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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With JPX Works Founder Jarel Portman

Atlanta

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles. 

To say Jarel Portman has a real estate pedigree would be an understatement.

His father is the late John Portman, renowned architect and founder of the development empire Portman Holdings, whose projects spanned skylines from its hometown of Atlanta all the way to China and India.

For 25 years, Portman worked under his father at the firm, spearheading projects across the globe, including the $175M redevelopment of the historic Jin Ye Li townhouse mixed-use district in Shanghai and the firm's $25B joint venture development with South Korea-based Incheon on the 1,500-acre Songdo Landmark City. That project is slated to include the 151-story Incheon 151 Tower, the tallest building in Northeast Asia.

JPX Works
JPX Works founder Jarel Portman

But in 2011, Portman broke out on his own and returned his focus back home with a series of urban developments and redevelopments, including Inman Quarter and the luxury apartment tower Lilli Midtown.

Aside from commercial real estate, this University of Florida graduate is a musician and songwriter, having released his album "Supersonic" in 2017.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Portman: I just tell people that real estate development is very hard and requires patience, but I’m very passionate about it. I love trying to change and progress architecture in the built environment. That’s usually enough for most people. When I see their eyes start to glaze over, I know it’s time to stop talking about real estate.   

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Portman: I would most likely go back to the hotel industry. I enjoy the hospitality industry and creating great experiences for people. At the end of the day, whatever your job, everything is about people, and I really like people. I like doing nice things for people that make their day better.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Portman: When I was 10 years old I had to clean out the HVAC ducts at the Atlanta Apparel Mart by hand. At that age I was the perfect size to crawl inside the ducts. I don’t think OSHA would approve today. It was a while ago, and it taught me a lot about how a building is built.  

JPX Works
JPX Works' newest addition to the Atlanta skyline, the apartment tower Lilli Midtown, designed by ODA New York

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Portman: My first big deal with my own company, JPX Works, was Inman Quarter. The site was very constrained by infrastructure issues, but we made it through with hard work, ingenuity and great teamwork with our partners, South City Partners and ELV Associates.  

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Portman: Emerson Buckhead. It was too expensive, and there were other condos at a lesser price that people were more comfortable paying. This was a unique, one-of-a-kind design and if I were in a market like New York City or San Francisco, for example, I think it would’ve gotten built. Atlanta wasn’t ready for the price point, despite getting so close to starting it off. I will say if we had gotten the crane up, the building would’ve sold. Lesson learned. I wouldn’t sell condos unless they were part of a larger mixed-use project.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?

Portman: I’d like to somehow incentivize all my fellow developers to create great architecture as well as less exposed parking. I understand that this is not the general path of most developers, and that is fine. But I think when you create great architecture it creates more opportunities to create a great city. That, in turn, brings a greater brand presence that can lead to opportunity all over the world. Most importantly, great architecture is inspiring for people to use and to experience.  

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Portman: My biggest pet peeve is people who discriminate against others based on their differences.  

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Portman: My father, John C. Portman Jr., who taught me everything about what it means to be authentic and to reach for my dreams. I am also grateful for the mentorship of [Portman Holdings Chairman] Al Campbell, who always gave me incredible advice from a very clear and distinct perspective.  

Jarel Portman
JPX Works founder Jarel Portman (right) and his family

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?

Portman: The best advice I’ve received was to check my ego at the door, and to believe that customer is always right. The worst advice I’ve received was that I shouldn’t get too close to partners and customers — that’s counterintuitive to a person who comes from a hospitality background, as I do.  

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Portman: My greatest extravagance is spoiling my children.  

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Portman: I have two favorite restaurants. The first is Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley — she is the godmother of the farm-to-table movement. The second is Tomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, California.  

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Portman: I really don’t think the president has the time or the desire to speak with me, but if he did, I’d recommend that he either find a new social media strategist or get off Twitter completely.  

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Portman: Emerson Buckhead.  

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?

Portman: My favorite place to visit in my hometown (Atlanta) is my parents’ house, to see my beautiful mom. 

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Portman: I have plenty of thoughts about the projects we are pursuing or developing. It’s hard to turn my brain off at night. And as a father I also worry about my kids, which I think is pretty natural.  

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Portman: Outside of work, I’m passionate about my family, my spirituality and writing and recording original music.