Atlanta is a real estate town, as in commercial real estate. Visionary developers such as Tom Cousins, John Portman, Charlie Ackerman and John Williams forever changed the metro area’s skyline and business community. And while those titans remain active, to some degree, in real estate and philanthropic endeavors, Atlanta has been searching for a new “Face of Commercial Real Estate” – someone who transcends property type and submarket and has a presence on the national scene.
Atlanta has has a void in the visionary department for the past decade. Several high-profile members of the commercial real estate have approached the rarified level of Mr Developer. They include John Dewberry, who controls key parts of Peachtree in Midtown but now is more focused on other parts of the Southeast; Jim Borders, who created the true intown condo market and now is on a roll with apartment towers; and Larry Gellerstedt, who sold his successful condo development firm to Cousins Properties and became its CEO.
While the above trio is worthy of consideration, the obvious choice to fill the void is Mark Toro, managing partner of North American Properties. Toro’s successes and accomplishments stretch from East Point to Midtown Atlanta, Alpharetta, Nashville and beyond. But his truest claim to fame is the reinvention of retail, a la Retail 2.0. He’s emerged as the East Coast’s answer to Rick Caruso, whom CNBC dubbed the “Mall King” – a moniker he likely dislikes.
(To see who I thought would emerge as the new Face of Atlanta CRE when in 2002, check out the story I wrote about this below. But first, learn about how and why Toro has emerged as Atlanta’s new real estate titan by checking out this time line of his life and career. (Yes, NAP is a client of The Wilbert Group, but I saw Mark’s vision and success long before I ever thought of starting a PR firm.)
New stars loom on city skyline
BYLINE: TONY WILBERT; Staff
DATE: April 1, 2002
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Home; The Atlanta Journal Constitution
SECTION: Business Horizon
The men who created the skylines of metro Atlanta are starting to fade into the background.From Tom Cousins to Don Childress, several of Atlanta’s widely respected developers are scaling back their involvement in the companies they founded. Post Properties Chairman and Chief Executive John Williams became the latest, when he announced plans last week to relinquish the chief executive position this summer.As Williams and others become less involved, it will be up to a group of younger developers to fill the void. They’ll have to be willing to take risks, like their predecessors. They will need the wherewithal to survive real estate recessions that arrive every 10 years or so. They’ll need the resilience of a John Portman, who nearly lost his empire before recently rebounding.”The problem is, there’s not a ton of young guys floating around,” Williams said last week.But there are a handful of heirs apparent who are busy adding to the skyline. They are Bob Voyles, John Holder, Larry Kelly, Jim Borders, Gordon Buchmiller and John Dewberry.”You’ve seen a generation of folks who have built the city the way that we know it,” said Buchmiller, managing partner of Childress Klein Properties. He took over when company co-founder Don Childress scaled back his duties nearly two years ago.Voyles, senior development officer at Hines, is involved, for example, with skyline-altering projects from Cobb County to Midtown. Kelly, president of Pope & Land, picked up the development at Midtown’s Atlantic Center project and plans several more towers from Buckhead to Alpharetta.Holder developed Millennium in Midtown, the most recent office tower completed in Midtown, and Prominence in Buckhead. His company is planning second phases at both projects.Borders has made his name by converting older buildings into offices and loft apartments. His signature project, the rehabilitation of the former Biltmore hotel into office and ballroom space, helped kick- start development along West Peachtree Street and Spring Street.Developers, sometimes hailed, more often reviled, do more than shape the physical presence of a city. They often are involved in the community and help shape public policy. They often help an area’s economic development efforts by persuading companies such as GE Power Systems to move to the area.The best developers are visionaries who can picture things in their minds well before others. Cousins acquired hundreds of acres in Alpharetta for commercial development years before anyone was building anything in the area.Williams detected a move toward intown living before other apartment developers and shifted his company’s strategy of building suburban garden apartments. Post now focuses almost exclusively on intown locations.It’s now up to the next generation of developers to establish themselves as leaders in the industry and the community.Some already have made their marks and are expected to continue to do so for the next couple of decades. They have worked under a company founder and now are getting the chance to do it themselves.Seeking Mr. RightIt’s not easy for developers to relinquish control.Tom Cousins, 70, spent years thinking about the succession plan at Cousins Properties. He finally gave up the chief executive title when he felt he found the right person to follow him. That person is Tom Bell, a former advertising executive with little real estate background but a ton of management experience.”It’s a great comfort to have somebody I have total confidence in,” said Cousins, who retained the chairman position. “The company’s better [off] in his hands than in my hands.”At Post, Williams, 59, also believes he found “the perfect” successor in Dave Stockert, a former executive at Duke Realty, also a real estate investment trust. Stockert takes over as chief executive July 1. Williams will remain chairman.Post purposely looked for someone “younger” to run the company, and they found that in Stockert, 39, Williams said. “He’s not going to resent [Vice Chairman] John Glover and myself giving him suggestions and thoughts,” Williams said.He acknowledged that it will