From the redevelopment of the former Civic Auditorium site to the recent revitalization of the historic 1401 Jones St. location into the new downtown library, White Lotus Group’s portfolio reads like a “who’s who” of projects for the region.
Trust — for CEO Arun Agarwal, this is the distinguishing attribute that has powered more than 50 distinctive projects across White Lotus Group’s 20 years.
“We believe that we’re just getting started,” Agarwal said.
From the firm’s nerve center at 10404 Essex Court in Omaha, the team sums its work up as: “We solve problems through real estate.”
“Taking this approach has really helped us navigate how we tackle a project,” Agarwal said. “In developing an asset, we need to define what winning looks like for the client.”
For instance, Agarwal highlighted White Lotus Group’s recent RTG Medical development. It was noted that RTG Medical was in “hyper-growth” but wanted to remain in its native Fremont.
“This was a non-negotiable; however, the objective was to be able to build a Class A building that would enhance employee experience to be at work and increase productivity,” he explained. “All the while, mitigating the risk for financiers to fund a development in a market unaccustomed to the product — and a community that may not have the level of office users that might backfill space if there was a misstep.”
Accordingly, several federal, state and local incentives were acquired to assist in the development and provide RTG with what the company had always envisioned. As Agarwal put it, they were able to ease the stress of delivering on the “infrastructure part” of their business plan freeing up capacity to deliver on the operational side.
“The result has been a ‘win-win’ or, better said, ‘one plus one equals three,’” he stated.
Among other noteworthy projects highlighted by Agarwal was White Lotus Group’s work on the Omaha Public Library’s downtown branch, a historic building that also proved to be challenging.
“It was difficult to envision the project; however, the city shared a vision, trusted us to execute and, collectively, we feel we delivered a win,” he said.
More broadly, Agarwal indicated that cities throughout Nebraska have trusted the White Lotus Group team as a client/partner/true collaborator, and have discussed specific challenges. Anyone in the area who has been paying attention for the past decade or so would see that the old Civic Auditorium site is most certainly not without its challenges.
When recently asked about the nature and significance of its work on what is deemed the “Civic Square” development, a project characterized on the firm’s site as “a groundbreaking, multi-use urban block,” Agarwal underscored that White Lotus Group believes migrating more people into the city is, by far, the most significant economic impact opportunity.
“When marketing any city, the culture of the city is most notably correlated with the strength of its urban core,” he stated. “Civic Square has the responsibility of writing part of that story to help draw people into our city, and we take that very seriously.”
Likewise, when asked about the latest with regard to the project itself, Agarwal noted the team is focused on meeting specific goals.
“An urban grocery store solidifies downtown’s vibrancy by strengthening the desire to live, work and play downtown,” he said. “In order to develop the right project for the site, it requires an enhanced level of patience.”
Agarwal noted that, in addition to challenges with “suburban sprawl,” an economic downturn is, more specifically, occurring within the commercial office space.
“… which impacts central business districts especially,” he stated. “For the record, we are contrarians to this ideology, and are thrilled that another local leading organization, Mutual of Omaha, is helping to catalyze redevelopment in our urban core.”
To optimally develop the site, Agarwal went on, cooperation and enhanced public-private partnership is necessary.
“The city of Omaha has initiated this concept well, and we hope that we can expand upon it,” he stated. “What is ahead is closing on the acquisition, civil infrastructure and building design.”
Site preparation is expected to begin early next year. Project updates can be found at CivicSquareOmaha.com.
Evolving to Overcome Challenges
White Lotus Group features four different types of projects – industrial, mixed-use, multi-family and hospitality – under the broader banner of its portfolio. When asked further about changes and the diversity of its project mix, Agarwal noted that the team has been “humbled by our own limitations” as well as by “market conditions.”
“Historically, we have grown along with our average project size,” he explained. “As we evolve, this has made certain projects less efficient than some of our newer developments.”
In fact, he referenced how the process of developing 100,000 square feet of real estate is not dissimilar to developing a 5,000 square foot space.
“This has forced us to get out of our comfort zone and expand our horizons towards various themes,” he said. “The industrial market continues to lead the way. The utility of onshoring or domesticating supply chain, progressing last-mile delivery networks and overall improved logistics has been a boost to the industry segment.”
On this front, at the time of this writing, the team was reportedly nearing completion of the bulk of its I-80 Logistics Hub project (hosting names like Amazon, Home Depot, UPS and GXO).
“As a result, our team’s knowledge and skill sets have evolved in various market segments, which we believe has led to improved results for our clients,” Agarwal said.
Regarding the White Lotus Group team, Agarwal reinforced how “talent is everything.”
“Our next hires are as important, if not more, as our next client,” Agarwal stated. “Building upon that and being able to expand has been a challenge to meet the productivity expectations of our clients.”
To address a “challenging human capital environment,” he said the firm is starting to explore and integrate technology to improve workflow.
“What would seem crazy to me one year ago, we are now designing and implementing AI solutions to solve some of the harder positions to fill,” he added. “Our expectations are that we will be able to enhance productivity, customer service and employee satisfaction by incorporating this into our operation.”
Due to the nature of its solutions-based services and approach to strengthening communities, Agarwal noted how the company has a defined way to support community causes and organizations.
“Each year we select a theme in which we attempt to embrace and evolve,” he said. “Our theme in 2023 is ‘sustainability’ and how we can demystify why trying to address it comes at a ‘premium.’”
In this vein, White Lotus Group is doing its first solar array on an office building in Lincoln.
“These become incredibly expensive, but hopefully valuable experiments in which we can learn,” he said. “Beyond that, our volunteerism has spilled over to specific organizations: Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Omaha Symphony, Metropolitan Community College, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, YMCA of Greater Omaha, and HELP Foundation of Omaha.”
Each organization, Agarwal noted, enriches and improves the community.
“And we can offer our specific skill sets, hopefully, to augment those organizations the best that we can,” he said.