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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Power list interview: Developer Robin Team shares tricks of the trade

 


Developer Robin Team joined High Point University President Nido Qubein in the Power List Interview, a partnership for discussions with some of the state’s most influential leaders. Interview videos are available at www.businesssnc.


 

 

Robin Team is managing partner of Front Street Capital, which has developed notable projects such as the 400 Bellemeade office building in Greensboro and Bailey South office/retail center in Winston-Salem. The Wake Forest University graduate’s company has raised  more than $200 million in equity with “zero investor losses,” the company website notes. 

Team’s sons Alston and Coleman are partners in Front Street along with Jonathan Starnes and Matt McInnis and Principal Lori Starnes. During the interview, Qubein noted that Team has done “a masterful job of bringing together the Triad region” with projects across the region.                                                       

This story includes excerpts from Team’s interview and was lightly edited for clarity.

You have tentacles across the Triad. What is your secret?

in a single word,  “relationships.” We’ve developed relationships with all the municipal bodies in the Triad. We’ve got builders, architects and engineers. We treat those folks as if we’ve been doing business with them forever — and, quite frankly, we have.

What got you into this business?

I came out of college and I went to work for BB&T for a short while. BB&T basically put me through a master’s in finance, and I found that invaluable. Then I spent a stint in the furniture business in marketing and advertising, which gave me insights into that area. Then I went to work for a local Lexington tax attorney who was also a real estate developer. He taught me the tricks of the trade.

I eventually decided I wanted to try to go out and try and do it on my own. Here we are today.

What was your first project?

We built the first building in Greensboro for Replacements Ltd. Three years later we expanded that building for them again. What a success story they have been for our communities.

How have you financed your projects?

We have a stable of investors, folks that have been very loyal to us over the years. We try and keep at least 10% of each deal ourselves. We invest right along with our investor cadre. It makes them feel comfortable. It also helps us with our bottom line.

What have been your firm’s specialties?

We started out doing an awful lot of medical office space in Winston-Salem for quite some time. We then morphed into general-purpose office space. Lately the hottest sector in real estate has been industrial, so we focused on that for the last five or six years.

The Carolina Core is seeing tremendous development demand because of Toyota Battery, Boom Supersonic, HondaJet and others, right?

We think it’s going to be a pent-up demand, quite frankly, and our focus is developing for the ancillary companies that will be suppliers and business partners of those companies. Those are going to be tremendous economic drivers. 

There are lots of smaller projects that don’t get quite the notoriety. Nucor is building a new facility in Davidson County and there are a couple of other big things on the horizon.

Do these new companies all want to be close to an airport and highways?

They certainly want to have the transportation infrastructure to be successful. For a lot of companies, rail is their single-most important component. So if you’ve got a rail site, you’ve got a real valuable commodity. 

Are you optimistic about our state and the Carolina Core? 

Yes, the Carolina Core has an industrial background and heritage that is greatly valued by the companies that are looking at our region. There are not many regions that have that background.

The two biggest drivers in where a company is going to go are the availability of land and proximity to airports and highways. The other driver  is workforce. We’ve got incredible universities in the Triad, including High Point University, right here. They turn out a lot of degrees every single year. 

Our challenge is to make sure that all of those bright young people that are coming out of schools, including our community college systems, think that the Triad is a wonderful place to live and grow and raise a family. So in addition to building industrial facilities, we try to enhance the lifestyles of the communities that we’re fortunate enough to work in. We’re building somewhat of a lifestyle center in downtown Winston-Salem that’s part of the Innovation Quarter.

Charlotte has done an incredible job with its center
city, and Raleigh, too. Is the Triad behind them?

I think we’re like the third horse coming around the last turn in a race, and they’re looking over their shoulders at us. You know, we have advantages that Raleigh and Charlotte don’t have, and I think that our industrial heritage is one of them.

Do the mega-sites provide an edge?

 Exactly right. And the workforce that has worked in the industrial facilities in the past. Our road infrastructure is second to none. I’m a fairly impatient person, and when I go to Raleigh, and certainly when I go to Charlotte, and I get cooped up in a car in traffic, it drives me crazy. We don’t have those problems here.

Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point have been anticipatory in their traffic development.  We just opened the last leg of the Greensboro loop, I believe. Ten years ago people wondered why we needed that. Today, it’s a reality and it’s going to solve the problems that traffic might have created 10 to 20 years from now. 

How do you decide on starting a project?

We built the first high-rise in downtown Greensboro in over 30 years, right beside the Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball field. When we started, we had one tenant that was going to take two floors of the nine-story building. So, it was a big roll of the dice for us. It was definitely a risky project compared to a fully-baked industrial deal that has a 10- to 15-year lease with a Fortune 500 company.

We finished the shell construction of that building about three months before this little event called COVID-19 hit, so it brought a whole different set of challenges. But we have pretty much filled that building up over the last couple of years, and it is a wonderful  opportunity with new innovative office space for folks in downtown Greensboro to look at as an alternative. 

We’ve gone through a little self-study with our company in the last year and our core purpose has been coined “Shaping the built environment to enrich our communities.” I am very proud of the young folks on our executive team for coming up with that as our main purpose, and they’re putting our communities maybe even ahead of our company.

Have you had projects that didn’t meet goals? 

We certainly had a couple of office projects that COVID slowed down. We had a little bit more capital needs toward the end of those projects as they were leased up. So, that dilutes your return on investment a little bit.

Tell us about current market conditions.

There are periods of time where you anticipate a recession, and I guess we’re in one of those times right now. If you read the newspapers every day, that seems to be the banner headline in the business sections. A lot of times, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media can sometimes talk the consuming public into a little bit of a recession. But we don’t think there is going to be a recession in North Carolina.

We don’t think there’s going to be hardly a blip in the industrial radar in the Triad because we’ve got such dynamic forces at work. We feel like the Triad is going to continue to be a very, very successful story.

You’ve built a family business. Are you still friends with your kids?  Are you paying them enough?

It depends on who you ask on any given day. I told my boys when they graduated from college that our business was an opportunity for them, but it wasn’t an obligation. And I said, “go work for somebody else for a while.  Get your nose bloodied a little bit, and then if you want to come back and work for the company, the door will always be open.” I’m lucky that they both are very talented and they both have different talents that complement each other.

I’ve got a couple of other young men who are part of our executive team that complement the two of them very well. It’s really not a family business anymore, except that everybody that works here feels like we are a part of the Front Street family.  

Why do you live in Lexington?

It’s where I grew up. My dad was an old-fashioned solo practice family doctor, and I went to Lexington Senior High School and then went on to Wake Forest. I guess I tried to move away. While I was working for BB&T, they said, “We really need you back in Lexington.” So, I moved back and grew my own roots there. It was a great place to raise a family and go to school and develop deep church roots. It’s just a quintessential small, southern town.

 

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