Business Q & A

A conversation with Curt Robertson

Commercial real estate for Curt Robertson is about doing a good deal that stands the financial test of time.

Robertson, 51, a broker and partner at Wichita's InSite Real Estate, has seen the industry evolve since he joined Scott McMillan's Property Banc in Wichita in 1987.

"It used to be more word of mouth," Robertson said. "Now, with the advent of the Internet, more research is done online, and as you follow up on prospects, then you begin to talk to individual brokers."

Robertson, a West High School graduate who attended Wichita State University, has been in business with fellow commercial broker Dan Unruh since 1999. It's a partnership and friendship forged when the two competed for business — Robertson with Property Banc and Unruh with Martens Cos.

"We were friendly competitors," Robertson said. "We worked together on a few deals and became friends. Dan moved on to Koch Industries eventually, and I worked on a couple of projects with him while he was at Koch, and we just stayed in touch, stayed friends."

Talk about how commercial real estate has evolved during your 24 years in the business.

"With LoopNet and other websites, guys do more research online. Back when I started, if you wanted information about property, the only way to do it was to call the other agents. There was no commercial multi-list, no interest whatsoever as far as services provided for information on commercial real estate.

"You had to have relationships developed to talk to more people about properties....

"The business was word of mouth when I started."

What led InSite to your new office complex at 608 W. Douglas?

"Actually, we didn't have a focus on Delano. What we were focused on was a quality facility with a central location with off-street doorside parking that was convenient to get in and out of. By the process of elimination, this project came to light."

"We looked at several projects. We looked at Old Town. We looked a little bit farther west and east. We decided east or west doesn't give us easy access to the city. In Old Town, the parking was not convenient because we didn't have dedicated parking to our facility.

"Then, when we found this facility, we saw that it had dedicated parking so the question became, 'Can we turn this into a Class A-quality facility?'

"Up front, the numbers were marginal. We had to adapt our plans a couple of times as far as what we could do. But after evaluating it and looking at different architectural scenarios, we found a plan that worked and we were able to put the deal together."

You say that your development philosophy is market-based, letting market fundamentals determine whether a project succeeds? Explain that.

"I think that our base philosophy is that when we're doing or working on a project, we think more about the other guy than ourselves. If you put the other participant in the project first, then if the deal works out for them it benefits everybody.

"Everybody's incentives need to be aligned. That's why we don't take the easy stuff up front. We earn our fees through the strength of the project. If we look at the project and the income stream doesn't justify the expense, we don't do it."

InSite doesn't utilize government incentives for its projects, such as the new Delano office. Why?

"Philosophically, I just think that government shouldn't be in the position to fund private investors.

"I understand government assisting a company coming to town that's going to be providing jobs, and there's always going to be a need for that, but philosophically I just don't know that we taxpayers should be funding private individuals.

"And with government assistance, you take risk out of a project and therefore, who's accountable down the road if a project goes bad? If a bank won't lend on a project on its own merits, then why should we as taxpayers?

"Government's role should be to build an attractive environment for people like us to come in and take the risk."