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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 16, 202105:10 AM EST

John Carey: 'Your integrity is all you've got'

The executive is retiring after 40 years in real estate development.

It’s not just who you know. It’s how you treat them.

Retiring Jacksonville real estate executive John Carey can track his development career of 40 years to the people who introduced him to the decision-makers, and he built it from there.

Jobs, deals, reputation.

“John is exceptionally talented at developing land and projects but also in developing and maintaining relationships and connections,” said Carol Thompson, retired executive vice president and board member emeritus of Baptist Health.

“He is respected for his business acumen and, as important, for his integrity and fairness,” she said, having worked with him in developing Baptist Medical Center South in Flagler Center in South Jacksonville.

That’s how he rolls.

“You have to do the right thing,” Carey said, asked his advice and strategy.

“Your integrity is all you’ve got.”

Aligning interests

Carey, formally G. John Carey III, is “easing out” of four decades in commercial real estate at year-end, retiring as executive vice president of VanTrust Real Estate LLC.

The 66-year-old spent the past 23 years in Jacksonville, but he started it in Tampa by cold-calling his way into the industry.

Carey is the oldest of four children and the son of an Air Force major general who was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

Carey was in college earning a business administration and accounting degree when his parents transferred to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

That was one reason he launched his career there. His wife, Ann, was an interior designer in nearby Sarasota.

Carey graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent five years with what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers as a certified public accountant in Tampa.

Carey viewed working at an accounting firm as a stepping stone into sales and marketing.

He knew someone who knew someone who could make that happen.

A friend worked with the Dallas-based Trammell Crow Company national development, leasing and management organization.

The company was growing quickly in Florida. Carey interviewed with founder Trammell Crow, who offered him an opportunity to learn the business. 

Everyone started in leasing and was expected to cold-call his or her way up to more responsibility.

“They handed you a brochure and said go find a tenant,” Carey said in a 2016 interview.

Armed with leasing brochures, he knocked on the door of an office in Orlando. They said, “maybe.”

That was the start of his real estate career. 

“A couple of times I called my wife and said ‘I think I made a terrible mistake,’”  he said.

Ann Carey’s response: “Just keep going.”

He did. “You got smarter and you were cultivating relationships with brokers in the market,” he said.

Carey moved on from Trammell Crow to work as a developer and consultant.

At a friend’s suggestion, Carey called The St. Joe Co. in Jacksonville and met with its leader, Peter Rummell.

St. Joe was the largest private landowner in the state and Rummell was determining what to develop and how best to do it.

So the Careys, married in 1982, and their three young children — two sons and a daughter — moved to Jacksonville in 1998.

Rummell was glad he did.

“He was/is a solid guy who really understood commercial property and the value creation process. It’s very complicated and that is no small accomplishment,” Rummell said by email.

“He was a good steady hand who you could always count on,” Rummell recalls, adding that was “not true of every senior person.”

For almost two years, Carey served as a vice president and senior investment officer at St. Joe, which managed the real estate holdings of Florida East Coast Railway.

In anticipation of Florida East Coast Industries, the railway’s holding company, and St. Joe’s split in 2000, Carey was asked to head up the railroad’s real estate.

He spent the next six years as president and COO of what was branded Flagler Development Co., developing properties around the state that included the 1,022-acre Flagler Center in South Jacksonville.

The park gained Baptist Medical Center South, the Citi Cards campus and several speculative buildings, among other projects.

“We were building office buildings and warehouses, which were filling up as quickly as we built them,” Carey said.

That doesn’t just happen.

“John was committed to a transaction that was a win for both parties. He understood and shared in our vision and the importance for our community, as well as for Flagler Center,” Thompson said.

Carey said it is important in sales to align your interests with the needs of your client.

“If that person truly believes you have their best interests at heart, they are likely going to do business with you.”

Carey left in early 2006 to form Jacksonville-based Whitehall Realty Partners, which is where he hired Marc Munago, a young and seasoned developer who also joined him, and succeeds him, at VanTrust.

Munago had been vice president of developer Daniel Corp.

Carey, Munago and Whitehall partner Melinda Thompson continue to develop offices, apartments and memory-care centers. 

Carey will continue to be involved in the memory care centers.

Whitehall built four memory-care centers, with three in Ortega, Ponte Vedra and San Jose and one in Charleston, South Carolina. JEA Senior Living of Spokane, Washington, manages them.

Whitehall also was involved with, but stepped back from, the East San Marco project 20 years in the making that Regency Centers Corp. is developing at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.

Carey considers that “the longest and hardest deal that never happened for us.”

Joining VanTrust

In January 2016, Carey added the title as Florida executive vice president of Kansas City, Missouri-based VanTrust Real Estate LLC.

Again, the connection came through a contact. 

VanTrust had the opportunity to buy Flagler land in the Nocatee area and was referred to Carey, who had developed Flagler Center.

Carey said that when VanTrust came to Jacksonville, there hadn’t been new speculative office development for the decade since the 2007-08 Great Recession.

Starting in 2017, VanTrust developed the Town Center One and Town Center Two buildings along Gate Parkway.

“VanTrust was extremely supportive when no one else was prepared to start a spec office buidling,” Carey said.

“That really launched the new wave of office development.

The buildings worked out rather well, he said.

VanTrust sold the buildings for $107.1 million in January 2020 to investor TPG Real Estate of San Francisco.

TPG recently sold Town Center Two to Dun & Bradstreet for its global headquarters.

Imeson Park is another successful VanTrust project.

In 2018, VanTrust bought 156 undeveloped acres in Imeson International Industrial Park in North Jacksonville.

Three years later, Imeson Park comprises 2.5 million square feet of space among four warehouses, including an fulfillment center.

“The demand was excellent,” Carey said.

VanTrust Real Estate promoted Munago, who joined as vice president of development in 2016, to executive vice president, Jacksonville.

“I learned from the best,” said Munago, 52.

‘Not going anywhere’

Carey intends to spend more time with family, including travel with Ann.

His 90-year-old father, Gerald “Jerry” John Carey Jr., lives at the Fleet Landing retirement community in Atlantic Beach. 

His mother, Joan Bennett Carey, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 at the age of 78.

The Careys have a granddaughter who is 2 and another on the way.

Carey also remains involved in community work, including the Urban Land Institute, the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association and Catholic Charities.

He is a trustee and member of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast’s Metropolitan Board, on which he has served for almost 20 years and chaired from 2012-14.

Fellow board member John D. Baker II, chair of the YMCA trustees and chairman and CEO of FRP Holdings Inc., calls Carey “a kind, thoughtful and very smart business person.”

“He cares deeply about others, especially in his support and dedication to the YMCA,” Baker said, calling Carey “a great friend and wonderful guy.”

“We’ve been blessed,” Carey said.

Carey may be retiring, but he makes it clear he remains involved.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

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