It’s been a challenging several months for the Twin Cities. That doesn’t mean, though, that there isn’t good news to be found in its commercial real estate market.
An example? Bridgewater Bank recently opened its new corporate headquarters, the Bridgewater Corporate Center, as part of its planned expansion and relocation to the corner of Excelsior Boulevard and Monterey Drive in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Located at 4450 Excelsior Blvd., the four-story, 84,000-square-foot building features ground-floor communal access to Bridgewater’s full-service retail branch in St. Louis Park. Other retail tenants in the property include Hazelwood Food & Drink and fitness studio Discover Strength. Both of these retail tenants will open in early 2021.
Bridgewater’s headquarters, which includes operations and administrative offices, are located on the second and third floors of the building. The fourth-floor space is leased to local entrepreneurial tenants.
Jerry Baack, president and chief executive officer of Bridgewater Bank, said that the new corporate office’s campus-like features set it apart from other banking headquarters.
“The timing of this during the pandemic is, of course, not ideal,” Baack said. “But we still feel really good about where we are today. The fact that we have completed this project is something we are very proud of. We all know that this pandemic will go away soon or later. But this new corporate headquarters will play an important role for our company for a very long time.”
Mary Jane Crocker, chief operating officer of Bridgewater, said that Bridgewater employees have been coming back to the office in limited numbers, alternating days. But even this limited return is a positive, he said.
“People have a lot of space at our new headquarters,” Crocker said. “If we were bringing people back to the former space we left, we would not be able to bring them back as quickly as we can now. Culture is important to us. Having our people in the office is important to us. We think we can do that and also maintain the safety and health of our employees just because of the size of our new space.
And while, as Baack says, the pandemic does loom over the commercial real estate industry today, Bridgewater Bank has remained active even during these challenging times. Bridgewater was especially busy with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans when that program was operating.
Bridgewater originated 1,192 total PPP loans for more than $181.6 million. Bridgewater says that these loans helped businesses retain or rehire 2,923 jobs.
Baack said that these PPP loans made a difference in the Twin Cities market.
“It certainly was a large lifeline for a lot of our clients and other non-clients of ours,” Baack said. “It’s not a fix-all. There are going to be business failures still. There have been a lot of restaurants that have already closed in our community and are not going to reopen. But we saved and helped kept a lot of jobs in the Twin Cities as a result of these loans.”
The Bridgewater Corporate Center may be new. But the bank has long had a presence in St. Louis Park. Its retail branch on Excelsior Boulevard opened in 2015, adjacent to the new corporate office.
The corporate center features an outdoor plaza greenspace with public seating; community art, including a 20-foot sculpture by Craig Snyder and Homan Wong of FireShapes Studios and a mural by local artist group Goodspace Murals; and three levels of structured parking adjacent to the building.
Project partners were IRONMARK Building Company, the general contractor; The Bainey Group, which served as interior general contractor; DJR Architecture, the shell architect; and Momentum Design Group, the interior architect.
Crocker said that she is not a fan of working from home. However, with the tech available to Bridgewater, and through the efforts of the bank’s IT team, Crocker and her fellow bank employees have been able to be productive from their home offices.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Crocker isn’t excited to see her fellow bank employees in person again. Crocker said that Bridgewater is rotating employees in and out of the office, with more than 50 employees arriving at the office on average each week.
“Everyone is thrilled to be in an environment where we can see people face-to-face again,” Crocker said. “Our workplace culture is important to us. Being together is important. That has been the part we’ve missed.”
In addition to the corporate headquarters, Bridgewater has six of its retail branches open, too.
“We were one of the first banks to open after the George Floyd incident,” Crocker said. “After the rioting in Uptown, we worked hard to make that branch could open to serve the clients in that area.”
Getting back to some sense of normalcy has been a goal for Bridgewater. Baack said that this goal is getting closer.
“Right when the pandemic was announced and the country started shutting down, that was a scary time. Clients took a pause,” Baack said. “But we bank in an entrepreneurial space with mostly real estate entrepreneurs. They are optimistic people. There was a pause, but business is coming back.”
Baack said that Bridgewater’s pipeline isn’t as busy as it would have been without the pandemic. But business has recovered enough so that Bridgewater is at 75 percent of what its pipeline would have been, he said.
At the same time, the bank’s deposit growth has been strong. Baack said that people are saving more.
There are other signs of hope, too, throughout the Twin Cities’ commercial real estate market. Baack said that the industrial market here continues to thrive while the multifamily market has remained strong.
“The office and retail sectors have been the hardest hit,” Baack said. “With that said, I still have some clients who are building retail if it is well-located and the right developer is behind it. Retail with the right experience and the right business plan is not going away.”