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Real Estate Leadership Lecturer Stresses Client Focus, Innovation, and Community

Chip Akridge, founder and chairman of the commercial real estate firm bearing his name, delivered the Annual Real Estate Leadership Lecture before an audience of George Mason real estate students, alumni and industry professionals last May 1 at Founders Hall in Arlington.   Chip founded his firm in 1974 and since then, Akridge has acquired, developed, or entitled more than 14 million square feet of office, industrial flex, residential, retail, and entertainment space in the metro area.

“I began my career working as a laborer in a shopping center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee when I was 13,” recalled Chip. “I had technical jobs; grass cutting, restroom cleaning, running a sharp pointed shovel, to name a few.  That experience was invaluable and taught me about property management literally from the bottom up. I can almost directly connect my achievements today to what I learned in that first job.”

Chip began working in Washington DC with Quadrangle Development, before starting his own firm during a tough period in the real estate industry in the mid-1970s. “I wondered then if the company would even survive,” said Chip. “But I knew to stick to my fundamental principles. My mother taught me at an early age that if you are going to do something, do it well, do it first class, and strive to be the best at whatever you do. I made that mentality a core principal at Akridge.”

700 Sixth Street NW

Akridge has been known as an innovator in the local real estate industry.  The company had been among the first developers to embrace sustainable design and operation of its properties.  The company delivered the first LEED Platinum building in DC, 700 Sixth Street, NW which also features one of the first green roofs installed in region. Akridge was the first company in DC to perform indoor air quality testing and one of the first to use an automated energy management system.

The company has also pioneered incorporating technology in its properties.  One of its properties was the first commercial building to install a multi-carrier wireless system for coverage in all the offices, plus five stories of underground parking, and in the elevators.

25 M Street SE: A proposed development

Chip also insists on a strong customer focus from his staff.  “I never refer to the people who use our buildings as tenants – I call them our clients,” he said.  Akridge pays attention to changes in client preferences to design and operate buildings that meet their business and worker needs.  The company carefully designs onsite amenities for its clients.  Its new office developments not only offer a fitness facility and roof deck, but also offer common conference space, catering kitchens, and lounges.   Akridge was the first company in DC to engage concierge services in office buildings.

“One major future change will be WELL/HEALTHY-rated buildings,” predicted Chip. “ Whereas in the past developers focused on a building’s efficiency, we are now designing buildings to improve occupant comfort and enhance health and wellness.”

Chip also leads the commercial real estate sector in regulatory, legislative, and financial changes in Washington, DC. He was the first to use the “Woodies Act,” which enables developers to lease the air-rights above and below a public area in order to join properties.  Chip was also the first to use the DC Tax Increment Financing Program to build a mixed-use complex that revitalized the city’s downtown core. He worked closely with the city government to develop innovative legislation that created the housing linkage program, Business Improvement Districts, and regulatory guidelines to improve the water quality of the Anacostia River.

Chip had some career advice to the students and young professionals in the audience. “When it comes to your own real estate careers, my advice to you is to learn firsthand how real estate physically works and doesn’t work – in property management, in building operations, and in construction,” he said. “ I mentioned earlier that I started my career helping the property management team at a shopping center. What I learned there about building operations and client service was irreplaceable. It served as the building blocks for my career and for my company. “

He encouraged the audience to become involved in preserving the well-being of our region.  One of his civic contributions is as the founder and chairman of the Trust for the National Mall, a non-profit created to assist the National Park Service to restore and improve The National Mall.

“I also recommend that you ask yourself how you can contribute to our region,” said Chip. “Washington, DC is an extraordinary city and its people are truly first-rate. I am extremely thankful for all I have received and want to do what I can to make it a better community for all. “

“One of my proudest accomplishments is founding the Trust for the National Mall, the largest public-private partnership in the history of the National Park Service,” continued Chip. “The Trust has enabled the Mall to improve its infrastructure, restore national landmarks, and preserve America’s Front Yard, making a more beautiful and sustainable National Mall. Founding the Trust stemmed from my love of my country, this city, and the environment. “

The event was hosted by the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship whose mission to provide educational programs for academic and industry audiences and to be the university’s platform for research and discussion on relevant research topics.  Information on the Center can be viewed at http://business.gmu.edu/realestate/.  The Center also supports the George Mason Masters in Real Estate Development program.  More information on the program can be viewed at http://business.gmu.edu/masters-in-real-estate-development/.  The Real Estate Leadership Lecture is sponsored by the Ballston Improvement District.

Photos from Akridge

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