Developer Toney Sleiman says a bunch of mullet and some playful porpoises helped to persuade Tom Senkbeil to agree to redevelop the Jacksonville Landing.
Sleiman has long sought to redevelop the aging marketplace on the Northbank of the St. Johns River. He said he and other Sleiman Enterprises executives talked to their accountant in Atlanta, who recommended Senkbeil, a 41-year development veteran based there with experience throughout the Southeast.
Senkbeil said he wanted to see the Landing. They had dinner at Benny’s Steak & Seafood.
“There is the river, a beautiful day, clear, boats going by, a bunch of mullet fish and 10-12 porpoises started jumping up in front us in front of the bulkhead,” an excited Sleiman recalled.
“He looked over at me and said, ‘I’m going to do this because of these dolphin and porpoises,’” Sleiman said.
Senkbeil remembered the dinner a little differently.
“That’s probably Toney’s version,” he said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I don’t think the dolphins actually sold it.”
What sold it was the potential of the Landing.
“It’s a fabulous location on a great river with a tremendous environment to have a project like this,” Senkbeil said.
Sleiman wants to tear down and rebuild the 27-year-old marketplace with 300 apartments, parking, restaurant and retail space and possibly a boutique hotel.
Senkbeil said another factor was the nationwide trend in millennials’ desire to live in a more urban setting. Apartments at the Landing would be an opportunity to bring more young people Downtown.
An obvious third factor is Senkbeil’s experience in redeveloping Downtown properties into mixed-use and residential projects.
“I’ve done it, yes,” he said.
41 years of project experience
Senkbeil, 65, said he preferred any discussion to be about the Landing and not him.
“This project is not about it me. It’s about the project and not everything else,” he said.
But a lot of “everything else” can accumulate over 41 years of experience. Online summaries say his “real estate career includes wide-ranging experience in acquisitions, dispositions, development, asset management and joint ventures.”
He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from Auburn University in 1971 and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1973.
After working for others in the industry, he formed his own company in 1984.
It’s been a busy 30 years.
He bought out a partner and then merged with another company to form Weeks Corp., where he served as chief investment officer, executive vice president and vice chairman of the board.
He was instrumental in its initial public offering and its merger with Duke Realty to become Duke-Weeks Corp.
Senkbeil then served as president and chief operating officer of Carter & Associates before joining Post Properties in 2003 in Atlanta, where he was CIO and executive vice president.
Senkbeil was responsible for its assets and the asset management of projects from Washington, D.C., through North Carolina, Atlanta, Florida and Texas.
While Senkbeil was with Post, the company developed the Four Seasons Residences in downtown Austin and The Ritz-Carlton Residences at 3630 Peachtree in Atlanta’s Buckhead area.
It was at Post Properties that Senkbeil really developed his focus on multifamily projects. “It was my introduction to the multifamily business,” he said.
Today, PostProperties.com lists almost 60 “Post” branded communities in Atlanta; Austin, Dallas and Houston, Texas; Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; New York City; the Washington, D.C., area; Orlando and Tampa.
During Senkbeil’s tenure, all the Post developments were high-density, mixed-use urban properties. Post also sold some older suburban apartment properties, he said.
He said one of the properties Sleiman viewed was Post Alexander in Atlanta’s Buckhead area. Post developed the 307 luxury apartment home community in Buckhead and is now adding a 340-unit second phase.
Senkbeil left Post Properties at the end of 2008 and formed Senkbeil & Associates, which invests in multifamily properties and provides consulting and advisory services to investment firms, developers and lenders.
He also continued to develop in-town multifamily projects.
In 2011, he was part of a group of real estate executives who teamed with Camden Property Trust to purchase and redevelop the Camden Paces in Buckhead. Camden Property Trust owns the project.
The apartments, Townhomes, Terraces and Towers include saltwater swimming pools, a social gaming lounge and a cross-training fitness center. It should be completed by the end of this year.
Early last year, Senkbeil joined Iron Tree Capital LLC, a real estate investment and advisory firm, as a principal while continuing with his own firm.
Senkbeil said one of his more recent projects is the 401 Oberlin luxury apartments in Raleigh, N.C., in which he is a partner.
The 401 Oberlin, in the heart of Raleigh, comprises 244 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units that will be fully opened by the end of September. Its website describes amenities that include “Rooftop Terrace With Captivating City Views.”
He also knows residents like retail. He said 401 Oberlin’s retail space includes the Tupelo Honey Café, a Southern restaurant that operates in North and South Carolina, Tennessee and, next year, Atlanta.
Perhaps the Jacksonville Landing? “I’ll certainly call them.”
Senkbeil said the Landing holds similarities to 401 Oberlin, saying both are high-density projects with “high-quality multifamily properties” and structured parking.
The point man now
Sleiman wants the city to spend $11.8 million to improve the public space surrounding the two redeveloped Landing buildings, estimated at $55 million to $75 million.
As Sleiman handles the political side, lobbying City Council and working with a supportive Mayor Alvin Brown, Senkbeil will take over the project development.
“He’s my point man now. I assigned everything to him,” Sleiman said.
That includes bids, development, project construction, “everything,” Sleiman said.
“He’s going to do it. I’ve never done it,” Sleiman said.
