Cities need developers, developers need cities. Connecting the dots between government planning objectives and investment has previously been conducted via a mixed bag of personal relationships, brokers, official tours and plain old business development – until now. Oakland based Oppsites saw an opportunity to create a single platform allowing cities to promote all of their development opportunities, centralising and simplifying this process for all parties (video explanation here). COO and Co-Founder Tomas Janusas explains the background and how it works:
So what is the background behind OppSites?
After 15 years as an urban design consultant helping cities achieve their economic development goals, Ian Ross (our CEO) realised that cities needed a better way to communicate those goals with investors, developers, and brokers.
Many communities include a large number of public and privately owned properties that are underutilised, and whose redevelopment would bring new revenues to the community. Yet many cities lack the resources and professional network to market those opportunity sites to a wide audience of prospective investors. OppSites was built to connect cities and the real estate investment community to maximise successful economic development through enhanced communication between the government and real estate sectors.
Tell us about the team?
Ian Ross (CEO and Co-Founder): Since 1999, Ian has provided urban design and economic development services to cities in support of long term economic health. He received a BA in economics from the University of Rochester and an MLA from Cornell University. His experience informs his focus on economic development at the intersection of city planning and real estate investment.
Tomas Janusas (COO and Co-Founder): Tomas has a diverse background in real estate, planning, technology, and project management. OppSites grew out of Tomas’ passion for building technology solutions that catalyse urban development. Tomas is in charge of OppSites’ daily operations and product development. His lifelong appreciation for urban environments led him to the University of California School of Environmental Design (CED), where he graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Urban Studies.
What drives local government to list opportunities? Why can’t they find partners the traditional way?
When cities do planning work and create a vision for their future, they raise the economic potential in a property by increasing the development capacity. But that potential often goes unrealised because investors and developers simply do not know about it. By posting these properties on OppSites, local governments can reach a much wider audience than traditional methods such as word of mouth, city-hosted broker tours or industry conferences.
Does this replace the role of traditional brokers (CBRE, JLL etc)?
OppSites does not replace the role of traditional brokers, but rather exposes more opportunity for the industry to act on. We believe that real estate potential often goes unrealised simply because property is not listed for sale. OppSites uncovers entirely new set of real estate listings – properties that are not on the market but have underutilised potential and local government support for new development.
Does the municipality etc simply list the opportunity? Does oppsites provide any additional analysis or just act as a marketplace?
Currently OppSites provides only basic layers of information (parcel and owner’s information) and no analysis. Local government leaders can highlight opportunity sites or districts on the map and share local knowledge about an investment.
For example, the city of Oakland is using OppSites by posting some of its recently completed specific and area plans. The plans detail how land can be used in certain areas. It allows Oakland ‘to educate, market, and demonstrate the city’s efforts in terms of showing off our opportunity sites and creating interest for those sites,’ says Aliza Gallo, the city’s economic development manager.
How do the partnerships work: ICSC, ULI etc?
Public and private sector members can use OppSites technology to share or find the information about investment opportunities among their members.
- Cities, Counties, and Economic Development Organisations can showcase publicly and privately owned properties that they want to see redeveloped, even if those sites are not listed for sale. Those sites are showcased on a web-based platform, and can be shared with local and national real estate professionals.
- Real estate Developers, Brokers, and Investors can find underexposed development opportunities that support local economic development goals, then connect with city leaders to save time, streamline due diligence, and reduce risk.
‘We see this as a tool that will be helpful to our members both in the public sector and the private sector in promoting and finding sites,’ says Cynthia Stewart, the Washington D.C. based staff vice president of community development for ICSC, a global trade association for the retail industry. Its members include shopping center owners and developers, land use attorneys, architects, mayors, and chambers of commerce. ‘It’s a real way for small-town cities and urban cities with underserved urban markets to get those sites in front of developers. They aren’t always the obvious sites,” Stewart says.
What is your coverage like in the US? What has the expansion process been like?
OppSites has grown incredibly fast since it’s launch in September 2014. Currently, we have over 400 cities and over 3,000 real estate professionals using OppSites on any given month.
What have you learned or surprised you since launching this business?
The most surprising factor has been, and still is, the inefficiencies that exist in real estate industry and the potential it creates for commercial real estate innovators.
Could this platform expand internationally?
It could, but we have not explored the opportunity thoroughly. Currently we are working with a few Canadian cities. However, I believe OppSites has an incredible potential in the area of Foreign Direct Investment.
You had a seed round in 2014 – are you now revenue generating with no need or plans to raise further capital?
We are currently raising more capital to accelerate the growth.
Have you seen Landinsight in the UK? How similar is it to your platform?
OppSites is a matchmaking service for cities and real estate developers rather than the property analytics tool as Landinsight seems to be.