Whitehall Realty Partners founder G. John Carey, a Jacksonville-based developer with decades of projects to his credit, learned the real estate business from the ground up.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and five years with what is now Pricewaterhouse-Coopers as a certified public accountant in Tampa, Carey joined Trammell Crow Co. by happenstance.
A friend worked there and Carey had always viewed working at an accounting firm as a stepping stone into sales and marketing. Dallas-based Trammell Crow was growing quickly in Florida and offered him an opportunity to learn the business.
Before he was hired, he interviewed in Dallas with the actual Trammell Crow, a man who looked for drive and work ethic.
At the development, leasing and management company, everyone started out 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.
He wasn’t an immediate success.
“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.”
Carey has been going for 35 years now. He said those early days were a “rude awakening,” but he knocked on doors and learned the market, which was Trammell Crow’s intent.
“You got smarter and you were cultivating relationships with brokers in the market,” he said.
Carey, the oldest of four children and the son of an Air Force major general, was at 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. Ann was an interior designer in Sarasota.
By 1998, Carey had moved on from Trammell Crow to work as a developer and consultant when, again through a friend, he 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.
The Careys and their three young children — two sons and a daughter — moved to Jacksonville, which they found to be a friendly city.
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 chief operating officer of what was branded Flagler Development Co., developing properties that included the 1,022-acre Flagler Center in South Jacksonville.
During his tenure, the park gained Baptist Medical Center South, the Citi Cards campus and several speculative buildings, among other projects.
He also managed offices in Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
“We were building office buildings and warehouses, which were filling up as quickly as we built them,” he said.
Carey left in early 2006 to form Whitehall Realty Partners. Whitehall is the name of the Palm Beach home of Florida East Coast Railway founder, industrialist Henry Flagler.
“We often used names that had a connection to Henry Flagler for our projects,” he said. The Whitehall name had not been used, so it was available.
Carey’s partners in Whitehall are Marc Munago and Melinda Thompson. They develop apartments and are working on their fourth free-standing memory-care center.
That venture was inspired by family experience. Carey’s mother-in-law in Bradenton needed dementia care and the Careys found most communities offered assisted living with a memory-care component that was the “locked wing down at the end.”
Whitehall’s partners designed communities focused strictly on memory-care. Residents on the dementia spectrum can live in sections of the center that are tailored to their needs, with a large courtyard and a homelike environment.
Whitehall partnered with The Arbor Co., an Atlanta-based senior living company, to operate the three Jacksonville centers developed since 2013 — Arbor Terrace Ortega, followed by Arbor Ponte Vedra last year and Arbor San Jose this year.
The company plans to break ground on a Charleston-based community this year.
Carey also is involved with the long-awaited East San Marco residential and retail project expected to break ground soon at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.
In January, he added another title as Florida executive vice president of VanTrust Real Estate LLC of Kansas City, Mo., which is developing office buildings in Nocatee and on property it recently acquired near St. Johns Town Center.
That connection came, again, through a contact. VanTrust had the opportunity to buy Flagler land in Nocatee and was referred to Carey.
VanTrust laid out a development platform, “and here we are.”
“We’re full speed ahead,” he said.
That sentiment is much the same off the job. Carey, 61, works out daily, whether it’s the gym, yoga, running or swimming at the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, on whose Metropolitan Board he served for 14 years.
He and Ann consider it important to stay fit. “I don’t think my wife has sat down for 15 years,” he said.
Carey finds the real-estate industry is well-suited to his personality. He considers himself to be people-oriented, organized and “quietly impatient.”
“Most people that are in real estate tend to be deal-driven,” he said, explaining you get the job done and move on the next project.
“It’s never dull,” he said, “and the landscape changes day-to-day.”
He remembers his first deal for Trammell Crow. He knocked on the door of an office in Orlando. They said, “Maybe.”
At some point, he said, “it became a stream of opportunities.”