Cover Story Developer of the Year 2018
he decided to go to the University of Maryland, major in electrical engineering and join the Air Force ROTC, which would still enable him to become a test pilot. “In my senior year in college,” re- calls St. John, “my mother came to me and said: ‘If you don’t stop this ying foolishness, I’m going to sell all the businesses.’ I decided to get involved in the family businesses after graduation. I quickly learned that I didn’t like manufacturing, and I didn’t like distribution; but I loved the real estate part of it – talking to tenants and even taking care of the roofs.” After several years of managing the ve buildings that his father had built, totaling 50,000 square feet, St. John wondered if he could build and lease industrial buildings as a business. He didn’t know how to develop a building at the time, so he looked for a local builder with whom to partner. In 1966, he formed a partnership with a man named Leroy Merritt . “Leroy taught me how to build,” explains St. John, “and I taught him what to build. We constructed 500,000 square feet of industrial space together over ve years in the 1960s.” St. John says that the industrial buildings of the day were painted block with railroad tracks at the back of the structures. After ve years, the men split up the partner- ship and divided the buildings, and each started his own company. Flex/R&D Development in Maryland St. John does not take credit for inventing the ex/R&D property type, a structure that can accommo- date both ofce and industrial uses,
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, middle, joined St. John Properties leaders including chairman Edward St. John, right, and president Lawrence Maykrantz at the 2017 groundbreaking ceremony for Valley Grove, a $250 million, 60-acre mixed-use destination in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
but he does claim to have been the rst to develop such a property in Maryland. “I built my rst industrial building in Columbia, Maryland,” he notes. “It was a typical industrial building with metal trim at the top. It was a front-loader, which meant there was an entrance door at the front with an 8-foot to 10-foot drive-in door. Trucks were parked out in front of the building with railroad tracks in the back.” He successfully leased his new building and planned his second one at the location. A tenant at the rst building with whom he had become friendly told St. John that he [the tenant] spent more time at the industrial building than he did at his own home and that he would like a better-looking building in which to work. He asked St. John why he didn’t install landscaping and plant a lawn in front and put the trucks in the back, among other things. After listening intently to what the tenant wanted, St. John redesigned the typical industrial building,
which became his business practice for the next 47 years. He installed a small ofce component, brick facade, large windows, a lawn and landscaping in front and moved the loading to the back. The market loved it, and the building leased quickly. If imitation is the highest form of attery, then St. John was indeed attered by other develop- ers who started to build a similar product in the market. At rst, these ex/R&D buildings were 5 to 10 percent ofce and 90 to 95 percent warehouse or indus- trial space. As time passed, tenants wanted a different conguration: the ofce component grew at rst to 25 percent and then from 70 percent to 80 percent, in some cases. “It became clear to us that there was a need for one-story ofce [buildings],” says St. John. So he moved into developing one-story ofce structures in addition to ex/R&D. The buildings were actu- ally quite similar in design to the ex/R&D, with the front and the
Reprinted with permission from Development magazine, published by NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association
DEVELOPMENT FALL | 2018
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