WOMEN IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
By Blithe Wiley
As one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas, San Antonio is a highly desirable market for real estate development. Its plentiful undeveloped land, low tax rate, and affordable cost of living and conducting business attract residents and businesses alike. As a result, its commercial real estate market is thriving.
Any commercial real estate project begins with ideas on paper that are transformed into a property that serves a commercial purpose. Commercial real estate includes office buildings, retail centers, industrial facilities, multifamily buildings, and other commercially oriented properties.
The process of creating a commercial property into a finished structure that is move-in ready can take one to two years or even more. The development process is complex, with numerous steps involved and the participation of a wide variety of professions. These include architects, landscape architects, lenders, site planners, attorneys, civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, interior designers, general contractors, and many more.
Following is a look at four of these participants in the commercial real estate business. Each of these women is highly successful in her profession.
Senior Vice President, First National Bank Texas
Originally from Floresville, Emily Brown began her banking career in a small community bank in her hometown, working in a variety of support roles. When she moved into a commercial lending assistant position, her interest in commercial banking was ignited. Today Brown serves as Senior Vice President for First National Bank Texas.
Brown explained that the commercial banker comes into a real estate project in the early stages after the client has met with the architect and has a project concept. “We evaluate the budget and financing options and determine if we can get the project delivered on time and on budget.”
In addition to financing and budget considerations, commercial bankers also have to be mindful of meeting all federal regulations and of being a good fiduciary partner for the client. “Regulation is an added layer of complexity for banks in structuring commercial real estate deals,” she said.
She noted that, overall, commercial lending has not slowed down during the pandemic. “If anything, it has ramped up,” Brown said. “Clients are still buying and building and making plans. Of course, hiring is a real challenge right now for everyone, including banks and the construction trades.”
Brown emphasized that some of the most complicated and challenging projects can be the most memorable. “It’s the tough deals that take a couple of years to come together that are really meaningful. It’s wonderful to see it come together every step of the way, particularly when it’s a project that changes the San Antonio skyline. A lot of grit, work, time, and effort go into making these projects come to life.”
Director of Development, LK Design Group
Kristin Savage has served as Director of Development for the LK Design Group for the past three years. This firm works with a broad range of commercial real estate clients, and Savage emphasized the importance of bringing in the design team at the earliest stages of a project.
“We assist our clients in both evaluating land sites and building concepts,” she said. “We have both architects and interior designers on staff, and we are involved from the earliest planning stages to the final punch list,” she explained.
“We begin by meeting with the client to understand their vision for the commercial building. From that, we create a schematic plan and proceed to 3D modeling,” she said. “The 3D model is a great asset in helping our clients fully understand the design concept. Then we design a development package, which the client uses to take to the banker to secure financing. Then, the plans are submitted to the City for permitting. After that, the general contractor and engineers begin work on the construction of the project.”
She describes the commercial real estate process like building a cake. “As you go through the process, you add more and more layers of people from a wide range of professions involved,” Savage said.
Like others in the industry, Savage is seeing trends in commercial real estate that are being driven by COVID. “We have a number of hospital clients, and most of them are reconfiguring their space to provide more isolation rooms, more ICU beds, and larger emergency rooms. Also, a lot of office clients are doing redesigns to better accommodate employees’ hybrid work schedules and to better space people out in the workspace.”
Civil Engineer/Civil Analyst, Kimley-Horn
For Brianna Covington, what she loves about life as a civil engineer is that every day on the job is different. The Georgia native moved to San Antonio in 2017 and works as a Civil Engineer/Civil Analyst at Kimley-Horn.
“In my role as a civil engineer, I partner with architects to ensure our design works the way it’s intended,” Covington said. “To bring our project designs to life, it requires the expertise of many types of engineers: electrical, structural, mechanical, and civil. We all work together to successfully deliver projects that meet the needs and visions of our clients.”
She notes there are still not many female engineers in the commercial real estate industry. “It’s traditionally been a male-dominated field, but it is a wonderful career path, and I love supporting young women who are interested in an engineering career,” she emphasized.
Covington encourages female engineering students to get involved with CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), where she currently serves as Director of Sponsorship. “CREW is a wonderful group of women supporting other women. Being involved with CREW has helped me feel like San Antonio is now my home,” Covington said.
A challenging scenario Covington often faces on projects is when there are several solutions to one particular construction issue. “We truly have to understand our client to determine which solution is best for them.”
“Many of my commercial real estate projects have impacted me outside of the office. I love to drive around the City and explore various projects that I have played a role in bringing together. I’m proud to see my work come to fruition.”
Interior Designer and Principal, RVK Architects
Christina Davis believes that teamwork is essential to any successful commercial real estate project. “It’s so important for the architects, engineers, and interior designers to work closely together and maintain clear communication in order to create a high performing, comfortable building that is aesthetically pleasing,” she said.
The San Antonio native has worked as an Interior Designer at RVK Architects for 20 years and today is a Partner with the firm.
Davis is passionate about making each client’s vision for their project come to life. “Once the client selects one of our design concepts, the team fine-tunes it and creates drawings to capture the building design, the engineering specifications, and the interior design intent. Then the drawings are turned over to the general contractor to construct it,” Davis explained.
Two of Davis’ most memorable commercial projects are the Lynd headquarters building in Shavano Park and the Valero Energy headquarters complex near IH-10 and Loop 1604.
“The Lynd building has a beautiful outdoor space on the roof and a color-changing elevator. It’s just a beautiful building. Valero’s campus is also beautiful. The company is such a longtime supporter of our community – we at RVK are very proud of our relationship with the company.”
Davis notes that the pandemic has caused a number of challenges in the commercial real estate industry. “One of the biggest challenges caused by COVID is the extremely long lead times on procuring construction materials,” she said.
COVID also has sparked a number of trends in commercial real estate. “COVID has really spurred people to pivot on their interior space. Clients are rethinking the layout and configuration of their workspace and are seeking increased flexibility in their spaces.”