07 Mar Loftus and Robinson Making Splash in Development
Indianapolis Business Journal | March 7, 2015 | Scott Olson
Local developers Drew Loftus and Kyle Robinson know how to get a project financed, no matter how much elbow grease it takes. Four years ago, itching to start their first development—the renovation of a trio of vacant, connected buildings in Broad Ripple—the partners couldn’t get the attention of lenders. So Loftus and Robinson, now 29 and 31, spent a month that summer painting the 150-unit townhome complex where Robinson lived, to help finance the $1.5 million office project.
They really approach a project to build something unique and to have value beyond your traditional run-of-the-mill real estate property.
The owner of the complex had put the painting project out to bid. Robinson—simply a resident, not a professional painter—offered to do the work cheaper. He got the job and recruited Loftus. They spent nights and weekends painting for their future. “While that was going on, we had to pitch the banks,” Loftus recalled. “Being our first project, the terms weren’t great, so we had to bring a lot of money into it.” The two also brought investors to the table, including Matt Haab, president of the south-side financial planning firm Veros Partners Inc. “They really approach a project to build something unique and to have value beyond your traditional run-of-the-mill real estate property,” Haab said.
Today, Loftus Robinson LLC is making a name for itself in local real estate by ratcheting up the size of their projects.
The company has completed only two. But the two others under development are the $7 million renovation of a vacant downtown office building and the $28 million redevelopment of the Fishers train station in partnership with multifamily developer TWG Development LLC. Between those and the Broad Ripple office project on Westfield Boulevard, they bought a vacant building at 720 N. Capitol Ave. downtown, renovated it and added a second story as part of the $1.7 million project. Rowland Design Inc. occupies the entire 11,200 square feet. Not too shabby for youngsters. But they’re hardly cocky know-it-alls. In fact, they sometimes seek guidance from a veteran office broker who lists their properties.
Jack Hogan of the local Jones Lang LaSalle office met Robinson while the two were at Indianapolis-based Lauth Group Inc., and where Robinson cut his teeth in the world of development. “They’ll call on me from time to time and sometimes they’ll even listen to me,” he said jokingly. “I really enjoy working with them.”
Entrepreneurs at heart
Despite their youthfulness, Loftus and Robinson are veteran entrepreneurs, both having launched businesses as children. Loftus grew up in Carmel. His mother is a second-grade teacher in Fishers and his father a local sales rep for Sam Adams beer. At the spry age of 9, he and his father began taking orders from neighbors for mailboxes. The Loftus’s were some of the first residents of their subdivision, and without a nearby retailer that carried mailboxes, Loftus and his father took orders from incoming residents, picked them up and made deliveries. He continued the business through high school and even landed a contract with a garbage company to replace the mailboxes its trucks hit, Loftus said. “By kid standards, I was killing it,” he said. “It taught me a lot about business and customer service.”
Robinson, meanwhile, hails from the northern Indiana burg of Akron, population 1,200. His father is a purchasing manager at Pike Lumber Co. and his mother stayed home to raise the children. What Akron lacks in residents it makes up for in walnut trees—so many that it presented an opportunity for Robinson. As a grade-schooler, he began collecting the nuts—which were a nuisance for homeowners—and sold them for fertilizer and for the shells to be ground into an eco-friendly sandblasting agent. Robinson estimates he gathered 10,000 pounds of walnuts before moving on to a computer-repair business he started in high school. He ultimately scored a contract with the local phone company installing Internet service for customers.
Loftus earned a communications degree at Indiana State University and went to work in 2008 for Terre Haute-based Thompson Thrift Development Inc. He had always been interested in construction and development and once pondered a career as an architect. But the collapse of the real estate market limited his time at Thompson Thrift to just a year. Loftus returned to Indianapolis to join friend Dustin Sapp, who in 2010 started tech firm Tinderbox Inc., which sells a suite of tools for streamlining the sales process from pitch through closing. Loftus holds the distinction of being Tinderbox’s first employee.
Through local tech circles, he met Robinson, who had graduated in 2005 from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. Robinson enrolled at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and later switched to night classes after landing a job at Lauth working in industrial development. Amid the real estate downturn, Robinson left Lauth to become legal counsel for Precise Path Robotics Inc., the maker of robotic lawn mowers co-founded by tech entrepreneur Scott Jones and sold late last year to Cleveland-based lawnmower giant MTD Products Inc.
Loftus and Robinson decided to start their own development firm in 2011, with Robinson running day-to-day operations until the company became strong enough for Loftus to quit his job. “We shared a common interest in real estate, which is a little abnormal,” Loftus said, “because none of our families were involved in real estate.”
Loftus, who lived in Broad Ripple, spotted the trio of vacant, connected buildings at 6334 Westfield Blvd. They rehabbed the 9,000-square-foot space that now holds five tenants, including the Loftus Robinson office. They plan to move downtown with their five employees later this year and occupy the sixth floor of the vacant 12-story office building east of Monument Circle that they’re renovating.
Loftus Robinson closed on the sale of the building at 129 E. Market St. and plans to invest $7 million overall, including $5 million to gut the interior, replace the heating and cooling system, and install new exterior lighting, among other improvements. They aim to refurbish older, historic office buildings and market the space to tech-type companies seeking trendier digs than traditional downtown towers offer.
Scott Lindenberg, an owner of Reliant Partners Commercial Realty, which leased space in Loftus Robinson’s Broad Ripple development, is impressed with what the two have accomplished. “I think they have a niche that is underserved in the market—that tech, creative-type focus,” he said. “They’re smart guys, and they have a bright future.”
Outside work, Loftus is renovating a home in Broad Ripple and Robinson is searching for one to rehab. Robinson is married with a 3-year-old son and Loftus is preparing to tie the knot. Of course, Robinson is serving as his best man. Robinson’s wife, Megan, has started keeping the company’s books part time. Loftus’ fiancee, Michelle Weber, whom he met through his sister, works in marketing at law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.
Loftus and Robinson say they rarely get into disagreements and have no plans to bring on another business partner, no matter what the future might hold.
“It will only be us,” Loftus said.