One of the largest property management firms in the county is muscling up its commercial brokerage division.

Charles Dunn Co. Inc. announced last week that it is acquiring Sands Commercial, the commercial brokerage division of Fred Sands Realtors. Downtown-based Dunn Co. will add the 20 brokers working at Sands Commercial's one and only office, which is located on the Westside, to its 60-broker operation. Dunn currently has offices in downtown, the San Fernando Valley and Orange County. In exchange, Fred Sands will gain an ownership stake in privately held Dunn. The size of that stake was not disclosed.

"We felt we needed a presence in West L.A.," said Walter Conn, Dunn's chairman and chief executive. He added that the company will continue to look for smaller firms throughout the western United States that it can add to its commercial division.

Fred Sands, who says his residential brokerage is the sixth largest in the nation, said in a statement that the deal will allow him to concentrate on further expanding his residential realty operations.

The Charles Dunn logos and signage will replace the existing Sands Commercial logos over the next six months. As part of the deal, Fred Sands' network of 1,600 Realtors and Dunn's commercial brokers will "cross-sell" each other's services, Conn said.

For example, Dunn's commercial brokers will refer their corporate relocation clients to Fred Sands Realtors for their homebuying needs, he said.

Broadening horizons

Insignia Commercial Group, a national real estate services firm that's best known for its property management services, is about to break into development.

Insignia plans to build two "speculative" industrial buildings with a combined 64,000 square feet of space in the City of Industry. Insignia's new development division is operating on a fee basis, meaning it contracts its services to clients who own the buildings. Insignia is building the City of Industry project for TA Associates Realty, a Boston-based pension fund advisor.

Insignia's brokerage division represented TA Associates in its acquisition of the 27-acre site, which includes a 407,000-square-foot industrial building. The new development will take place on three acres of surplus land.

South Carolina-based Insignia is often cited as one of the industry leaders in acquiring smaller commercial brokerages, property management firms and development services as it expands into new markets. The company has become the largest property manager in California since it entered the market in 1993, and now it intends to ratchet up its development capabilities to become "one of the most active developers in Southern California, bar none," said Robert Shibuya, executive managing director of Insignia's western division.

The company started its Southern California development division about a year ago; it currently has a 600,000-square-foot industrial project underway in Mira Loma and will soon begin construction on a 450,000-square-foot speculative project in Ontario.

Insignia decided to enter the development business in Southern California when many of its existing property management clients began to consider developing new projects as the economy rebounded, Shibuya said. The property management firm didn't want to lose any of its clients to competitors who had both development companies and property management capabilities, he said.

All of Insignia's development projects to date are industrial, but the company expects to move into office projects in the next year, he said.

Getty's other architect

As the Getty Center in Brentwood makes its public debut this week, much of the media attention is focused on the eight museum buildings designed by the world-renowned Richard Meier & Associates, a New York-based architectural firm.

But a local firm, Westwood-based Jeffrey Kalban & Associates, designed the Getty Center's ninth building which is visible to more Angelenos than Meier's creations at the top of the hill.

Kalban designed the 75,000-square-foot gardens and grounds department building, which is almost at eye level for Angelenos driving along the San Diego (405) Freeway.

Kalban said he worked on the modernist, green-tinted glass building with its freeway visibility in mind, noting that "it's a sensitive site because it rests at the gateway to the (San Fernando) Valley."

Kalban also had the challenge of designing a building that would complement but not imitate Meier's designs.

The Getty Trust hired an architect to design its landscape maintenence building separately from its museum buildings because "we wanted Meier to stay busy with his project on the hill," said Hy Tiano, project manager for the Getty.

In contrast to Meier's billion-dollar budget, the Getty Trust told Kalban to keep his costs to $8 million about $125 per square foot to finish out the entire building, from drafting the blueprints to installing the locker room.

"There were a lot of challenges, from both an aesthetic and budgeting standpoint," he said. "It's not the top of the hill, but we're pretty proud of it."

Tiano said the building was initially intended to serve as a maintenance facility for the center's 40 gardeners, but the Trust decided to use it as expansion space for the museum's administrative offices as well as a studio for visiting artists.

News and notes

Lewis Homes Retail announced that it plans to build a $100 million entertainment center at the Fairplex in Pomona, home of the annual L.A. County Fair. The Upland-based developer plans to create six separate themed districts on 250,000 square feet inside the fairgrounds. The family-oriented project will feature 3-D theaters, various other entertainment venues, exhibits and themed restaurants and stores

United HealthCare has relocated its Southern California regional headquarters within the city of Long Beach. The health care management firm signed a 10-year, $12 million lease for 65,000 square feet of space at 180 E. Ocean Blvd. The firm will move from its current location at 4500 E. Pacific Coast Highway by March 1998, according to Cushman Realty Corp., which represented United in the transaction...

Santa Fe Springs-based industrial park developer McGranahan Carlson & Co. announced that has teamed with New York-based Fortis Investments LLC to finance more "speculative" development projects in the mid-counties industrial market. The partnership already has a nine-building, 535,000-square-foot project underway in Santa Fe Springs and intends to seek out other projects along the Golden State (5) Freeway corridor.

Joyzelle Davis covers real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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