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Sherman Oaks Firm Refurbishes Banks

 Last month, Agora Realty & Management announced the acquisition of a vacant, freestanding two-story building that formerly housed a Wells Fargo bank branch in Brentwood Village.  

The 5,424-square-foot building, located at 143 S. Barrington Place, represents the third standalone bank building acquired by the Sherman Oaks firm — the first two are located in the San Fernando Valley. 

Agora Realty owns a 1.8-million-square-foot real estate portfolio that includes a mix of properties in Hawaii, Nevada and California. While not exclusively concentrating on these types of deals, Agora has found success renovating and repositioning bank buildings.  

“Bank sites have high visibility locations and are structurally sound,” said Cary Lefton, chief executive. “They’re easy to convert to retail or restaurant.” 

Three years ago, Agora bought the 6,857-square-foot property hosting a Citibank in Pacoima.

“We leased it back to Citibank,” Lefton said. “It’s on the light rail route to Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks (which made it ideal).” 

Citibank is currently locked into a 10-year lease. 

“Once they move out, we’ll either build apartment units on the site or do a re-adaptive use for the building for a restaurant or professional services,” Lefton said. 

Two and a half years ago, Agora purchased the former Chase property in Thousand Oaks and began renovating the 16,200-square-foot site.  

“We bought it from landlord Met Life,” Lefton said. “Ninety days after we closed escrow, we were in meaningful negotiations with UCLA (Health). … We immediately started the entitlement process. Shortly after closing escrow, we marketed the building to medical users.” 

Lefton said the conversion to medical space was “extremely expensive,” but it worked. But the process to turn the former Chase Bank site into UCLA Health facility became a long one.  

“UCLA has to go through internally how they would use it,” Lefton said. “It took a good 18 months and then construction took 18 months. It was a substantial renovation.” 

With the freshly acquired Brentwood Village Wells Fargo site, Lefton plans to have the former bank property repainted and relandscaped for either a medical user or a family office.  

“We liked this asset for multiple reasons. It is a prime neighborhood location with great surface and underground parking for the area. This transaction is indicative of Agora’s successful investment strategy of acquiring former bank buildings in prime locations for redevelopment and re-tenanting,” said Aaron Lefton, president of acquisitions and leasing at Agora Realty and Cary’s son. 

As consumer banks continue downsizing their physical locations due to changing consumer behavior with the shift to online services, there is more opportunity for creative reuse options, Cary Lefton said. “These locations typically have higher parking ratios and high street locations, which can be attractive to new users,” he added.  

The company has already fielded interest from high-end restaurants for the Brentwood site. If it works out, the restaurateur may use the former bank vault for wine storage. 

“We’re anticipating a 24-month process,” Cary Lefton said regarding the former bank. 

Overall, the former banks and their ideal locations tend to be attractive for re-usage. 

“We’ve identified the virtues of these rent properties,” Cary Lefton said. “We’ve found it to be a sound investment.” 

In the case of an Agora North Las Vegas former bank asset, a Shoe Palace moved in and was able to repurpose the vault. 

“We were thrilled they were able to use it for inventory storage,” Cary Lefton said. “The biggest challenge is where the vaults are located in the building. The vaults are expensive to remove.” 

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