Monthly Archive for: ‘July, 2011’

  • The Case for Buckhead Atlanta

    I have read the articles and opinion polls. I know that most people disapprove of the Streets of Buckhead’s new name, “Buckhead Atlanta.” Oliver McMillan seems to have caught some negative feedback and I can just imagine some of the blue-hairs condemning that “California Hippie” for having no clue what he is doing.

    Allow me to be the dissenting voice.

    I like the name and I am about to tell you why . . .

    Let’s briefly glance back at the origins of commercial development. I wouldn’t call myself a commercial real estate history scholar, but I can surmise that building commercial buildings originated from a community need. Ancient tribes in Mesopotamia or Asia or South America decided they needed community gathering places, temples, bathing houses, or whatever. Everyone got together, pooled resources, and built the community structure together.

    More recently, in American history, local towns would need buildings built to establish permanence and relevance. The town of East Bumble, Mississippi probably got together and decided they needed a bank. Town elders and patriarchs raised the money, chartered the bank, and needed a building for employees and cash to sit in. So, they went with a local builder who built the building for a price. The community needed something, so a builder built something.

    Now, everyone seems to be telling the community what it needs rather than waiting to be asked. Pundits talk about absorption rates and rental space demand. Developers get together and determine there is a need for a building and they decide to speculate that tenants will occupy their newly-built space. They build it, and tenants come, or they don’t (see 2008). In order to attract the best tenants and traffic, they promote their brand and try to generate name/brand recognition. Makes sense to me since their property is essentially fighting for tenants with every other comparable building in town. But I think the brand-building path is a slippery slope. There is a line between promoting a brand (or a building) and just good old-fashioned chest-beating and ego-stroking. The focus goes from neighborhood need to property image. As an aspiring developer, I am sure I will fall into the same trap and will neglect the needs of the neighborhood for the sake of the brand or property performance.

    Here is where McMillan comes in. McMillan seems to prefer the focus to remain on the neighborhood. They simply named the property after the neighborhood in which it is located.

    I would not presume to put words into their collective mouth, but it seems as if they realize that everyone who knows CRE will know that they were responsible for completing this landscape-changing project. They do not need to beat their chest or bang the drums in praise. There will be plenty of praise to go around if this project turns out the way it is drawn up to. This project certainly isn’t short on fame or publicity. So why not let this project simply be an exceptional addition to an exceptional neighborhood? There is no need to outshine our brightest-shining neighborhood. Go ahead and blend in seamlessly and enhance the retail scene in our fair city. You could call it a subtle iteration of under-promise and over-deliver.

    This may end of being a game-changer for the city of Atlanta, but why not try and blend into the neighborhood and then pleasantly surprise everyone when it stands out as perhaps the greatest retail project in the Southeastern US? Seems like a wiser strategy to me than to promise a life-changing development and then either under-deliver or not-quite-deliver. As many developers have learned in the last few years, there are several unforeseen road blocks on the way to a successful development that can kill a deal. Why not fly under the radar until the ink has dried on the last lease?

    Frankly, I take the name as a compliment. McMillan seems to think that the “Buckhead” brand, so to speak, carries enough weight to promote this project to international retailers. Would Bottega Veneta be interested in space in something like “The Presidio at Buckhead” or “Capstone Atlanta?” Probably. What about simple old “Buckhead Atlanta?” I guess we’ll see. The point is, the Buckhead brand is very strong and may not need to have some synonym for “pinnacle” to sell retailers on this project in this location. So, like I said, this seems like a compliment to all those who call Buckhead home as an implicit recognition of the neighborhood’s appeal on the international retail scene.

    Anyway, this isn’t a propaganda article in favor of Oliver McMillan. I don’t know a single person who works there. Nor is this an editorial bashing other developers and their brands. I just appreciate the OM team for their choice and their display of what seems to be one of the rarer of developer qualities . . . humility.

    I say let the project blend into the eclectic retail scene here and quietly propel us onto the international retail scene for years to come. I like the name and maybe one day I will tell people from all over the world I am from Buckhead in Atlanta and they will tell me how they bought their only Bottega Veneta purse there and just loved the whole area. Who knows . . .

    – Duke

  • The CRE Entrepreneur’s Book Shelf

    As you may or may not have noticed, I’m a fairly avid reader. I think reading is one of the best ways to obtain meaningful knowledge from others.As Mark Twain put it: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who CAN’T read them.”

    Recently I have been reading about entrepreneurship and best business practices. I have come across several wonderfully written books and I wanted to share them with you today.

