Weston Inc. adds to its portfolio while increasing its reputation as a commercial and multifamily residential developer and manager.
By Jim Harris
When Weston Inc. talks about having a goal of “50/90/BLT,” the commercial real estate company isn’t referring to a sandwich.
“I feel we’re the best landlord in town,” says T.J. Asher, president of the Cleveland-based company’s acquisitions and development group. Maintaining this status is the “BLT” portion of Weston’s uniquely named goal, while the “50” refers to 50 million square feet, the amount of total leasable space Weston wants to eventually acquire.
Established in 1972, the family owned company is already on the way to its acquisition goal, as it owns and leases more than 12 million square feet of space. Weston acquires, manages, leases and develops properties in Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey. “We are one of the largest privately owned real estate companies in Northeast Ohio,” says Suzanne Broadbent, Weston’s dealmaker and Asher’s sister.
The “90” in “50/90 BLT” denotes Weston’s desired occupancy rate. Achieving this goal is well within the company’s reach, as it continuously works to maintain and improve its relationships with its tenants. The company has more than 550 tenants in its properties. Although the majority of its properties are industrial/warehouse sites, the company also owns and manages multifamily properties and has a division devoted to commercial parking lot development. “We have a good standing in the community – people know who we are and what we do,” Asher says. “We pride ourselves on being a hands-on company that takes care of our tenants’ needs.”
For Weston, taking a hands-on approach to tenants means quickly responding to any issue that may arise at one of its properties. “We dive into any issue or objection that may come up on a lease or contract. We believe in going the extra mile,” he adds. “Sometimes, it may not be our responsibility to fix something, but we will do it to make the tenant happy. There may not always be a quick fix or easy answer to an issue, but we believe in handling it as quickly as possible and being responsive.”
The company works in a similar manner with its vendors and brokers. “Everyone knows that we pay on time and are fair, honest and loyal,” Broadbent says. “If somebody gives us good business, we will go back to them and ask for repeat business.”
Weston believes in retaining a regular pool of strategic partners including bankers, lawyers and contractors. “We use the best person for each assignment,” the company says. “Our vendors all contribute to our success based on the work that they do, and help us get the job done right.”
Weston in recent years has added residential properties to its portfolio. One of the company’s largest residential developments is a three-story garden-style apartment complex in Perrysburg, Ohio. The first phase of the complex, completed in 2011, involved building 140 apartment units; the company this year completed an additional 108 units, Broadbent says.
The company in 2014 purchased the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland. The building, which dates back to 1924, has personal historic significance to Weston, as it housed the company’s first offices. Weston is the building’s second owner in its history. “We are not only mandated to preserve the building’s historic details, we want to preserve them,” Broadbent says.
Work on the Standard Building includes converting former office spaces into 285 one and two-bedroom apartment units. The 400,000-square-foot building will also include amenities including a community room, demonstration kitchen and workout facility. The project began in August and is slated for completion in December 2017.
Cleveland is a growing market for the company. “The city is going through an urban resurgence,” Asher says. “Many older buildings are being rehabbed into apartments to meet this demand, and we’re a part of that.”
Weston’s recent commercial developments include the repurposing of a land located near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Boss Pro Karting, an indoor racing company, moved into a 36,000-square-foot facility on the site in September. Weston is the developer, construction manager and landlord on the project. “We found an older industrial building on the site that was not in good shape, and wanted to pursue a project there because of its location,” Asher says. “We tore the building down and built this one from the ground up.”
Growing Its Footprint
Weston is also working toward its acquisition goals in part by entering new markets. “We change with the markets as best as we can,” Asher says, noting that the company cut expenses and readjusted its acquisition strategy during the Great Recession. “Today, the industrial segment in Northeast Ohio is doing very well. We’re looking at various properties to make sure we’re positioned in the right markets and have the right product mix for what’s happening in the region.”
One change in the market the company has needed to respond to in recent years is tenants’ needs for modern building systems and amenities. “We used to be able to buy manufacturing facilities and re-tenant them, but today tenants are more conscious of efficiency,” he adds. “We’re consciously working on adding more new development work as well as build-to-suit transactions on land that we own.”
Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, N.C., are two geographic markets that Weston is looking to improve its presence in. “We’re focusing our industrial real estate acquisitions there over the next few years to contribute to our goal of owning 50 million square feet,” Asher says.