The Conversation about Charlotte Corporate Courage with Tracy Dodson: Fostering Leadership While Building a Better Charlotte

This is the fifth in a series of seven discussions about corporate courage with leading real estate developers in Charlotte. This newsletter talks to Tracy Dodson at Lincoln Harris. Tracy is on point for Lincoln Harris on many fronts, but a large part of her day is leading the 194-acre Rea Farms development, located at the hottest 485 interchange. The highly anticipated mixed-use project is planned to have as much as 700,000 square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet of retail space, 500 multifamily units, 300 senior-living units, 200 single-family homes, a recreational facility, a day-care facility and a new K-8 magnet school.

Tracy embraces a collaborative approach when tackling projects, an uncommon strategy in an industry commonly driven by top-down decision making. Her focus on teamwork includes fostering leadership within her ranks and pursuing projects that are a good fit for the greater community.

Tracy studied architecture at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and real estate and urban development at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Prior to assuming her current role at Lincoln Harris, she worked for the city of Charlotte, where she promoted light rail, and she served as Director of Economic Development for Charlotte City Center Partners.

John Culbertson: Tracy, pretend it is groundhog day, and you had to relive the same development day after day, what project would it be?

Tracy Dodson: Well, there are public sector projects that I did and then there are private sector projects that I did. If public, I would say the Southern Light Rail line. If private, the Rea Farms project is truly a lifetime-type development that I will always look upon fondly.

JC: Focus on the private sector for a minute. Why Rea Farms?

TD: Well, like Rea Farms, the Southern Light Rail line involved a lot of coordination with the City to do a good thing. For me, I have to be doing something right for the community to get excited for a project. When we were asked by the Rea’s to partner with them, it was obvious to me that this was an opportunity to do something special for the area’s stakeholders. The Southern Rail Line was the number one thing done in the past ten years to shape Charlotte. I believe that Rea Farms, and other projects that we are working on at Lincoln Harris, will have a similar impact to their submarkets.

JC: At what point were you committed to Rea Farms?

TD: It happened early in the project. The family was relying on us and the City started getting on board with us to do something special at the interchange. Early in the project there was this feeling of trust which allowed everyone to move quickly in the same direction.

JC: Where there any “oh shit” moments or sleepless nights?

TD: Absolutely! Johnny Harris has been an amazing mentor to me. We’ll leave a meeting and I think, well, that’s it. This project is dead. There is no way we can get through this one, then Johnny will smile and provide clarity on the path forward. Think about it: 200 acre parcels do not get rezoned everyday in Charlotte…especially when there was a contraversial 98 acre development under construction across the street (Waverly development) that recently got rezoned!

JC: How did the team that you have around you give you the courage to lead the way on Rea Farms?

TD: It’s a funny thing, people that I come across, mostly men, covet the title of developer. There is this traditional mind-set that the developer is the person who puts on the football uniform everyday and plows through the project. Certainly there are times that I don the armor of the rugged individual to get things done, but more times than not, I play the roll of the cheerleader. I can’t do this project alone – you got to understand that Rea Farms is an overwhelming project with an enormous amount of complexity. To get this done, I have stressed to all of our consultants – engineers, architects, traffic, brokers, project managers – that they are accountable not only for results, but for a passionate level of execution that results in a highly creative development so that the family, and the stakeholders, can feel very good about the end product. It’s my belief that, more times than not, the role of the developer is to be the development team’s cheerleader, not the traditional “buck stops me developer” persona.

JC: You have made great progress. It sounds like you did it for all the right reasons and you have an effective management style. Are you ready to do an even bigger project?

TD: Early in my career I didn’t have an appreciation for how long it takes to develop a project like this. It will take nearly 15 years from start to finish. My future projects will have even more of an positive impact on the region in which we live. There are lots of little “wins” that happen all the time, but the most important thing is to be excited about the vision of what you developing and to be passionate about what you are doing for your City.

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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