Close Up With Randy Fifield
Nowadays, you can rent a car by the hour, a designer gown for the weekend, and even a date for your high school reunion. The rental market is here to stay, but trailblazer Randy Fifield knew that 20 years ago.
Vice chairman and principal at Fifield Cos, Randy (snapped with her pooch, Teddy) cut her teeth converting apartments (that were originally mansions) back into single-family homes, eventually meeting her husband Steve on a deal. The two became a power pair, but it took Randy a while to sell him on the rental market's prospects. After their first deal together, the $80M renovation of the landmark Civic Opera Building, Steve went on to build parking garages and office towers while Randy stayed in residential. Now the duo's paths are focused on multifamily and the pipeline's bursting at the seams. They're on track to deliver an apartment building every six to nine months for the next five to six years (let's call it "build, work, play").
Here's Steve, Randy, and Wood Partners' Patrick Trask at 496-unit apartment tower K2's grand opening designer showcase. Many were shocked when Fifield purchased the eight acres at K Station for 2,100 units, but what was once a dilapidated area is now home to their quickest lease-up (already almost 70%). They build gateways, she tells us. K Station is River North's gateway west, and 356-unit E2, under construction in Evanston (her hometown), opens up the entire North Shore. They're also working on The Sinclair (their daughter's middle name), a planned tower at Clark and Division, following the neighborhood trend of naming after authors. (That would be Upton--we won't tell your high school English teacher if you didn't know.) Expect more low- and mid-rise projects from Fifield in the neighborhoods.
Fifield's always learning from local construction trends, Randy says. In Santa Monica, they think about surf board storage, where in other areas a bike room may be the top priority (focus groups help spot these trends). Her rules to live by on deals: solid partners, a strict budget, and risk management. (Fifield now uses both construction company and developer contingencies on projects.) Construction's become more thoughtful, and she's a big supporter of green and charitable building (they'll donate unused sinks or bathtubs to low-income housing). And it's also a lot sexier, now that apartment buildings are young people's country club, gym, office, and home all in one. (Like a little black dress that goes from day to night.)
Here's Randy on a 2002 cover of Today's Chicago Woman with the kids (now ages 14 to 20). Over the years, her mentors and role models have included Steve (we should disclose he was in the room when the question was asked), AMLI's Greg Mutz, and PrivateBank's Karen Case. She's optimistic about more women entering commercial real estate, calling them "good gatekeepers" that are well-suited for the detail-oriented work. Her 2014 trend predictions: 9' ceilings, plank floors, granite/quartz, pet-friendly amenities, and most importantly technology (think iPod docks, WiFi and USB in furniture). In Randy's rare free time, you'll find her hanging with the kids, reading, taking walks, or biking around her Gold Coast 'hood.