As a real estate developer, I enjoy working closely with others to help and grow communities. After all, at it’s core definition, that’s what real estate developers do; we develop buildings and properties to grow cities and areas. As I’ve mentioned before in one of my previous blogs, there seems to be a bit of a disruption going on in the real estate development industry. Developers are taking on larger projects and coming in with a completely different mindset than their predecessors.
As the managing partner of True North Studio, I am responsible for bringing new and invigorating ideas to life, and I am a firm believer in this new disruptive method of development. Our latest project, Ro2, sees us completely revamping Phoenix, Arizona’s thriving arts district in order to create an arts mecca that is based on community and sustainability. I recently sat down with Rick McCartney on the inBusiness Weekly Podcast in order to discuss the project and my thoughts on the industry in general. Here’s a sample of what we said:
Rick McCartney: Tell us, what is Ro2?
Jonathon Vento: I think, if I could, before I answer that, let me, maybe, give you the run up that led to how we got here. I think we live, today, in the age of disruption…we’ve got Amazon and Uber and groceries are delivered to your house and cars are driving themselves, and smartphones are here and solar on roofs. The formulas that you and I grew up with are being disrupted, they’re changing. And so, as a real estate developer, we specialize in the built-environment. That disruption is informing and changing the built-environment. So you can sort of embrace that and resist it or get out in front of it. And I think we’ve always taken the approach that we’d like to lead.
True North was an effort for us to make sure that we had that guiding star…to make us sure everyday that we’re reminded that this is a journey, right? This is a bit of a philosophy, a walk, and it’s changing. What we’re doing a couple of years from now will be different from what we’re doing today.
I wanted to make sure, as a real estate developer, that we stayed engaged and involved, let’s just call it one more turn of the crank deeper or longer, than merely building a building for spec, and letting the market come in and rent it for me for whatever return I felt we needed to get. Today, and that’s part of Ro2, we’re staying into that cycle and that process much longer, meaning, we are virtually partnering with different initiatives within this district.
So, what is Ro2, with that kind of run up? Ro2 is intended to be a world-class arts district in this new formula that we’re creating.
Rick McCartney: So at the street level, you’re being very authentic to the neighborhood that’s grown there and that exists there. Tell us what kind of projects are going in in that space.
Jonathon Vento: Picture in your mind’s eye, what it is today, we have Roosevelt Row, which has its own dynamic personality and First Fridays and it’s very organic and authentic and raw and edgy; we have the light rail; we have Hance Park which is going through its own sort of $100 million public-private partnership facelift which will be this wonderful communal gathering place for music and food; you’ve got some wonderful art galleries and events. It can get kitschy, and that’s something we’re trying really hard not to do. This does not want to feel like a super block or an ultra-manufactured place. So, to answer your question, we’ve got big tall buildings next to 1909 historic homes; we have a vertical farm which is, I think, so inspiring and interesting attached to a very futuristic Class A office building; we have a film entertainment venue; we have our Cambria hotel… it has an amazing rooftop venue up on the 7th floor to embrace the glorious views we have here of the mountains and the sunsets.
Phoenix was becoming the world’s largest suburb…and now, Phoenix is really…we’ve really grown up to embrace urbanism.
Rick McCartney: Talk to us a little bit about the experience as a Phoenician walking through [Ro2]
Jonathon Vento: At the human level, at the street level, we’re creating little hidden alleyways and back little places that, as a human being, aren’t so formulaic. I’m so excited about what we’re creating, but this sense of discoverability, and the fact that we are not going to hire a signage company that says, “hey, this way to the cool thing.” The whole beauty of Ro2 and all of those wonderful artisans that are there is really letting a lot of those folks help us create this; so it’s like, you know, “hey, turn left at the neon penguin.”
Rick McCartney: Talk to me, if you would, a little bit about the incredible impact, the economic impact, of a community like this.
Jonathon Vento: Economically, we’re overpaying for it. We’re paying more, we’re rolling our sleeves up. This is hard stuff, right? You start saving 100-year-old homes and putting, sort of, new bars and restaurants into them…but I can tell you, as a technician, as a developer, it’s hard to do that. Yes there’s economics behind this, and I can tell you our formula, it’s pretty simple. It’s: 1+1+1=17. And that’s our formula for how we’re doing this, meaning you save the little house, you build the cool Cambria hotel with the rooftop bar, you do the warehouse building with a film/theater in the basement, you do some things that, perhaps, on their own, in isolation, is tough to pencil. But, in totality, when you build a large 300,000-square-foot office building, and when you build some of the larger structures that we’re going to work on, that curation of rooftops and basements and ground floors and back alleys and interesting little impactful things —
I think we’re really on point with delivering a place that, let’s just call it “Techy America” or “Corporate America,” you know, the office market, will embrace. I also know that this part of town is going through a renaissance and the solution coming forward for most developers is residential. Our approach is, if you’re going to live in a really healthy urban environment, you need a ton of stuff to do. We’re focused on everything but residential.
Rick McCartney: Talk to us about timeline. As Phoenicians, what can we expect?
Jonathon Vento: I would say timing is now. We’re under construction with some of the smaller homes, turning those right now, we have one that’s a 1919 bungalow and we’re converting it to, what I think, is one of the best restaurants, the Tuck Shop, that’s happening now; that’ll probably be open before the holidays. And the hotel breaks ground this summer, the office building, probably towards year-end this year.
I think this is Phoenix’s turn at bat to show the country, the world, how we do things here.
This is only a summary of what was discussed. In order to listen to the full podcast, click here.