A Conversation with Gene Bodycott: From “Crazy” to Genius – A Story of Staying True to a Vision

This is the sixth in a series of discussions about corporate courage with leading developers in Charlotte. This newsletter talks to Gene Bodycott, executive vice president and broker-in-charge at New Forum. When Gene embarked on Ayrsley in southwest Charlotte, many of his colleagues said he was nuts. It was 1996, and Charlotte’s hubs were centered on uptown, South Park and near the airport. Bodycott had assembled 180 acres of industrial space, and with the help of a Miami-based visionary land planner, Gene came up with the idea of creating a pedestrian-friendly town center with retail, businesses and residences. The city envisioned an industrial complex with railroad tracks. A former architect with Odell Associates, Gene stayed true to his vision, and over 20 years has built a thriving, five million-square-foot mixed-use smart growth community.

After first being labeled crazy for his ideas, Bodycott and Ayrsley are now described as visionary and genius.

During our conversation, Gene also shared his pride of being part of Charlotte, and recalled how when he was a young architect, he called up Ed Crutchfield and Hugh McCall and asked for some of their time. They didn’t know him, but they agreed to meet. Gene asked them: “If you were me, what would you do?” He recalled they would kick up their feet on the table and say, “Look, this is where the city is heading,” or “Look, this is where the bank is heading, let me give you some insight and this is how you’re going to capitalize on it.” He remains appreciative of that supportive spirit today.

John Culbertson: If it was Groundhog Day, what project would you choose to do over and over again?

Gene Bodycott: The Ayrsley development because of the impact that it has on the people who live and work there. The development started off with a two-acre acquisition of industrial land to build a 25,000 square foot flex building in 1996. Soon thereafter, we had control over of 180 acres and had brought in a world-class town planner from Miami named Andres Duany. Duany’s firm showed that this property was in the middle of the second-largest employment center in the Carolinas, but that there was no town center, and that’s where the opportunity was. It’s exciting that as Charlotte becomes an 18-hour city, that Ayrsley is in the pulse of it. When I comes to work in the morning, I see people walking their dogs and leaving to go to work, and other people taking those people’s parking spaces.

JC: Tell me about the ‘oh shit’ minute at Ayrsley

Real estate transactions can be fraught with frustration and pitfalls.

Sometimes the hardest part turns out to be working with your broker, the person who is supposed to help you through the complexities. Veteran commercial real estate broker and client advisor John Culbertson discovered that brokers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of their clients. He realized there was a better way to advocate for clients and get the deal done.


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