
“It’s something that’s been really fun to work on,” he said.
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Unruh, 50, is a partner in InSite Real Estate Group, a commercial real estate and development firm he helped start in 1999.
A native of Deerfield in southwest Kansas, Unruh came to Wichita in the early 1980s as the recipient of a Harry Gore Memorial Scholarship at Wichita State University, where he majored in international business and minored in economics.
Unruh is married to Alissa, a residential real estate agent, and they have two daughters: Lindsay, 23, who works for Key Bank in Kansas City, and Bridget, 21, a senior at WSU.
What did your mom and dad do for a living when you were growing up?
My father managed a grain elevator for 32 years and operated a small farm. And my mother taught school for 32 years and fed five hungry kids. Together, my parents developed real estate on a small scale – residential lots, a mobile home park, apartments, a campground. My parents were Depression babies. They were very resourceful and entrepreneurial people.
How and why did you get into the commercial real estate business?
I was introduced to Steve Martens by John Belt (a business professor) at WSU. I had the good fortune of working as an assistant to Steve and then as a young sales and leasing agent. I was surrounded by excellent people who gave me an opportunity to learn the business. It seemed as though I had an aptitude for the business, and I liked the opportunities to achieve through my own effort.
What were you doing before InSite?
I worked at Koch Industries as director (of) corporate real estate. I had a fantastic opportunity to work with every business group on projects across the United States and in several foreign countries.
Whose idea was it to start InSite, and why?
Curt Robertson and I were friendly competitors early in our careers. We both felt like it was time to form a company that would provide a high level of service to a select group of clients. We wanted our clients to consider us their corporate real estate department and rely upon us to provide both transactional and consultative services. We also felt the strong desire to use our talents to develop investment real estate opportunities for ourselves and our clients. I think the creative aspect of commercial development is one of the most alluring qualities of our industry.
It seems like a few years ago your company had quite a bit of activity developing medical offices, but now not so much. Has your focus changed to other industries?
Not necessarily. Our development business has always been multidimensional. Our projects include office, medical office, retail, pure land plays, and redevelopment or repositioning of facilities for new uses.
Are you still doing some medical development and/or leasing?
In the last 18 months, we have completed a 10,500-square-foot building on the campus of the Newton Medical Center, and we currently have 12,000 square feet of space available in the Office Park at Eberly Farm. We have land in both projects for additional facilities. We are also very active in the leasing of space to medical clients.”
If there are any hot sectors in commercial real estate right now, what are they, and why do you think they are hot?
The industrial sector has been our strongest this year, by far. Certainly the residential activity in the core area is impressive, and the multifamily market generally remains strong. In addition, we are seeing an uptick in the retail market. I think much of the improvement in these sectors is due to economic stability slowly creeping back into the market, and pent-up demand from over five years of stagnation.
What kind of a year are you expecting for InSite in 2014?
We are on course for the best year in our existence.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Dealing with the economic uncertainty in our local economy brought on by a federal government that continuously thwarts job growth through overzealous regulation and attacks on the base industries in our economy. When companies – large and small – do not feel confident, they do not hire, they do not expand and they do not need real estate.
If you had to do something different as a career, what would it be?
I guess I would play pro basketball. But, I’m too old, I’m too slow and I can’t jump very high. So I better just focus on commercial real estate.