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On the Level: Kenny Smith knows real estate, but wants to talk politics

CHARLOTTE — He’s a relative youngster, 39, and he’s a novice politician running for his first public office, but Kenny Smith has already learned the ABC’s of politics: Always Be Campaigning.

In addition to being a candidate in the Republican primary next fall for the District 6 Charlotte City Council seat being voluntarily vacated by Andy Dulin, Smith is a successful and visible commercial real estate broker. His work, not his politics, qualifies him for an On The Level interview.

A ginger-haired, tie-wearing, grinning-for-the-camera native Charlottean, he tried to control the interview, steering it back to how much he loves his district.

But we’re telling his story for him. Here’s what he said at the conference table at New South Properties, where he works.


Tell us about work. I’m a broker. I focus on primarily office representation, some retail and restaurant work, both for sale and for lease. As a company, we manage 900,000 square feet, but I do no building management.


Tell us about business. It’s not as bad as it was. We’re seeing more activity than we were. We’re getting more phone calls, and tenants are making longer commitments than a couple of years ago. Which means they might not be growing but they’re feeling more stable. That’s a positive. As a city, we’re trending in a better direction, but there are still pockets of instability, but they are pockets that were not doing that well during the boom – Crown Point and east markets and the university areas. There were no precipitous drop-offs there, so there is no recovery. But, again, as a city we have weathered the storm better than most.


How do you reckon that? The banks — and the city — took a real hit during the financial meltdown. The Charlotte economy is spread out enough that it keeps us from getting pounded as some other areas. Energy, transportation.


Give us a rundown on your career. Has it always been commercial real estate? I started at Charlotte Pipe and Foundry. Well actually I started out in Charlotte. I’m a Charlotte native and moved into District 6 in 1980 with my family. I went to Myers Park High and then to Chapel Hill, where I graduated in ’96, in communications.


So you were going to be a journo and finked out? That is funny, isn’t it? I went right into commercial real estate, in Raleigh, but I wanted to be back home, so I came back in ’97. That’s when I spent 7½ years with Charlotte Pipe, the last four as regional sales manager for the Northeastern U.S., 11 states. In June of ’05, commercial real estate came almost by happenstance. I was meeting with David Goode of NIA Southern. I thought it was an informational session. Two or three days later, I got an offer letter that was too good to refuse. It was great way to get started. I came here in 2011 — it was another offer that was too good to refuse. This firm is an industry leader in North and South Carolina. It wasn’t a great salary, but it was too attractive.


So you’re on a salary and commissions? That’s not too bad. No, it’s 100 percent commission.


Right. No salary is not a great salary. Tell us about District 6, which along with 7 is South Charlotte and safely Republican. It’s not just a place for me to live, it is my home, from age 7. Well, technically, they didn’t have districts when we moved there. Save for that year in Raleigh, I’ve been here.


And those four years at UNC. My home address was still here. I have deep roots, and that’s spread throughout the district. Whether it be Montibello or Woodbridge or Beverly Woods or Barclay Downs. I feel as invested in those neighborhoods as my own.


You’re getting into campaignspeak. Can we read anything into the fact that you and Andy Dulin are both real estate brokers? He’s in residential at Cottingham Chalk Hayes. Andy helped us get a additional warning light at Runnymede (Lane) and Barclay Downs (Drive) — it’s a difficult intersection to see. That’s government having an impact on constituents. Some people say that if you run at-large, you don’t have those worries. Andy is a constituent-server. He lists his cell number on the city website. He has set a high bar. He’s taught me that you’re not going to please everybody. If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything. People are looking for principled leaders. As for the real estate thing, that’s purely coincidence. I want to put my 17 years of business experience in the service of. . .


Hold it. You’re stumping again. Let’s talk specifically about issues instead. Specifically development issues, which are high on the City Council agenda. We have multiple stakeholders in the real estate and development community. You have developers who spur growth. You have neighbors who live in and around areas being developed and redeveloped. My background will help me find win-win situations for both. The tree ordinance for example (which requires developers to plant so many trees per acre). Whether you agree or not, if you go to the tree committee and the stormwater committee, and you have to do both, there are overlapping ways — conflicting ways — on how you proceed. That could be streamlined. And it’s my understanding that the city staff is in agreement with that, but the council is not in favor. I’m not suggesting no regulations; I am suggesting smart ones.

You have anything to say to the readers of The Mecklenburg Times? Vote for Kenny Smith.

OK. That’s strike three. We’re done. And thanks.


BROWN can be reached (704) 247-2912, [email protected], or on Twitter at @tonymecktimes.

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