His father, John Jacob Priester I – like Jay’s grandfather – is a long-established Charlotte chiropractor with offices on East Seventh Street in Elizabeth. But you can call him John.
And his son, John Jacob Priester III, is 20 months old, and in the words of his father is “managed by his mom,” Katie Priester. But you can call him Jack.
On the Level interviewed Jay, who is 30, in the front seat of his SUV, parked on Rocky Ford Club Road on the construction site of Cambridge’s 21-acre small-retail Huntersville Market project at Eastfield and Prosperity Church roads. He was there to meet with Mecklenburg County Erosion Control inspectors.
We had exactly 45 minutes. Priester said he had to scoot to check in on the other projects on his roster: Beaver Farms, a 17-acre retail center off the Albemarle Road exit from Interstate 485 near Mint Hill; and Harris Station, a 40-acre retail development still in the Harrisburg land-use process that has already signed a lease with a major grocery store chain, “but I can’t say who yet.”
Here is an express edition of OtL with Jay Priester.
Well, Mr. John Jacob Jingleheimer Priester, Mr. You Can Call Me Ray, You Can Call Me Jay, how long you been at this? I got into this this job with Cambridge Properties right out of N.C. State. While in college, I worked with a residential developer in Raleigh, and got to know what he did on the residential side. As soon as I got out of school, I met George Maloosian – he started Cambridge around 1990, doing commercial development, mostly retail – and I came in on the end of the development across the street from here, Eastfield Village, and helped to do three buildings there before we sold it. We have one more parcel that will be a Pep Boys. We liked the area so much, we came back. George started me out looking at land, doing land acquisition. Now I’m the vice president of development and leasing.
They have a pretty good real estate-development management program at State. I got a bachelor’s in agricultural management.
What does that mean? More or less, it means the economics of commodities, trading everything from crude oil to corn.
Like at the Chicago Trade Mart? Pork bellies? Them’s good eatin’. Exactly. Trading meat. It actually works well with being in commercial development today. So much of the land we acquire is agricultural land; that’s what we acquire here in Charlotte and Raleigh. There’s also the economics side of it. You find developable land, but you also have to know how to underwrite the project, and my degree ties in with a lot of the financial side of the business. There are land costs, development costs, buildings costs and soft costs, like development fees and doing offsite development of public infrastructure. This road we’re on is a public road, and we get the pleasure of building it.
Ha. That’s the way of the future now that the government is broke. Privatize everything. The interesting thing about this business is there’s not one thing you do. One day, I’m reading legal documents. The next day, I’m onsite working with the general contractor. The next, I’m working with the engineers. Then I’m building tenant relationships on build-to-suits. The next day I’m maintaining municipal relationships. Then I’m talking to lenders on the financial end. There are a multitude of tasks that keep my interests. You have to think really hard every day. It’s constantly challenging.
How’s business? Retail has been behind other development. Apartments have been booming and single-family residential is coming back, though there have been challenges there. Private developers have been having a hard time getting financing to buy land. Now you see these big, publicly traded corporations – the M/I Homeses, the Lennars, the D.R. Hortons, the Pultes, and now Meritage Homes is coming into the market – they’re having to go in and self-develop. They’re sitting on millions and millions in cash. They’ve bought up all the lots, and now they’re looking for land to self-develop. So it’s a slow process to start retail back up. Another thing I think we’re going to see more of is more and more retail redevelopment, a lot of infill and reuse, like that Wal-Mart at Independence and Eastway. That used to be one of those old, crappy (shopping) centers, and they tore it down and put in a new Wal-Mart. We’re looking at doing that kind of thing. We’re also looking to buy into existing retail. We just closed in the last two weeks on an Advance Auto Parts. We’ll pick up different things if they’re the right fit.
It sounds like you do “do everything.” What does the owner of the company do? He’s busy sailing. I came along at just the right point in his life.
So basically he owns it and you run it? Let’s just say it keeps me busy.