When Marty Jones, president of Corcoran Jennison Cos., was featured on the cover of MULTIFAMILY EXECUTIVE in May 2000, she was keenly focused on getting her latest project in the ground. Little did she know that within two years, work on Park Square West (planned for downtown Stamford, Conn.'s historic district) would be all but stopped by an eminent domain case fumbled by city officials.
But Jones, a former HUD administrator, is a patient woman who knows how to respond to unexpected change and capitalize on new opportunities. So despite such delays, the sputtering economy, and the changing marketplace, Jones has led the Dorchester, Mass.-based property management, hospitality, development, and construction company to steady revenue growth, from $300 million in 2000 to $330 million today. A pioneer in mixed-income developments, Corcoran Jennison was also one of the first firms to provide resident services to tenants.
Delayed By a Diner The project in question—Park Square West, a $100 million, 400-unit mixed-use development—was stymied by Curley's Diner, a popular eatery located adjacent to the construction site. The city told Corcoran Jennison the diner would be razed, but a state court ruled that the city couldn't base the diner's condemnation on a 36-year-old urban renewal plan. “Since that land was in the center of the site, a complete redesign and change in the concept for the project was necessary,” Jones recalls. Many developers would have walked away or scaled back the project, but Jones likes to finish what she starts. So she marshaled her team and quickly rethought the project.
The experience taught Jones a valuable lesson: “I've gotten a great education in the nuances of eminent domain,” she says. “In the past, we just assumed it would happen. Now I've learned to ask a lot more questions about the city's acquisition process. Not that I would have decided differently in Stamford, but I would have had my eyes open to the risks and delays. And I might not have invested so much so early.”
“Effective executives know that when they encounter obstacles, they have to turn them into challenges to overcome them,” says Sandy Goldstein, executive director of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District, who has worked with Jones for eight years. “Marty acts intellectually—she doesn't personalize the issues.”
Shifting Strategies The last five years have brought other opportunities and challenges for the company. When Corcoran Jennison decided to phase out its third-party construction work, it also expanded its property management business after it was given the chance to manage a 38-property, 7,700-unit multifamily mixed-income apartment portfolio. “We made a strategic decision to put that company in the business of fee-based management. Now we make a lot managing portfolios for large clients,” says Jones, whose company today oversees 23,500 apartment units.
It represents just one example of how Corcoran Jennison has shifted its strategies to stay competitive. “There's so much money chasing apartment acquisition today,” Jones notes. “This has meant more intense competition. REITs and larger ownership companies continue to put the squeeze on the smaller real estate entrepreneur.”
Jones' response: a narrower focus on the Northeast. “Our company is based in Boston, and development issues tend to be very local and need immediate attention,” she explains. “Working on projects in our backyard means we can give them the attention that they need.”
The Corcoran Jennison president also doing phased projects to limit the company's risk and pursuing new financial partners. Colleagues expect her to be successful. “Marty is among the brightest and most thoughtful developers in the business,” says Margaret Allen of AGM Financial, a lender in Baltimore. “She is understanding of all the perspectives in a transaction from lender to syndicator to borrower. Marty gets up and works hard every day, day after day, and is always curious about new ways to do a deal.”
That's been a challenging task. “There hasn't been great job growth, so rent growth hasn't kept up with construction cost increases,” Jones says. “Getting deals to pencil on a rental basis is tougher now, but cities understand the value of rental housing.”
Now those apartments just need to be in the right places. “I know ‘smart growth' is a buzzword, but we really do need to be building more rental housing near transportation and employment centers,” Jones says. “We all have to get from work to home, so we should pay attention to where we locate housing.”