David Ravin’s path to apartment-industry leadership

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David Ravin, one of North Carolina’s most active apartment developers, gave a fun talk about his career during a virtual seminar this week sponsored by UNC Charlotte’s business and architecture schools.

He showed some deprecating humor, noting that it took him five years to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Charlotte university. One reason, he said, is that he received a C in a class taught by Ken Lambla, the architectural school’s founding dean. Lambla, a 37-year veteran at UNCC, listened in and asked a question after Ravin’s talk.

Ravin later earned a master’s degree in architecture and urban planning at Michigan and a master’s in real estate at MIT before joining the Charlotte-based Crosland development company in 1998. He specialized in apartments, serving as the lead developer of the Birkdale Village mixed-use development in north Mecklenburg, which has thrived for many years.

After leaving Crosland amid the 2007-09 recession, he started Ravin Partners in 2011, building an 80-employee company. Realizing he needed an equity partner — “the key to development is equity” —  he formed a joint venture with New York-based Northwood Investors.

Northwood Ravin now has 350 employees and projects in six states, ranking as the second-largest apartment developer in the Raleigh-Durham market last year and fourth-largest in Charlotte, Ravin says. The company has been involved in about $3 billion of projects, developing about 10,400 units nationally.

In 2013, Northwood Ravin sold seven projects in Charlotte, Cary and Raleigh to an Ohio real-estate investment trust, figuring that the apartment market had peaked. “How wrong we were,” he says, noting that apartment values have continued to escalate.. “We wish we had held on to everything.”

Ravin dismissed the popular image that all developers live Trump-like lifestyles. “If you are in it for the money, that’s a nonstarter for me,” he says of his hiring approach. “The coolest thing is that you are leaving your fingerprints on the built environment for a long time … You should go to Wall Street if it’s just about the money.”

Northwood Ravin’s projects include the 555 Mangum office building next to Durham Bulls stadium, which Ravin notes “we couldn’t have delivered at a worse time” earlier this year when the pandemic hit. Leasing interest is starting to pick up, he says. “We think it will stand the test of time.”

In Charlotte, the company is partnering with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance on a downtown 15-story apartment building on West Trade Street. In south Charlotte, Northwood Ravin plans the first high-rise apartment project outside of the downtown or SouthPark markets with a 16-story building in Ballantyne Corporate Park, which is owned by Northwood Office. Both projects  are scheduled to open next year.

As for the professor quizzing the student, Lambla asked Ravin for his view on designing sustainable structures. While lenders and building codes now demand environmentally sound projects, Ravin said the issue “comes and goes in waves … When times are good, it’s important,” he said. “But when we hit these recessions, it becomes less important and every dollar counts.”

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