Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: A Different Kind of Real Estate Development

Bank drafts and internal rate of return mean nothing when the real return on investment is measured in client satisfaction.

I write this blog from one of three vans stuffed with tools and building supplies departing from Compass Church in Colleyville—the start of our nine hour drive to the Mexican border city of Reynosa. We are the Power Team, forty guys that set aside one week a year to build a school project in Mexico. This is a different kind of real estate development for me. Our “clients” are kids who pay us with smiles and hugs, no bank drafts required.

This year, our project is to construct a classroom building at school called the Blue School, which is supported by Rio Bravo Ministries. It’s a working class neighborhood, with dusty gravel streets, the sound of bleating goats competing with the shouts of kids playing. Our job will be to frame walls, hoist trusses into place, install electrical, wood siding, and a roof. No problem! And lots of painting, which will stubbornly remain on our arms for days to come. We will be sure to stop and play with the kids, get to know names and faces and hearts, and ourselves as well.

These kids have a capable “project manager” in Ray Hanson, the founder of Rio Bravo Ministries. The trash-filled lot behind a maquiladora that Ray started with thirty years ago has grown into a children’s home, elementary, middle, and high school serving four hundred kids. That’s a modern day miracle. Ray will tell you that leaving a comfortable teaching career and home in Garland for Reynosa might sound like insanity, with challenges that might have seemed insurmountable. But God had a plan for him to help these kids, and he has done as directed, with only the occasional “you’ve got to be kidding.”

But it is God who is the developer on these projects. He sets the mission and inspires the team to accomplish great things well beyond our meager capabilities. The internal rate of return is zero by Dallas standards, but an infinite return in the bigger picture. The kids watch us work, sometimes helping by holding a drill or hammering a nail. When we gather them around to see their new classroom, the joy and gratitude are amazing. Every real estate development is all about client satisfaction, and these projects are a winner every time with the kids.

Now that’s my kind of client.

Mike Kennedy is a Principal at Altera Development, the developer of the Delta by Marriott Hotel and Watters Creek Convention Center in Allen, and Senior Vice President Capital Markets at Avison Young Real Estate.

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