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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 23, 201804:52 AM EST

The adaptable Heyward Cantrell

After five decades in the business, the commercial real estate developer, appraiser and educator will be honored with the NAIOP Lifetime Achievement Award.
by: Andrew Warfield Staff Writer

Heyward Cantrell’s five-decade commercial real estate development career has been defined by a remarkable adaptability to continually changing market conditions.

But many of the people he identifies as his greatest accomplishments will be in the audience listening.

Cantrell will be presented the NAIOP Lifetime Achievement Award at the organization’s 2017 Awards Gala on March 1 at the Jesse Ball duPont Center Downtown.

“I am going to say the achievement I am the most proud of is the people that I have trained and groomed and who have gone on to become very successful, some more successful than me,” Cantrell said. 

“When I went to work for The Charter Co. and later Barnett Winston, the senior management would let you go as far as your abilities could take you, and I learned a lot by learning on the job,” he said.

Cantrell said he tried to follow that throughout his career.

And what a career it has been. 

Cantrell has more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate and the development of more than 30 projects, including oceanfront resort condominiums, hotels, apartment buildings and commercial projects.

He also has more than 40 years of experience in appraising commercial real estate throughout Florida, with an emphasis on complex commercial litigation with respect to property value, eminent domain and ad valorem tax cases.

Cantrell is an approved appraiser for most large commercial banks in Northeast Florida, medical office buildings, historic properties, single-family subdivisions and industrial buildings. 

At 74, he has his eye on retirement — on Aug. 30, 2019. That will be the 50th anniversary of his first day on the job at The Charter Co., a one-time Jacksonville-based Fortune 500 company that went out of business more than 30 years ago.

Until then, he will remain at Cantrell Ray Real Estate, where he spends most of his time serving as an appraiser and expert witness in commercial real estate litigation throughout the Southeast.

“It takes a lot of time to prepare for trial and I have about one trial a month,” Cantrell said. “I don’t say I’m retired but I am trying to get there.”

He continues to work, of course.

“I go to the office almost every day unless I have something fun to do,” Cantrell said Monday while driving south on Interstate 95 to assess a property in Miami Gardens.

‘Light on my feet’

The Northeast Florida Chapter of the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association doesn’t honor a fellow professional with its Lifetime Achievement Award every year. Its recipient is determined by the organization’s president and nominating committee only when they see fit. 

The award recognizes those who have distinguished themselves for outstanding achievement and professionalism in the office and/or industrial real estate industry in Northeast Florida.

The award is given in honor of the late William Drennon, regarded as one of Jacksonville’s great real estate professionals and ambassadors.

In 1972, Cantrell was asked to join a group of The Charter Co. executives as founding shareholders of the newly created Barnett Winston Co., a joint venture with Barnett Banks of Florida. The company grew to 10 locations from Florida to San Francisco.

With the economic downturn of 1978, Barnett Winston merged with the Barnett Mortgage Trust and, rather than foreclose on incomplete projects, Cantrell was chosen to finish construction and manage the income-producing properties the company inherited.

Within two years, he was not only managing properties owned by the company, but also for other such owners from Florida to Texas.

That included eight hotels, more than 5,000 apartment units, office buildings, shopping centers and industrial buildings. 

In 1980, he earned designation as a Certified Property Manager and became president of the North Florida Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management. That year, he also formed The Cantrell Co.

In 1982, he was joined by partner Frost Weaver to form The Cantrell Weaver Co., which created 35 partnerships to develop properties including The DePaul Building at St. Vincent’s Medical Center; The Bedell Building, for which he received the Governor’s Award for historic preservation; Sawgrass Villas oceanfront condominiums; and the Ortega Yacht Club Marina.

The 1993 economic crisis prompted Cantrell and Weaver to divide the company’s assets and create separate entities.

Cantrell Real Estate concentrated in the management of medical office buildings, appraising and consulting, but also developed properties for other owners, including 500 acres for the Richard Skinner family at Interstate 295 and Baymeadows Road.

In 2004, Cantrell and Chris Morgan formed Cantrell & Morgan, which specializes in the brokerage, development and management ofreal estate

Cantrell sold his interest in the Cantrell & Morgan to Jim Loftin, then founded Cantrell Real Estate, where he was joined by Matt Ray. In 2015, Ray acquired the firm, which was renamed Cantrell Ray Real Estate. The  company specializes in the appraisal of commercial properties for complex litigation matters.

Through it all, Cantrell founded an appraisal firm with partner Harry Broom, which became Broom, Cantrell, Moody and Johnson.

He obtained his designation as a Member of the Appraisal Institute in 1980 and began a career as an expert witness. 

A jury award of more than $64 million, the largest in Florida history for eminent domain, resulted in part from his testimony.

He recently has been engaged in litigation of large properties in Memphis, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; New Orleans; and Jacksonville.

“I’d say I was light on my feet,” Cantrell said of his ability to recognize changes in the market and to react accordingly.

He follows those market changes.

“I remember after we had done about 16 office developments, someone I represented often said I should just stop doing everything else and become the Koger of office builders. We didn’t do that and the next year the office building market became depressed,” he said.

Like investing, Cantrell said, diversification is essential.

Ira Koger, based in Jacksonville, was considered the creator of the office park concept. He developed more than 30 office parks in the Southwest and Southeast.

Paying it forward

Cantrell earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Florida in 1966 and a Master of Business Administration in 1969.

It was while in graduate school he interviewed with The Charter Co. The first person he met there was Frost Weaver, a later business partner.

 “Over time, we worked together in several companies and when I went out on my own. I had been in business for myself for close to a year and it was about to get out of control,” he said.

He needed a business partner and he thought first of Weaver. “I called him at home and said I am going to propose something and I want you to think about it over the weekend.” 

The proposal? “Come join me and we will be 50-50 partners,” he said.

Additional successful companies and partnerships followed. Cantrell said along the way he never forgot the culture of The Charter Co., where senior management allowed him to succeed or fail on his own while providing valuable counsel along the way.

He has since practiced the same approach. He gave back by serving as an adjunct professor at the University of North Florida for eight years, teaching every real estate course the school offered.

“An awful lot of my time these days is spent in the courtroom testifying about real estate,” Cantrell said. 

In the classroom, he would use real-world examples.

“One night a kid in the back of the classroom said, ‘If you have really done all the things you say you have done, why are you here teaching us at 7:30 at night?’

“I said that I constantly have to teach a lay jury about all of this, so I am practicing on you.”

Cantrell hired some of those UNF students. Like his own mentors, Cantrell sought to implement the culture of those early jobs, eventually sending those employees off on their own. 

 “There are a lot of people I hired over the years, and it’s awful close to 50 years,” Cantrell said. “You turn out a lot of people over that time.”

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