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Ohio Apartment Developer Taps Former Wood Exec For Atlanta Rollout

An Ohio apartment developer is coming to Atlanta thanks to a former Wood Partners executive.

NRP Group Vice President of Development Johnson Bazzel

Cleveland-based NRP Group tapped Johnson Bazzel, the former vice president of development for Wood Partners, to head up its expansion into the Metro Atlanta multifamily market.

Bazzel helped spearhead a number of high-profile projects at Wood, including Piedmont House in Midtown and Alta Atlanta Dairies along Memorial Drive in Downtown Atlanta. 

Plans for NRP are to start fresh here, with a pipeline of ground-up developments. But that pipeline may not be imminent, especially as nearly 10,000 new apartment units are under construction inside the Interstate 285 ring so far this year.

“We don't have a hard and fast plan. I've been asked that question before, 'How long do you expect to have a deal moving forward?' We're long-term-focused here,” Bazzel said. “Our goal is [that] when we find the right project, we'll open it.”

Bazzel declined to identify any specific sites in Atlanta the firm was in negotiations to purchase, but said the first two projects were more likely to be in suburban areas versus Atlanta's urban core, where a majority of new product has been during this cycle.

“Those type of markets have seen very little supply,” he said, adding how suburban municipalities tend to be tougher on rezoning for apartment projects. “A high-rise in Buckhead makes less sense today. I'm not trying to jump in and do a project in Buckhead.”

More than 2,600 Class-A units were underway in Buckhead, one of Atlanta's most prolific multifamily development submarkets, as of the first quarter, according to Haddow & Co.

The NRP Group Executive Vice President of Development Dan Markson at Bisnow San Antonio's multifamily event March 2016

NRP Group has a mix of market-rate and affordable housing projects all along the Eastern Seaboard and into Texas, where it has been especially aggressive, with 12 new projects and more than 3,600 units in the past year across the state.

NRP's executive vice president of development for the region, Dan Markson, previously told Bisnow that the firm looks to develop in the Texas market regardless of where the industry is in this real estate cycle.

“When you say cycle, I react like, 'I don't care if it ends,' because the cycle is not who I'm aiming at,” Markson told Bisnow.

The reasons for NRP Group's Atlanta entry are some of the same factors cited by other developers for their gamble on the market: a powerful transportation hub and a booming economy with strong job growth.

“As the city continues to attract population flows from both the Atlanta suburbs and other cities, demand for rental housing is expected to be constant,” NRP officials said in a release.

There have been some signs that Atlanta's apartment boom is strained. Average lease-up for new projects averaged 15 units per month as of the first quarter, down from 20 units per month a year earlier, according to Haddow & Co. And concessions, especially at high-rise apartment projects, are on the rise as competition increases for renters.

Bazzel said those factors do not faze NRP Group on its bullish attitude in Atlanta.

“That's something that I battle with every day. All the multifamily folks who are here, what [does] the two- to five-year pipeline look like? But we're here for the long haul. Atlanta has such good fundamentals,” he said. “If things slow down, I think we'll be very conservative. But if it's Amazon or some event … we'll be aggressive.”