be “tough” to give up control of the company he founded 31 years ago. But he must, if Stockert is to succeed.”It will be up to me.” Williams said. “If it fails, it will be primarily my fault. I’m committed to make this work.”The next generation of developers will have to do more than build buildings if it wants to emulate Cousins, Portman, Charlie Brown and others, Borders said. “They’ve been more important from the standpoint of economic development for the region as a whole,” he said. “That’s the part that’s hard to replace.”Portman’s downtown marts helped create a mini-industry that brings thousands of visitors to the city and fills local hotel rooms twice a year. He and former partner Hal Barry developed office towers in the suburbs before they were cool. Brown persuaded scores of companies to locate at what then seemed like far-out office parks in Gwinnett and north Fulton counties.It remains to be seen whether the new guard will have the vision and the guts to take chances. “Are you going to have another Tom Cousins who builds the Omni?” Borders said.Big shoes to fillBecause of the landmarks that Cousins, Williams, Childress and others will leave behind, it won’t be as easy for the next generation to make statements, Childress Klein’s Buchmiller said.”It is going to be harder for future developers to have the kind of impact on the community and skyline because our community has become so much larger and our skyline has become so distinctive,” he said. “One project or one person simply can’t have as much impact.”In no way does that take away from what the old guard accomplished, Buchmiller said. Their vision and risk-taking will have a lasting impact on Atlanta, he said.Dewberry is the youngest member of the new guard.The former Georgia Tech quarterback became a developer after a stint in banking. His company, Dewberry Capital, got its start developing strip retail centers and apartment complexes.In the late 1990s, Dewberry branched into office development. He built One Peachtree Pointe, an eight-story building near the Temple, before other developers rediscovered Midtown.Dewberry has plans for another office tower at Peachtree Pointe, but it’s his Midtown Square project planned for 10th and Peachtree streets that is creating a buzz. If he pulls it off, Dewberry would alter the local skyline with a 30-story or higher office tower and an upscale retail center at the heart of Midtown.Williams pointed to Dewberry as a member of the new guard and believed enough in him to invest in One Peachtree Pointe.”John Williams is a giant in the real estate industry and has meant so much to Atlanta as a developer, businessman, and philanthropist,” Dewberry said. “For him to even consider me as someone to whom the torch may be passed is a great honor and truly humbling.”Looking ahead, Holder says the new guard will have the chance to create a mega-skyline if the trend toward building close-in continues.”You’ll start to see the gaps filled in between downtown, Buckhead and the Perimeter,” he said. “It will blend into one skyline.”While they’re realigning the skyline, the next generation will remember what their predecessors accomplished, Buchmiller said.”The skyline wasn’t altered because it had to happen,” he said. “It happened because of the individuals who were able to make a significant impact on the community.”
Photo: John Williams (left) and Tom Cousins both stepped aside at their companies for younger men.Photo: Tom CousinsPhoto: The Atlanta skyline. / BEN GRAY / StaffPhoto: Jim BordersPhoto: Gordon Buchmiller (left)Photo: John Holder (center)Photo: Bob Voyles (right)Photo: John DewberryGraphic: A SUPER SIX-PACKDave Stockert will replace John Williams as Post Properties chief executive July 1. In January, Tom Bell replaced Tom Cousins as chief executive of Cousins Properties. Stockert and Bell are expected to influence Atlanta real estate for a long time. These six should have a major impact on the metro area’s skylines in the decades to come.Bob Voyles, 50Senior vice president, Hines> Completed projects: 3003 Perimeter Summit, Deerfield Commons I> Current projects: 2002 Perimeter Summit, One Overton Park> Planned projects: 14th Street (Symphony towers), Centennial Hill, Atlanta Financial Center expansionLarry Kelly, 48President, Pope & Land> Completed projects: Atlantic Center Plaza, Cumberland Center, City View, One, Two and Three and 400, 500 and 600 NorthWinds> Current projects: One Glenlake> Planned projects: Atlantic Center phase III, the Avenue in Buckhead, Lanier 400 at Baldridge, Peachtree at Peachtree-DunwoodyGordon Buchmiller, 45Managing partner, Childress Klein Properties> Completed projects: Galleria 400, Preston Ridge I-IV, Royal Ridge, Windward Fairways I-II> Current projects: Galleria 600> Planned projects: Two more Galleria towers, additional office development in AlpharettaJohn Holder, 47Chairman, Holder Properties> Completed projects: Prominence in Buckhead, Midtown Plaza 1 and 2, Windward Pointe 200, Royal 400, 3333 Riverwood Parkway (Cobb County)> Current project: Millennium in Midtown> Planned projects: Second phases of Prominence in Buckhead and Millennium in MidtownJim Borders, 41President, Novare Group> Completed projects: Biltmore rehabilitation, Peachtree Lofts, Renaissance Lofts> Current projects: 933 Peachtree residential high-rise, Centennial House condos> Planned projects: Pharr Road apartment high-riseJohn Dewberry, 38President, Dewberry Capital> Completed projects: One Peachtree Pointe, Belle Isle, Dewberry Glen, Dewberry Ridge> Current projects: Rhodes Center renovation> Planned projects: Two Peachtree Pointe, Three Peachtree Pointe, Midtown SquareGraphic: OTHERS TO WATCHDavid Allman, Dwight Bell, David Canady, Jay Clark, Tom Daniel, Harold Dawson Jr., Scott Hawkins, Jim Jacoby, Craig Jones, Julian LeCraw Jr., Jim Meyer, Mark Randall, Mark Riley, A.J. Robinson, Jerome Russell, Chris Schoen, Jeff Small, Andrew Taylor, Jay Weaver, John Whitaker.”THE OLD GUARD”Charlie Ackerman, John Aderhold, Hal Barry, David Berkman, Charlie Brown, Don Childress, Tom Cousins, William B. Johnson, Kim King, Claude Petty, John Portman, Bob Silverman, John Williams.