You might say it all started at a tailgate party. Jeff and Bob Weyers bumped into an old friend from Marquette University in the parking lot at Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego in 1998. The Green Bay Packers were playing the Denver Broncos, and Paul Klister walked by.
“They recognized me from years past, and we started talking,” We started talking at our little tailgate party and Paul said he had purchased some land in Appleton. He wondered if we wanted to partner up.”
Commercial Horizons Partners Paul Klister, Bob and Jeff Weyers cut a path for Real Estate Development from Green Bay to Appleton
Since the three partners acquired a small real estate firm called Commercial Horizons, Inc. on Jan. 1, 2000, they have developed over 5 Million square feet of Commercial, Retail, Office and Industrial properties with total cost in excess of $1.5 Billion Dollars. Commercial Horizons has developed in 7 different States, with a concentration in Wisconsin. As investors outside of real estate, they’re also part owners in as many as 20 regional companies through their private equity investment firm, Capital Connection, LLC.
“They’re very insightful business people, very honest and easy to deal with,” says Bob Atwell, president of Nicolet Bank in Green Bay and a friend of the Weyers’. “They do extremely well in real estate, they deal very well with national companies and bring a level of experience here that not too many developers have.”
The owners/group at Commercial Horizons are straight shooters, says Peter Hensler, economic development manager for the city of Appleton.
“They’re reliable and they do what they say they’re going to do,” adds Hensler, who was a city alderman when the trio worked out tax incremental finance deals with the city of Appleton as they developed their plans. “They follow through on their commitments and the agreements they make with us (the city). It’s been a positive relationship, but it’s been a relationship that has had give and take we’ve contributed to their success, as they’ve contributed to our success.”
Careers Launched in Law
For a time, real estate development seemed the farthest career from their minds. Jeff, who earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has a bachelor of science degree in business administration/finance from Marquette, worked as a merger-acquisition lawyer in Chicago for about four years. Bob, who earned his undergraduate degree in business administration/finance and his MBA from Marquette in 1998, worked for AT&T in Milwaukee after college.
The brothers teamed up in a few business ventures in the early 1990s, first leasing slot machines to Indian gaming casinos. Then they ran a franchise company called the CD Exchange, which they built to 50 locations before selling to Grow Biz, a Minneapolis company. In the mid-’90s, they owned Executive Air; they constructed new hangars and gave the place a facelift before selling it in the late 1990s.
Mini Golf Holds Prime Spots
While the Weyers brothers explored their various business ventures, Paul, who says he “always had a very strong interest in real estate,” had developed several small sports parks in Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Mexico. His intent was not to be a “putt-putt king,” but rather, he sought parcels of land that seemed located in strategic locations, ripe for development. This idea hit him as he played miniature golf in Minnesota, when he was in graduate school at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul.
“My wife, Brenda and I were playing mini golf at a dumpy little miniature golf course that was on a great piece of property,” he recalls. “I looked around and said, ‘There’s 100 people here, and they all paid five bucks. There’s only one person working here, and all it takes is some putters and balls you can keep using what a great way to hold a piece of real estate!'” Sure enough, a developer soon replaced the sports park with a pizza restaurant.
While practicing as a personal-injury lawyer in Appleton (his practice later merged with the firm of Robinson, Peterson, Berk & Cross), Paul identified a prime parcel of farmland fronting East College Avenue and bought it, not long after the Highway 441 ramp opened.
Living and working in Appleton, Paul kept an eye open to new developments. When he heard Continental Properties planned to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter on East Calumet Street and a Home Depot was to locate next door, he secured the option to buy land across the street. Then he met Bob and Jeff.
“I told them about a project I was working on, and they asked if they could be investors and I said absolutely,” Paul recalls.
They bought Commercial Horizons, which had managed some of the properties Bob and Jeff owned, and shed the third-party property management responsibilities the original owners had taken on. Jeff took on the administrative duties, Paul focused on the nitty-gritty of their development projects and Bob concentrated on his sales savvy into making deals.
As principals in their new company, Commercial Horizons, they bought the land Paul was eyeing on the southwest corner of 441 and KK and cooked up a plan to develop it. They persuaded Home Depot that spot was more attractive than the lot it planned to build on next to Wal-Mart, then they bought the lot Home Depot gave up and geared up to develop that, too. Because the property was in the city of Appleton and the towns of Buchanan and Harrison, and it straddled two counties, Calumet and Outagamie, they faced an obstacle course of municipal challenges. They worked fast.
“To this day,” Paul says, “I understand that is the fastest Home Depot from start to finish” that has ever been developed. They struck a deal in late 1999 and went to work on the roads and related infrastructure. By May 1, 2000, they turned the pad over to Home Depot to break ground for the store.
“We made some ridiculous promises of delivery we actually put our tail on the line.”
With the city of Appleton, Commercial Horizons struck a deal for a tax incremental financing district to develop the infrastructure throughout the development. He credits city officials for their cooperation and praises their high standards for buildings and landscaping. But overall, the going was tough, Paul recalls. He showed up at all the municipal meetings and public hearings on the project.
We worked very closely with the neighborhood and the city to protect the residential area. We had a boundary and a buffer between the residential and commercial area. I had done some miniature golf courses, batting cages and go-cart parks, but nothing to this scale, where you’re dealing with nationals. But for whatever reason, I’ve always had a stomach for it. The challenge is what drives me, more than anything.” “I love to put together the puzzle,” he says. “To identify something and figure out, what it takes to get it done. It is unquestionably, the challenge.”
Paul, Jeff and Bob credit their many business partners with their success. In particular, they credit their deals with national tenants to Curt Mauer, who introduced them to such retailers as Home Depot, Gander Mountain, Buffalo Wild Wings, Tires Plus and more.
“Life’s too short not to have a win-win situation.”Commercial Horizons aims high in its own dealings as well. Half of what the partners now control financially includes investments in a private equity investment firm, Capital Connection, LLC. Bob spearheads the work of the firm, which provides financial support and resources to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial management teams in search of capital for new ventures, management buyouts, recapitalizations and strategic acquisitions. Among the companies they’re invested in: Coating Excellence International, an extrusion coating operation in Wrightstown; National Graphic Solutions, a specialty printing company in Appleton; and Fox Valley Metal Tech, a metal fabricator in Ashwaubenon.
“The more success you have, the more people call you with opportunities,” Bob says. “You get that reputation that you can get deals done, and then the phone rings, or through our contacts and our networking in Green Bay and Appleton, we know what companies are doing what, who’s growing, who’s expanding, who’s moving. You still have to deliver what you promise. We’re not overpromising or under-delivering, and that’s why I think we continue to get deals done.”
Working for themselves, they enjoy flexible schedules that allow family time and crafting future development opportunities.
“My goal is to work less and have more fun,” Bob says, echoing the sentiments of his partners. If you’re not having fun, you probably shouldn’t be doing it, No. 1, and No. 2, it has to be a win-win situation, whether it’s an investor in our company or a tenant in the building or a contractor if it’s not a win-win, we shouldn’t be doing it.
“Life’s too short not to have a win-win situation.”