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Jax Daily Record Friday, Nov. 10, 201707:00 AM EST

First Coast Success: How Jacksonville developer Ed Burr overcame the greatest challenge of his life

President and CEO of GreenPointe Holdings says raising his sons defined the type of leader he wanted to be.

Two decades ago, Ed Burr created the Monique Burr Foundation for Children Inc. on the one-year anniversary of the loss of his wife.

The couple were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in Napa Valley, California, when Monique, 36, was killed Oct. 22, 1996, when a well-drilling truck blew a tire and hit their car head-on.

Burr, a well-known business and civic leader, was left to raise their 5- and 2-year-old sons.

Monique Burr was a child advocate, especially in the areas of child abuse prevention and intervention.

“I formed the foundation a year later, and we’re committed to make a difference in the lives of children,” Burr said.

Burr said the foundation has served almost 2 million children with child abuse prevention education programs, including bullying.

The experience of Monique’s death was, he said, the greatest challenge of his life.

But raising his sons defined the type of leader he wanted to be, “to make sure they could look up and see someone who knew how to make a difference,” he said.

“I could lead by example for them,” Burr said.

It also boosted Burr, a developer, even more so into civic leadership.

“I think there was a lot of motivation to get more involved civically when I lost my wife than less involved,” he said.

Building careers and businesses

Burr, who turned 61 in October, holds many positions of influence.

He is president and CEO of GreenPointe Holdings LLC, a third-year chair of the Jacksonville Civic Council, chair of the Florida State University board of trustees and former chair of the JAX Chamber and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, to which he was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Burr also served on other boards, including his appointment by Mayor Lenny Curry to the board of the JEA, the city’s utility. He stepped down from JEA in the spring.

He knows the city well.

A Jacksonville native, he graduated from Fletcher High School in 1974.

He was “by far the youngest” of four children, with a sister who was two years older and two brothers ahead of him by 14 and 24 years.

His parents were of modest means, Burr said. His father sold windows; his mother served breakfast to charter fishing boat crews in Mayport.

Burr threw 360 newspapers every morning, made pizzas at Pizza Hut and took other part-time jobs to help pay the bills.

“I worked hard as a kid,” he said. “I always had a strong work ethic.”

Burr also was an athlete. He was chosen captain of his high school baseball and football teams and was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Those might reflect leadership, but I think it just more reflected hard work,” he said.

A football scholarship took him to the University of Tampa, where he played defensive end.

“But I was small and slow compared to some of those other guys, so I knew it wasn’t going to work out,” he said.

He left midway during his first year and transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he funded his education as a waiter and bartender.

With a degree in accounting, he joined the Coopers & Lybrand LLP firm and worked in Miami and New York City.

His first client was in real estate development, and Burr said he became a real estate specialist as a result.

He decided to stay in Jacksonville after returning in 1987 to help his mother after his father died.

Ed Burr says he has no role in city decision-making, but is honored to be known as a power player.

Burr founded LandMar Group LLC in 1987.

He recalled that CPAs were respected and trusted.

“The minute I became a real estate developer, there was a switch. There was a mistrust and it was really hard for me to wrap my hands around that,” he said.

In real estate development, he said, mistakes were considered lies and deceit.

“I decided way back when we started LandMar that we would try to conduct ourselves with the highest level of character and highest level of professionalism. And I’ve tried to reflect that in my personal life as well,” Burr said.

At LandMar, he led the creation of master-planned communities. Burr also founded Hampton Golf & Lifestyles Management with M.G. Orender, former president of The PGA of America.

The group developed and managed golf courses and community recreational facilities.

LandMar wanted to develop the Jacksonville Shipyards property Downtown, although Burr sold out of LandMar in 2007 to partner Crescent Resources LLC.

Crescent and its 125 subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in June 2009 and did not develop the Shipyards.

Burr created GreenPointe Holdings LLC in 2008 as a diversified holding company to create what it calls “sustainable, high-value communities throughout the Southeastern United States.”

Its site says its team’s collective experience includes raising and investing more than $800 million to develop 100,000 acres, build 80,000 homesites and construct 30,000 homes.

Its two divisions are GreenPointe Communities and GreenPointe Homes. Hampton Golf & Lifestyles is an affiliated company.

Decision-making style

Burr, with a staff of 32, describes his management style as hiring capable, independently driven, motivated people and helping to make sure they “stay between the lines” while giving them the room they need to succeed.

His leadership style, he said, is to lead by example. “How we do business is more important than what we do,” he said.

Burr said he’s faced his “head in the teeth of the lion” many times, including during the Great Recession of 2007-09 whose effects lasted for years. He formed GreenPointe as it was taking hold.

