Developer Embraces Industry Changes
Katherine Bonnafé, the CEO of retail property developer Combined Properties, addressed students, alumni and faculty of the George Mason Masters in Real Estate Development (MRED) program during the launch of the spring semester last January 17. Bonnafé encouraged the students to embrace change as the one constant throughout their careers in the real estate industry.
Combined has an extensive $1 billion portfolio comprised of 40 retail and mixed-use properties in the Washington D.C. metro area and Southern California. The company has another six million square feet of current projects under development. “We have looked at the changes impacting our business – technology, regulation, the economy, the millennials and boomers, the internet, climate change, and many others,” said Bonnafé. “Our company adopted a new business paradigm to respond to an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.”
Through this new business paradigm, Bonnafé led Combined in transforming their traditional strip retail shopping centers into mixed-use projects with higher density and more complexity in design, construction, and operation.
One such project underway is the $150 million Scout on the Circle in the City of Fairfax, with frontage on two major roads, Fairfax Boulevard (Route 50) and Lee Highway (Route 29). The project replaces the old Fairfax Plaza Shopping Center, single-story retail strip center which was built in the 1960s and previously anchored by Staples. Scout on the Circle features 400 Class A apartment units, 29,000 square feet of small shop retail, and will be anchored by a 54,000 square foot Giant Food grocery store. Scout on the Circle will deliver in early 2021.
Another transformative project that recently broke ground is the $135 million South Alex in Alexandria on Route 1. The 10-acre project features 400 Class-A apartment units, townhomes, and 44,000 square feet of retail anchored by a 20,000 square foot ALDI grocery store, all within walking distance from the Huntington Metro Station. The project replaces the 50-year old Penn Daw Plaza retail strip center and will deliver in the summer of 2021.
“You should embrace change to be better real estate professionals and leaders,” advised Bonnafé to the real estate students and young professionals in the audience. “Be a lifelong learner, push yourself outside your comfort zone, and never be bored. Be a problem solver and learn to listen to the people you work with. Own your mistakes and learn from them. Wrestle your ego to the ground – get help when you need it and be of service to your co-workers when you can. Above all, prioritize your integrity and character – in the end, it’s all you really have.”
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