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Originally published Friday, November 9, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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Joshua Green buys majority stake in Urban Renaissance

The family-owned company is changing its longtime approach to commercial real estate.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Seattle’s venerable Joshua Green Corp. is both changing its approach and increasing its stake in commercial real estate.

The family-owned company announced this week it is acquiring a majority interest in Seattle-based Urban Renaissance Group, one of the region’s fastest-growing real-estate management and consulting firms, and providing the startup with $50 million to invest in office buildings.

Joshua Green, named for one of Seattle’s business pioneers, also is transferring most of its real-estate holdings, valued at $150 million, to Urban Renaissance.

The portfolio includes Joshua Green’s namesake 10-story headquarters building and the 20-story Plaza 600 office tower in downtown Seattle, plus six suburban retail properties, mostly grocery-anchored shopping centers.

Joshua Green, whose roots in Seattle predate the Klondike Gold Rush, has been a low-key presence in the local commercial real-estate scene for decades. Its investment decisions have been largely “ad hoc” until now, President and CEO Stan McCammon said, so the deal with Urban Renaissance represents a big shift.

“If we intend to be involved in the business of real estate, we need to be with people who are talented and sophisticated and experienced,” he said.

Urban Renaissance Group’s founder and CEO, Pat Callahan, once managed Equity Office Properties’ Seattle-area portfolio, the largest in the region before it was sold and broken up in 2006 and 2007.

Since founding Urban Renaissance in 2006, Callahan has helped put together complex, multimillion-dollar deals that brought new owners and tenants to some of Seattle’s most troubled office properties, including Seventh & Madison on First Hill and the downtown tower known until recently as Qwest Plaza.

He and McCammon met when Joshua Green retained Urban Renaissance in 2007 to plan and oversee the successful, top-to-bottom renovation and re-leasing of the century-old Joshua Green Building at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street.

Urban Renaissance also represented Joshua Green in its purchase of Plaza 600 this spring, the company’s first real-estate acquisition in more than a decade.

Callahan’s office is one floor above McCammon’s in the Joshua Green Building. “We knew each other well,” Callahan said.

“I really appreciate [Joshua Green’s] patience, and their long-term view. A lot of the problems we’ve had in real estate are because of short-term thinking.”

The $50 million investment from Joshua Green will allow Urban Renaissance to buy ownership interests in office projects or companies for the first time, Callahan said, most likely through joint ventures with institutional investors.

Target markets include Seattle and Portland, then Denver and San Francisco, he said.

Joshua Green Sr., the corporation’s patriarch, came to Seattle in 1886, entered the shipping business and ferried miners and their gear to the Klondike gold fields. Later he went into banking.

He owned companies that now are parts of Washington State Ferries and U.S. Bank, and was an early investor in what’s now Safeco Insurance

The family corporation’s investments are extensive. In addition to real estate, it has “significant” holdings in banking and insurance, according to its website, and owns several companies that make fly-fishing gear.

Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com

or 206-464-2231

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