    Here are my top 4 books for real estate entrepreneurs (everyone does a Top 3 or Top 5, so I am going to be different):

    1. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy – This is a wonderful little book about the power of positive habits in your life. Hardy gives several useful tools and practices to help you make sure you are creating the best habits to maximize your success.

    2. The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris – Cheesy title notwithstanding, this book really does have some great tips on how to maximize your output while minimizing your input. I like that he sees the 80-hour work week as a badge of shame rather than a badge of honor. My two favorite things about this book are that he speaks from personal experience and that he will give you real, tangible ways (i.e. websites and real companies to call) to implement the processes he suggests.

    3. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar – Komisar is a venture capitalist/angel investor in Silicon Valley and the way he breaks down business models and ideas is genius. He will give you a great perspective on how and why to build a business within the context of still enjoying your life. Great read.

    4. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham – This choice may seem a bit out of place on a real estate list, but this classic investing book about value and long term strategy is a must-read for any entrepreneur. Graham is an old-school investment guru who gives sage advice on the way to invest money and I think the same principles apply to buying, selling, or developing commercial property. Check it out.

    So, those are my top 4 book recommendations for the CRE entrepreneur (or any entrepreneur for that matter). Feel free to argue with me, tell me I’m an idiot, or suggest your own books in the Comments.

    – Duke


  • 10 Random Thoughts: Pacific Northwest Edition

    I just got back from a trip up the Western Coast of our country last night and I wanted to share a few thoughts that pertain to CRE (and some that don’t):

    1. Anyone who is a fan of building or architecture should visit Hearst Castle at least once.

    2. The terrain in Northern California and Oregon is unlike anything I have ever seen. Beautiful.

    3. Speaking of which, there really is nothing significant, in terms on cities, between Napa and Eugene. Eureka, CA is decent, but I didn’t see a reason to spend more than a night there.

    4. Having now ridden light rail in Phoenix and Portland, I’m not sure it is the perfect solution for our fair city. It is convenient and nice, but it certainly adds frustrating traffic on busy streets. Does that outweigh the traffic it prevents? Maybe. I’m not sure. That’s why I say that I’m not convinced that light rail on Peachtree is the silver bullet people seem to think it is.

    5. I don’t think Russell Brand is an actor. I think he is just Russell Brand and directors film him saying stuff as Russell Brand within the context of their story.

    6. Portland has to have the most tattoos per capita of any city I have seen. Probably 4 of 5 people had ink and 3 of 5 had non-ear piercings. Not a judgement. Just an observation.

    7. Powell’s in Portland is incredible. Do not leave that city without visiting Powell’s.

    8. I hope our downtown turns into a place to hang out some day. It was very convenient to walk around downtown Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Portland with great restaurants and attractions within a couple blocks of each other.

    9. Next time you visit San Francisco and don’t want to stay downtown, I recommend Cavallo Point. It is literally just below the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito.

    10. I have found a hotel that I would like to buy one day. It is called River Place and if I had a fund behind me, I would call the owner today.

    That’s it for right now. I will have an article on entrepreneurship in CRE later this week.

    Stay Cool.

    – Duke

  • Book Review: Good to Great

    I like Jim Collins. I don’t really know him personally, but I like the way he writes and I like the way his analytical minds works. He has a talent for taking highly complex financial analysis and making it palatable for the average reader.

    In his book, Good to Great, he examines US-based companies that have outperformed their peers by several multiples. He uses stock performance criteria to isolate these outlier companies that sometimes outperform their direct competitors by 18x!

    I will leave all of the gory details to his deft explanation, but what ends up happening is that he finds a dozen or so companies that have significantly outperformed not only the market, but also all of their direct peers.

    The punchline of the research is that all of these companies have a few things in common. What the reader learns is that all of these companies found out what their “hedgehog concept” was and also understood the importance of having the right people “on the bus.”

    Again, I will let Mr. Collins do the explaining, but suffice it to say that I have not had a week go by since I read this book where I have not found an appropriate occassion to reference its concepts. I have also found that nearly every business leader I have mentioned it to has also read it.

    So, I will stop short of saying that you may be the only person in our business not to have read this crucial volume, but I will say that I would strongly encourage anyone involved in any business venture to read this book. Collins has come across some (seemingly) universal truths that can help shape and structure the way we conduct business going forward.

    This is the ultimate tool for using the wisdom of others for your own benefit. He has basically found the best businesses of the last 20 years, interviewed their leaders, and written down all of the things they said in common. Read it, absorb it, and apply it. It will serve you well.

    – Duke

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