WSJ: Opus Set for a Fresh Start

After being hit hard by the recession, once-prominent developer Opus Group is slowly making a comeback.

Commercial developer The Opus Group-owned by the Rauenhorst family-is reportedly picking up development again, although on a far smaller scale than during its peak, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The Minnetonka-based company recently announced plans for a 33-story rental-apartment tower in downtown Minneapolis. It is also reportedly constructing a fully leased headquarters for household-products maker Church & Dwight Company in Ewing, New Jersey, and is developing a 120-unit student housing and retail property in Minneapolis.

The Opus group of companies was once a real estate powerhouse that employed at least 2,000. The company reportedly had 35 million square feet of space in planning or under construction at its 2007 peak.

But it was hit hard by the downturn in commercial real estate markets amid the recession. In 2009, three of Opus' five regional subsidiaries-Opus West, Opus South, and Opus East-filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and are now liquidating. The company has since reorganized and restructured itself.

Aside from the downturn, the company also had to tackle messy legal battles with creditors and former employees. Creditors of Opus West filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the parent company and the Rauenhorst family, alleging that more than $150 million in dividends were improperly paid to the parent company between 2006 and 2008. The defendants denied they did anything improper and settled in May of last year for about $45 million.

Meanwhile, former Opus West employees reportedly filed a suit in July 2010, claiming that they were owed more than $30 million in deferred compensation and benefits. That suit settled in December for $500,000. Another suit on behalf of creditors of Opus East is reportedly still pending.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Opus follows a high-risk, high-reward strategy of development; it develops and quickly sells its properties instead of holding them. Developers who follow this strategy-called the merchant-builder model-are reportedly reviving slower than real-estate developers that both build and hold properties.

Opus reportedly said that it is still committed to the strategy. It has, however, shifted course in a number of ways, including centralizing decision-making in Minnesota and bringing in financial partners on some projects.

To read the full story in The Wall Street Journal, click here.