Q&A with Up Property's Adam Davidson

Q&A with Up Property's Adam Davidson
Laurence DragomirAugust 7, 2018

Following our coverage of Up Property's Morris Moor development in Moorabbin earlier this year, Urban.com.au caught up with Up Property Founder and Managing Director Adam Davidson to discuss his interest in property investment, site acquisition, progress on Morris Moor and Up Property's future ambitions.

With more than 18 years of property investment experience, he transitioned from his dentistry practice to follow his passion for investing full-time. As Founder and Managing Director, Adam leads the Up Property team, business operations and strategy. He is responsible for all aspects of acquisitions, and investor and stakeholder involvement.

According to Davidson, his vision was to create an integrated property development and investment business renowned for quality landmark projects.

Q&A with Up Property's Adam Davidson
Morris Moor will see the adaptive re-use of the existing buildings on site. Image: Up Property

Urban.com.au: Making the switch from dental practice to property investment and development is a big shift - What brought this change about?

Adam Davidson: The change was brought about simply because of a drive to wake up each day and do something that I was truly passionate about. I worked the dental industry in a very successful private practice for over eight years and while I enjoyed what I was doing, especially the people I was working with, I was always searching for something else that I had greater passion for.

Over the years as a dentist I bought and sold a number of residential properties and slowly but surely  came to realise that my true passion was in property.

In the early days my weekends were spent almost exclusively at open houses and I found myself constantly researching new properties. Once I had acquired a number of commercial and residential properties I decided, with great enthusiasm but to be honest no real plan, to quit dentistry and focus full time on property investment and development.

Up Property was formally founded in 2008 and has since completed 36 projects combining a broad mix of residential and commercial developments, with in excess of 250 proposed dwellings in the pipeline as well as various commercial developments underway.

U: Up Property has developed and is developing a range of projects not only in Melbourne but also in Geelong. What is your strategy for site identification and acquisition?

AD: As a team, we are very opportunistic and approach each site on a case by case basis. We focus on properties that we feel we can add significant value to.  The properties we tend to acquire may seem too hard or less desirable to some due to issues with the sites, but have greater potential that can be unlocked through experience and problem solving.

We ultimately look to have a broad range of projects for our portfolio, ideally across a range of asset classes that can be developed and transformed into projects that provide greater amenity and have positive impact for the community in which the sites are located. A perfect example of this is the two latest acquisitions for Up Property, a standard residential block set to become architecturally designed townhomes and a 3,300 sqm approximate net lettable area (NLA) main road showroom facility, with surplus developable land.

We were attracted to Geelong because the local market was experiencing a downturn due to the well documented announcements in 2013 around Ford ceasing production in Geelong and the likely ramifications. We felt the underlying fundamentals of the property market were solid and saw investing in Geelong as a unique opportunity.  Over the past decade we have gained a great knowledge of the local market and forged valued relationships within Geelong that, despite the rapid growth Geelong has recently experienced, continues to make it an attractive market for us to invest.

Our strategy to unlock a site’s hidden potential is also evident at our Morris Moor development in Moorabbin. Many developers saw the property as purely land value and would have likely demolished the site, however by retaining and re-purposing the eight buildings we have been able to preserve and pay homage to the rich history and, in turn, transform the former Phillip Morris manufacturing facility into a dynamic urban destination for the local community, a new neighbourhood, an exciting place to work, play, eat and drink.

U: The Morris Moor development is, in many ways, very unique in that we very rarely see the adaptive re-use and re-purposing of office-warehouse structures in suburban Melbourne particularly the more modernist era. What influenced Up Property to work within the framework of the existing structures and not take a completely fresh approach.

AD: To us it was apparent from the first inspection. We saw great potential and value in retaining the original buildings of the former Phillip Morris site, each building has great structure and unique individual character. For that reason, rather than rebuilding and starting fresh, we made the decision to re-imagine the existing site and create a unique community focused development.

Despite this resulting in a more challenging pathway towards transforming the original buildings into the contemporary, industrially-inspired facade of Morris Moor, we feel we’ve been able to use the site’s existing features to create a new, unique master plan.

Q&A with Up Property's Adam Davidson
Morris Moor's hospitality precinct. Image: Up Property

U: What were some of the challenges and opportunities of working within existing structures?

AD: Bringing older buildings up to comply with modern day standards and regulations can often add substantial costs and complexities to a project. This can only be mitigated by having an experienced, engaged and pro-active project team to quickly and effectively respond to any unforeseen circumstances. Regardless of these challenges, which were known to us upon committing to the project, our design aims to work with and celebrate the existing industrial architecture as much as possible, to create a location that is unique and distinct from typical suburban office environments.

Fundamentally, it is always a far simpler process to develop new buildings from the ground up as opposed to retrofitting existing buildings.

In retrofitting old buildings, you are dealing with areas and structures that were designed originally for a use that is completely different to what we’re looking to achieve now. For example, the change from primarily warehousing and manufacturing use to a broad mix of uses including office, childcare, retail and hospitality to name a few.

