Placemaking from the Ground up
AdVenture Development, with headquarters in Selma, North Carolina is a multifaceted real estate company providing development, acquisitions, property management, tenant representation, and consulting services, with its primary market in the mid-Atlantic region.
AdVenture Development President and CEO Kevin Dougherty is intent on ‘placemaking,’ creating communities that people can feel good about living and working in. With the planned community of McCandless Crossing in Pennsylvania nearing completion, the company is turning its attention to the master planned community of Eastfield in North Carolina that is still in the developmental stage and is in the process of negotiating with possible future tenants.
McCandless Crossing, its first ‘built from the ground up place,’ was nine years in the making and is a 130-acre lifestyle community adjacent to the affluent town of McCandless, (population 30,000), just eight miles north of downtown Pittsburgh. Almost completed, it includes a vibrant and walkable town center with green spaces, two ponds, and four miles of sidewalks with bicycle racks. It is a place where people can enjoy free concerts on summer evenings, dine at their choice of over fifteen restaurants, and find just about every kind of retail or professional service they need.
In total, there are fifty-four businesses that have leased space in the development, including department and anchor stores such as Lowe’s Home Improvement, Old Navy, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. There are apparel and shoe stores, accessories and specialty retail such as Verizon, Ethan Allan, Deer Creek Winery and Paint Monkey. There are also health and beauty services including fitness centers and spas as well as professional services including banks, dental and chiropractic offices and tutoring at Mathnasium. The development has two hotels. Home2: Suites by Hilton has been open for some time now, while the Fairfield Inn & Suites opened this past May.
In addition, there is a residential section within walking distance of the town center, where there are currently fifty-three town houses. Each has a basement and two floors that include three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, a two-car garage and a deck or patio – depending on the elevation. Homes start at $274,990. The final phase, which Dougherty hopes to complete in 2018, nine years after he began, will be the construction of senior living accommodations and office buildings.
“We’re very proud and excited about completing the project,” he says. He describes it as “one big project – what I call the master plan, and then there’s a bunch of individual projects,” but admits that his company, with a staff of seven, could not do it all.
“I was asked recently how many people were involved, and I started going through my Rolodex, and there was well over a thousand people that had direct input into the final product. And that’s pretty amazing, so we kind of look at ourselves as the puzzle maker, and we’re just putting the pieces together, but none of this happens without the Almighty.” He acknowledges his faith through street names in McCandless Crossing like Providence and Covenant Avenue.
His vision for the community was influenced by the three vacations he spent with his family living in Irish towns and seeing people working where they lived and able to walk to fine restaurants. “But my vision was pliable, and I was able to incorporate other people’s ideas, so what I had in mind when I first set out, isn’t necessarily what we ended up with, but it’s pretty neat to see.”
Among the people whose ideas he incorporated is his business partner George Sanakeeny of Dallas, “a tremendously talented, brilliant guy, who’s been involved since the day we started.” There is the town council of McCandless, “who are very well-organized in terms of their planning commission and staff. The town manager and the planning and zoning folks were all experienced and knew what they were looking for, so we worked closely with them,” says Dougherty.
“And we talked to neighbors, like the 2,700 employees at the nearby hospital. What did they need? What would make the community better for them? One of the things they said they needed was a really good hotel, so we got them two. Then there’s Jaye Murphy, our retail leasing agent with Echo Development – he’s one of our consultants. And there’s engineering design firm, R A Smith; Design Stream and DRS, our architects. And really good contractors such as P. J. Dick, the Continental Group, the Bridges Company, and the Dynamic Building Corporation. There’s our bank, Dollar Bank in Pittsburgh – this kind of development doesn’t happen unless the bank works with you as a key partner and HFF as our financial consultant.”
With the McCandless Crossing project almost complete, AdVenture Development is set to do it again with Eastfield, except this time it will be closer to home in Johnson County, the fastest-growing county in North Carolina. It is next to the Raleigh Metropolitan Area, the fastest-growing city in the country. And, at three hundred acres, Eastfield will be triple the size of McCandless Crossing.
“Hopefully it will provide between three to five thousand jobs,” he says. “In McCandless Crossing, we’ll end up with somewhere north of two thousand jobs, when all is said and done. So these places become a real employment base as well as places that contribute to people’s sense of well-being and lifestyle, and when people are happy with their environment, it makes a big difference to their output,” shares Dougherty.
“We haven’t broken ground with Eastfield yet,” he says, “and we’re still in the master planning stage, but we’re working hard to make it happen. I see the Eastfield property as being another mixed-use development that would consist of retail, medical offices, senior living, along with multi-family and single residential homes and a business park. Everything from flex space to warehouses and distribution and manufacturing. And definitely hospitality – three hotels with multiple restaurants, so similar to our project at McCandless Crossing,” he says.
“So, this is a whole community we’re building. When we create Eastfield, it’s going to have its own sense of place, and we’ll take all that exists around it and try to incorporate that into our plan. We’re not there to compete with what’s already there, but to complement and really add to it. People want to be able to live, work, play in the same area, so conveniences and services are important, and we want to put all of that together in one community to serve everybody. We’re even studying the idea of putting in an ‘agrihood’ which would include a small farm within the residential part and having a farmer’s market as part of the farm to table concept. That’s something we really want to implement if we can.”
Prior to establishing AdVenture Development, Dougherty was a founding partner in a regional development company based in Pittsburgh for almost fifteen years. During that time, that company developed roughly two million square feet of real estate, with a value more than $200,000,000, and developed relationships with national tenants such as Lowes, Wal-Mart, Target, BJ’s, and Golden Corral.
When he and his partner sold their portfolio in 2004 to a real estate investment trust, he says he was trying to figure out what to do next. “I thought I was going to be a college basketball coach, but that dream died pretty quick,” he admits ruefully and decided to start another company.
“We were sitting around the dining room table, and I said to the kids, ‘What are we going to call it?’” His sons are twins, now age twenty-two and both recently commissioned second lieutenants about to report for active duty, and they came up with the name. “They said, ‘Dad, you’re always taking us on adventures,’ and I thought, ‘That’s a good idea,’ and because all of our deals have been joint ventures, we capitalized the V, so it had a sort of double entendre. And business really can be an adventure. It has its ups and downs, but it’s been a lot of fun. I feel very fortunate to wake up every day and work on what I want to do and who I want to work with. We’ve got great employees to help make things happen, so we’ve been blessed,” says Dougherty.
“It’s very satisfactory to see an idea and a concept go from paper to real life and to see people’s lives changed as a result of having a place to be employed. It’s rewarding to create an environment that stays relevant, even when things are changing at a rapid pace. We’ve got all these devices and communication is significantly improved, but people still want to meet and have fun and enjoy one another’s company,” he says.
“So creating environments where people can do that is really what we’re doing in this placemaking business. We’re creating places that are safe to live, to work, and to enjoy family and friends. We’re very family-oriented,” he says. His wife Hope is a novelist, and his daughter works for him from New York where her fashion designs are creating a buzz under the Anna Grey Designs label.
“So it’s really the family environment that’s important to me. For example, I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing someone post their photos of grandma’s birthday at BJ’s Brewpub (at McCandless Crossing). There were three or four generations having dinner and a glass or wine or a beer and just enjoying sharing and spending time together.”
And that to Dougherty is what ‘placemaking’ is all about.