Sleiman said he did his homework. “He is very, very, very good. He has a great reputation. We checked him out.”
Senkbeil said he met Sleiman a few months ago. “He is a very impressive person. We all work together very well,” Senkbeil said.
Steve Crosby, president of Jacksonville-based CSX Real Property Inc., met Senkbeil on the NAIOP national board in the 1990s and said they served together in one capacity or another for 10 years or so. Both are governors of the NAIOP Research Foundation.
Crosby said he hasn’t done a deal with Senkbeil, but describes him as a “good businessman, straight shooter, nice guy.”
Former newspaper reporter Tony Wilbert covered Senkbeil.
Now owner of the Wilbert Group, an Atlanta-based communications firm, Wilbert spent much of his journalism career covering real estate, including at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Business Chronicle and as editor of the National Real Estate Investor.
Wilbert said Senkbeil is a very well-established developer, quickly listing the experience with Duke, Duke-Weeks, Carter and Post Properties. ”He does what he says he is going to do.”
Wilbert said he covered Senkbeil from 1996, the year Senkbeil served as the national president of what is now known as the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association, through 2004.
“Tom is a great investment guy and is a developer and he’s worked at the premier companies in Atlanta,” Wilbert said.
“He definitely is well regarded and has been hired by the best real estate firms in the Southeast.”
Wilbert describes Senkbeil as “very intellectual with great vision.”
“He puts together a great team,” he said, noting Senkbeil’s connections from his companies. And as a CIO, “he knows how to access capital.”
“I think with Senkbeil coming in, whatever he says he’ll do, it’ll get done.”
The next steps
Senkbeil’s position is to coordinate the project, including assembling designers, contractors and the other professionals needed on what he expects will be a big team.
Last week, the Jacksonville Civic Council raised issues with Sleiman’s initial design, saying “our community should capitalize on the expertise of local and national leading architects and real estate developers by engaging in an open design process and community dialogue that brings the best and the brightest ideas to bear on this public venue.”
It called for the Downtown Investment Authority to convene a public review process. “Public investment in the Landing can only occur when a community engagement process is conducted and an iconic design is completed and presented.”
Sleiman said he and Brown had already planned to have a public meeting.
“I welcome any of our citizens or organizations to take their time and skills to offer designs and or renderings for this redevelopment plan,” Sleiman said. “We would gladly look at those submittals and consider them.”
Michael Stuebben, an architect and regional office manager with Bergmann Associates, is the principal-in-charge and leader of the design team assembled by Bergmann for the Landing concepts that were presented.
He said the concepts were a direct result of the recommendations made in the Downtown Feasibility Study prepared this year for the DIA.
“The design is conceptual at this time and the architecture will be undergoing much further development. We anticipate this process to commence soon working toward a public presentation for community engagement,” he said.
Senkbeil also will be working with the Sleiman organization on the financing, once Sleiman Enterprises receives city support and decides to proceed.
“The first thing we are doing is making sure it makes financial sense,” Senkbeil said. That decision comes simultaneously with the design phase, he said.
There are several financing possibilities he said, including using strictly Sleiman resources; forming a partnership with another entity; or seeking institutional backing, for example.
“All those possibilities are on the table at the present,” he said.
If the city approves the $11.8 million for the Landing and the deal takes off, Senkbeil will be spending more time in town.
He said he’s been here a few times, including in the past several weeks. “This will take a lot of my time,” he said.
Asked about challenges at the Landing, Senkbeil noted that it’s in an urban area, that working near a river creates its own physical challenges for construction and planning, and “we all deal with the unknown of the economy.”
Senkbeil said his hometown of Atlanta has evolved its Downtown over time with housing, retail and restaurants.
“I think there is no reason the same thing can’t happen in Jacksonville in a much smaller way,” he said.
The Landing project, he said, “will be a game-changer for the Downtown area.”
The Thomas D. Senkbeil file
Real estate career includes wide-ranging experience in acquisitions, dispositions, development, asset management and joint ventures.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering, Auburn University, 1971. Master of Business Administration, Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1973.
1973-1984: Worked for several real estate development companies.
1984-1992: Co-Founded Anderson & Senkbeil Inc., developed $3.5 million of office and industrial space in six offices parks throughout Atlanta. Merged with A.R. Weeks & Associates in 1992 to form Weeks Corp.
1992-2000: Chief investment officer and executive vice president of Weeks Corp. and vice chairman of the board. Instrumental in Weeks’ initial public offering in 1994. Expanded from two cities to nine in five years and grew total capitalization from $350 million to $2 billion. Merged with Duke Realty to become Duke-Weeks Corp. in 1999.
1996: Volunteer national chairman of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (now the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association). Previously was president of NAIOP Georgia.
2000-2002: President and chief operating officer of Carter & Associates, an Atlanta real estate firm.
2003-2008: Chief investment officer and executive vice president of Post G.P. Holdings Inc. and Post Properties Inc.; general partner of Post Apartment Homes L.P. Plays key role in Post Properties’ development of eight mixed-use communities in Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Washington, D.C.
January 2009-current: Formed Senkbeil & Associates to invest in and develop primarily multifamily and some commercial properties and provide consulting services.
January 2013-current: Principal, Iron Tree Capital LLC.