Further to this, all new buildings must be made safe and compliant to current day regulations. Not to say the buildings were not safe and compliant previously, they simply need to achieve a different standard in today’s terms. These items can add up and add to the complexity of the overall design.

U: There has also generally been a preference to redevelop these types of sites - the former Sigma site in Clayton South is an example of this - into residential.

AD: Morris Moor sits within the Moorabbin Business and Industrial precinct. Even though it borders the existing residential neighbourhood, the current zoning and planning controls over the property do not allow for residential development meaning this was not a consideration in our strategy. Council have been extremely supportive to date in our master plan as it exists today and support the commercial re-development of this iconic site as a key driver to support the regeneration of the Moorabbin Business and Industrial precinct.

This said, the fact that this project sits adjacent to a large residential catchment of the bayside suburbs greatly influenced our master plan to develop Morris Moor into a multi-use community to work, play, eat and drink. The existing layout of the site inspired our plan to unify the individual buildings and connect the spaces within to create a modern commercial and social campus.

U: Did you identify a commercial and co-working suburban hub as a gap in the market with the residential market being somewhat over saturated at this point?

AD: Instinctively we felt that the middle ring suburbs held an underlying demand for satellite co-working spaces which is currently under-serviced. There are so many operators fighting for space in traditional office locations, such as the Melbourne CBD and city fringe however, business owners and employees are continuously looking to live and work in close proximity and trade the time spent in the car or on the train with time at home with the family. Young businesses wanting the flexibility to work closer to home and avoid the commute to the city. These local business operators were seeking a more flexible arrangement as opposed to within a traditional office on a long-term lease agreement. We noted the rise of such spaces within other suburban business parks (e.g. Caribbean Park and Chadstone).

Through the support of Kingston council, we have been connected to several local community groups, small businesses and individuals who are very keen to see professional, well-coordinated and managed co-working spaces within the precinct. This provides us with further confidence that demand is there.

Upon taking ownership of the site in May last year, we continued to receive overwhelming interest from different businesses looking for opportunities beyond that of a typical office precinct – from gymnasiums and coffee roasters to recreational facilities and childcare centres.

These conversations, whether through council or the local community, have helped shape what Morris Moor is today - a unique business campus that offers a range of uses to support the office workers on-site as well as, provide the local residential catchment with a convenient place to eat and drink.

U: Up Property has engaged Genton and Techne as architects on the project, focusing on the working spaces and lifestyle hubs respectively. What influenced Up Property to engage these two practices?

AD: Both Genton and Techne are dynamic and fresh architecture teams with experience that aligns with our design led principles. Genton helped to design the visionary masterplan behind Morris Moor that interprets the existing buildings and landscaping, while Techne have assisted with the development of the hospitality precinct by introducing a proposed tenancy mix of different uses for the three central buildings including restaurant, coffee roastery and cafe, brewery, distillery, wine bar, convenience store, florist, event function spaces and more.  

U: How is the Morris Moor project progressing and when is the expected completion date?

AD: The project is progressing really well. We have already leased over 12,000 sqm of space, with our first two tenants having commenced their leases on-site and secured our first office tenancy, a child care operator and we’re in substantial negotiations with some key anchor tenants for the hospitality precinct such as a brewery, coffee roaster and health and wellness offerings, who are interested in coming on board to create an urban destination that will be a catalyst for the inevitable gentrification of the area.

We currently have our permits in place with construction having started on the office building due to be completed Q1, 2019.  

Our next phase of construction began this month, in which the 5,000 sqm corner office building is being revitalised with a new facade, lobby and complete internal refurbishment, creating premium office spaces for new exciting businesses to occupy. The surrounding common areas, landscaping and car parks will undergo full re-development.

Q&A with Up Property's Adam Davidson
Image of the new lobby for the soon to be revamped corner building. Image: Up Property

U: And finally, what is coming up on the horizon for Up Property?

AD: Some may say that for a team of our size, Morris Moor should be more than enough to occupy us for the immediate term! To the contrary, we’re always on the lookout for new and different opportunities that align with our style and speciality. Our team love being challenged and relish in solving difficult and interesting problems.

We have already acquired several strategic residential and commercial properties over the last few years that we are planning on, or currently in the midst of developing in a similar way to that of Morris Moor.

Recently we acquired a number of unique and unconventional commercial sites within Geelong CBD that require significant re-positioning in the market. This includes our development on Little Malop Street which is currently being converted from a dis-used retail operation into a modern office building which has been 100% pre-leased to tenant’s the Geelong Advertiser & Barwon Health.

We also acquired the former CSIRO site off the Australian Federal Government, a 6.2ha site destined to become a new community within the heart of an established neighbourhood within Geelong. This will be re-zoned and transformed into a large master-planned community, likely to yield in excess of 250 dwellings.

While the market has been quite difficult in recent times to acquire new sites on attractive terms, we continue to be ready should a new opportunity present itself.

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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