Q&A: Yellow Tree co-founder Robb Lubenow envisions a smaller apartment.


Byline: Matt M. Johnson

Yellow Tree co-founder Robb Lubenow may have gotten his start in the construction and development business building things with his dad during summers living on the family farm in Graceville. But it is a friendship that started when he was just 9 months old that turned an interest in construction into a fast-growing Minneapolis apartment development and management company.

Lubenow, 37, and his business partner Bryan Walters have been friends since they were infants. They went to the University of Minnesota together and started their company about a decade ago while working other jobs.

"We've been locked at the hip ever since," Lubenow said in a recent interview. The two even own and live in homes across the street from one another.

Today, Yellow Tree has three apartment projects under construction totaling just under 300 units. The company has three more projects entitled and ready to start construction and four more in development. All those projects are aimed at infill properties, some of which are so small that Yellow Tree has started designing them with interior car stacking systems to take advantage of limited parking space.

The company still owns and manages much of what it has built, having sold just two apartment buildings, The Witt and The Central in Minneapolis.

Finance & Commerce sat down with Lubenow to ask him about how Yellow Tree has grown, and what he does with what little free time he has after long work days. His responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Q: How did you get into this line of work?

A: I grew up a farm kid, but my dad was always building. So we'd build homes in the summer, and I'd jump on with the construction crew. I always enjoyed building. When I went to college, I went to school for architecture, but halfway through school I knew I didn't want to be an architect but definitely enjoyed building and construction, so I got the dual major in architecture and construction management at U of M. And then I went into project management.

I worked for JE Dunn for eight years. But there was some overlap there and that's when we started Yellow Tree about 10 years ago.

We started single-family, multifamily homes doing large additions, updates, that sort of thing. It kind of progressed into small community commercials. Small shops, coffee shops, those sorts of things.

It was about that time I quit JE Dunn while I was moonlighting. It was a lot of nights and weekends on the side...

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