Retail broker hopeful city can lead recovery

Retail broker hopeful city can lead recovery
Real estate for merchandisers is cyclical, she says, and this downturn like early ’90s.
By Caroline Wilbert

For the Journal-Constitution

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ray Uttenhove, one of the most successful retail real estate brokers in Atlanta, has spent nearly 30 years in the business.

She has experienced plenty of ups and downs in the market and says the current downturn isn’t any worse than what she saw in the early ’90s, one of several tough times in the industry during her career. She is optimistic that Atlanta will lead the real estate recovery and says there are good business opportunities even in today’s economy.

“You have to put it in perspective,” said Uttenhove, who has brokered leases for retailers including T.J. Maxx/ HomeGoods, Barnes & Noble and Home Depot. “We always think the sky is falling, and it could never be worse than it is right now. I know we will work our way through it.”

Q: Atlanta has more retail per resident than most big cities. Why is that?

A: The demographics are incredible. It is a young, vibrant, growing city. It is the mecca for the Southeast. It is an economic center. People love living here. People move to Atlanta, they get transferred to Atlanta, and they don’t want to leave. All of that is very appealing to retailers. We have a rap that we have way too much retail here, and we do. We advise retailers, if you are coming into Atlanta, you better be on your game. You can’t just stick your toe in the water. You have to come in with a presence and do it right because there is competition here. Nevertheless, all the things that make Atlanta great are the reasons that retailers want to be here.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about the Streets of Buckhead project (the luxury retail development under way in Buckhead Village) and if and when it will actually happen. How important is this project to the local retail market?

A: Every great city has a dynamic retail zone that has street retail. You have to have that special place that is not a mall. We have some great malls. We don’t have a great street retail district. I really think that Buckhead Village is that perfect opportunity. I think the redevelopment that is going on in Buckhead Village is going to be a very important part of the community. It is going to be an important destination. The Streets of Buckhead is part of that. It will be the luxury piece. I know that with the economy, there may be some changes to the original plans, I haven’t seen them, but I think you can count on the fact that Buckhead Village is going to be a significant shopping destination.

Q: In general, when do you think that new retail development will start again?

A: For the next 12 to 18 months, the focus is going to be on redevelopment, reworking properties, remerchandising properties, taking existing shopping centers and figuring out how to take it to the next level. By 2011 and 2012, we hopefully will be back to some new development, although I think the approach is going to be more cautious, more in tune with the market.

Q: Generally, commercial real estate is an industry made up mostly of men. What kind of advice would you give women who want to go into this field?

A: The commercial real estate business is an incredible profession. If you look around the industry today, there are some extremely successful women in every aspect of it. There are huge advantages, particularly doing what I do, which is the brokerage business. You don’t have to deal with a lot of the corporate politics and all of the issues that women have to manipulate their way through. You just go out and produce, and there are thousands of opportunities and ways to do that.

Q: What about young men or women who are afraid to enter the business because of the current economy?

A: A lot of people say to me that they want to be in the commercial real estate industry, but it is a terrible market, so do I do it now? I always say, if you want to get in the real estate business, you have to be prepared that it is a cyclical business. You have to figure out how do you thrive in up markets, down markets, how do you bring value and make money, whatever the cycle. If you can’t do that, then don’t get in the business. It is hardest to get a job in the real estate business right now. At SRS partners, we are growing right now. We are selective because we can be and we have to be. It takes someone special. But I say if you are a young person or interested in a career change, it is a great profession.


> Residence: Ansley Park

> Family: Husband, John; dog, Lulu; lots of nieces and nephews.

> Last book read: “The Soloist” by Steve Lopez.

> Passion: Music (Uttenhove serves on the board of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which she says has opened up a whole new world of music to her.)