“I’m often asked how we survived that because the odds were against us. And I tell them, I went to work every day and I did the best I could every day. And I went back the next day and did the best I could do every day. You keep doing it every day. Sometimes things turn around and get better,” he said.

Civic leadership

Burr sees Jacksonville on the verge of emerging into a first-tier city.

“We just haven’t gotten there, and I don’t think there is any one thing to blame,” he said.

In the mid-2000s, the economy soared and Jacksonville hosted the 2005 Super Bowl, gaining worldwide attention.

“Just when I think we were starting to emerge, we got knocked down like the rest of the country by the recession,” he said.

Burr said he is optimistic.

“Our current city leadership, political leadership, is strong and they have a focus on improving our Downtown and improving our city,” Burr said.

He said leadership is focused on “our Achilles heel, the poor neighborhoods, helping children get out of poverty and reducing the crime rate.”

Burr said a dynamic urban core can unite the area’s focus and pride. He and the Civic Council advocated for creation of the Downtown Investment Authority to lead redevelopment.

The Shipyards is considered a pivotal prospective Downtown Northbank riverfront project. A group led by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan is negotiating with the DIA to develop it.

“I’m certainly more optimistic today about the Shipyards than I’ve been since I controlled it. We were optimistic then,” Burr said.

‘Rolls up his sleeves’

Jacksonville University President Tim Cost will succeed Burr next year as chair of the Civic Council.

Burr said he extended his two-year term by a year while Cost chaired the JAXUSA Partnership, the JAX Chamber’s economic-development division.

“Ed is tremendously informed on the major issues of the city, and he has a considered point of view, but he leads with a lighter hand,” Cost said.

Cost said Burr takes others’ input and issues seriously, but not so much himself.

He calls it an effective leadership style.

“He incrementally adds layers of insight from the collective until we effectively ‘corner’ the best approach and outcome,” Cost said.

Cost said the work of the Monique Burr Foundation and the civic council “has risen to a new level, at least in my several years of working with him.”

Civic leader Audrey Moran is grateful that Burr led the Civic Council to endorse the expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

“He understands that was a quality of life issue in our community and an economic development competitiveness issue. I have enormous respect for Ed,” said Moran, a past chamber chair.

Moran said Burr linked arms with the chamber to become involved in what had become a contentious issue.

“He quickly said he understood this was an important issue and he would get the Civic Council onboard and he did,” she said.

City Council voted 12-6 in February to expand the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to protect the rights of the city’s LGBT residents.

“He is the kind of leader that rolls up his sleeves and gets involved,” Moran said.

Mike Hightower, chief public affairs officer at JEA, said he has known Burr for 20 years and credits him for his stint as chamber chair in 2009.

Hightower, former vice president and director of governmental and legislative relations for Florida Blue, said he served six terms as the chamber’s chair of government affairs.

Burr, the 2006 chair, told Hightower he was capable of more and put him in charge of membership.

“He took me out of my safe harbor and put together a membership team and never left my side,” Hightower said.

They exceeded expectations two years in a row, and Hightower was asked to serve as chamber chair.

Hightower said Burr intellectually and strategically works through challenges.

“He is masterful at building successful, long-term and meaningful coalitions to accomplish the goal,” he said.

Hightower called Burr tenacious, committed, charming and relentless.

“Once you become an Ed Burr friend, you can take it to the bank. He is a man of his word,” Hightower said.

Hightower said Burr has never been known to be mean-spirited or selfish.

“Ed is very comfortable in his skin,” Hightower said. “He has an incredible moral compass and I think that when he gets up and looks at himself in the mirror he knows he’s not perfect but that what he is trying to do is good.”

Hightower said those who want action on a tough issue should seek out Burr, who credits teamwork for successes.

‘I’ll accept that’

Burr’s desire to make Jacksonville a chosen place for young people to live extends to his family.

Son Austin, 26, is an accountant and senior audit associate at KPMG in Jacksonville and an FSU graduate.

Son Garrison, 23, is working on his master’s degree in accounting at FSU.

He spends time sport fishing with Austin and he golfs with Garrison and all three ski together.

A decade after Monique Burr’s death, Burr married Billie Jo Parsons, gaining a stepson and stepdaughter, Cole and Mikayla.

“Billie was a blessing. It’s wonderful that she not only embraces my family and I her two children, but she also embraced Monique’s spirit and the Monique Burr Foundation,” he said.

Asked about his reputation as a city leader with power, he responded.

“I obviously have no direct role in the city decision-making. I’ve been involved in various aspects of our city, really in a hope to make our city a better place and to make a difference,” he said.

If being called a power player is the result, “I’m honored to serve in that role.”

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