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Baldwin move a win for Lauth, a setback for downtown

March 5, 2013

The departure of trucking and auto fleet insurer Baldwin & Lyons Inc. from downtown's Landmark Center to The Congressional in Carmel is a blow for the central business district and a bonanza for Lauth Property Group.

Baldwin plans to vacate 81,000 square feet in the Landmark Center at 1099 N. Meridian St. when its lease expires in August, relocating to Carmel to take about 110,000 square feet in The Congressional at 111 Congressional Blvd.

The company plans to spend $20 million to $30 million to buy the 181,000-square-foot office building from Lauth and build out its space, according to a statement from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Lauth bought the building in February 2012 from Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. for $7.1 million and spent about $2 million on renovations including lobby improvements and a new roof. The build-out of Baldwin's space could run about $5 million, or $45 per foot, industry sources said. The company is expected to spend another $5 million or more on technology, furniture and equipment.

That would leave a sale price between $15 million and $20 million, an impressive return on Lauth's investment. The arrival of Baldwin & Lyons would make the building about 90-percent occupied. When Lauth stepped in, the building was just 30 percent occupied and owner REI Real Estate Services had deeded the property to its lender.

Lauth President Michael Jones declined to disclose a sales price, citing a confidentiality agreement.

"Real estate is all about timing," he said. "We were a proud owner and excited at the opportunity to buy a great asset in a thriving corridor."

Baldwin & Lyons is expected to take most of the space HSBC Bank vacated at the height of the mortgage crisis. Lauth also has its headquarters in the building.

"There's no question Lauth comes out of this smelling like a rose," said Jon Owens, vice president and principal in the local office of Cassidy Turley. "Whatever debt they took on goes away and they make a healthy profit."

Meantime, the Baldwin & Lyons move is a fresh blow to the troubled, 298,000-square-foot Landmark Center, which has been hemorrhaging tenants in the last few years, the largest of which was Anthem. The 12-story building, last owned by Michigan-based Quantum Investments, is in receivership.

Issues with the building include deferred maintenance and a big parking downside: Most of its parking sits under the nearby Interstate overpass.

Owens said LNR Property, the servicer on the loan for Landmark Center, might auction the property. A buyer willing to take a chance could buy it well below replacement value and potentially reap a windfall like Lauth's in Carmel.

While it's tough for downtown to lose such a large employer and office user, Owens said, there wasn't much the city could have done. There aren't comparable buildings available for purchase downtown. 

"It's an unfortunate situation where one submarket loses and one is a winnner," Owens said. "We just don't have enough inbound demand from office users to offset some of the consolidation and right-sizing some of the larger users in the downtown market have done over the last decade or so, particularly the banks."

Rich Forslund and Matt Waggoner of Summit Realty represented Baldwin & Lyons on the deal, and Rick Trimpe and John Vandenbark of CBRE represented Lauth.

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