Connor Group’s $18M office to spur airport growth

The iconic $18 million Connor Group central office building that opens Wednesday at the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport keeps a billion-dollar business in the Dayton region and could spur more economic development at the general aviation airport, local officials said.

The real estate investment firm looked at the possibility of moving its central office to North Carolina, but chose to relocate from Centerville to the intersection of Austin Boulevard and Ohio 741 near Interstate 75.

“Our operation is nationwide, but we’re still proud to call Dayton home,” said Larry Connor, the company’s managing partner.

The Connor Group Central Support Office, which can be seen across from Austin Landing, has a modern design that features a brushed aluminum and glass facade, with a large central atrium space that provides employees with access to natural light.

The facility houses about 70 associates who work at the real estate firm or its affiliated technology company, First Billing Services, which provides online payment processing.

Launched in 1991 with a $400,000 investment to purchase three apartment communities in Dayton, the Connor Group now has assets of more than $1.5 billion. The privately held firm owns and operates luxury apartment communities in nine U.S. cities that also include Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dallas, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham.

Connor said the firm will announce its first, $66 million property acquisition in Chicago in September or October, and also plans to enter the Denver market within the next six months.

The Connor Group employs about 400 people nationwide, including about 90 in the Dayton area.

“We did not directly offer any incentives for them to relocate from their current location in the area, but we were certainly supportive of working with our local and regional partners to make sure that we retained those jobs in Montgomery County,” said Chris Snyder, Miami Twp. director of planning and zoning.

Snyder called the 39,840-square-foot, two-story facility a “landmark building.” In 2012, it was honored with the American Architecture Award, which recognizes the most significant new contemporary architecture, landscape architecture, interiors and urban planning in the U.S.

Connor said the angular design by Columbus-based architecture and engineering firm Moody-Nolan Inc. was intended to dispel the “misnomer” of Dayton being a “rust belt” region.

“Our hope was that the building would be a symbol for innovation and technology, which I think is a lot more accurate when you look at what is going on in the region than the ‘rust belt,’” he said.

The building design process took 16 months, followed by 22 months of construction. On Tuesday, contractors were still putting finishing touches on the facility before Wednesday night’s black-tie grand opening. Connor said it will be another six to 12 months before the building is complete.

The Connor Group has a long-term lease on the 9.5-acre parcel at the northwest corner of the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport from the city of Dayton, which owns the property.

Dayton Aviation Director Terry Slaybaugh said the city is prohibited from selling airport land because it is publicly funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Connor Group employees will generate additional income tax revenue for the Miami Twp.-Dayton Joint Economic Development District, he said.

The airport has more than 100 acres of additional land east of the runway available for development. City and township officials hope the Connor Group building will serve as an example to attract other companies to locate at the airport, particularly those that use private planes to conduct business.

“We realize the area is being built up around us, and that the property will probably come into play here in the next couple of years as that area continues to develop,” Slaybaugh said.

Connor said his company plans to exercise its option to build a hangar at the airport for its planes within the next 12 to 24 months.

Currently, the Connor Group occupies about 75 percent of its new building. The company expects to grow to 650-700 associates nationally over the next 10 years.

“We built this building so a decade from now it will fulfill our needs,” Connor said.

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