'Pulling From The Same Side Of The Rope': One Of CRE's Youngest Execs On Making Property And Equity Meet
One of the youngest managing directors in Chicago real estate, Malone stepped into her new role at Farpoint this past December after previously serving as its director of development and external affairs. Today, her work revolves around leading progress of the $3.8B Bronzeville Lakefront megadevelopment on the former Michael Reese Hospital site, where site preparation is happening ahead of breaking ground on infrastructure in the next 45 days.
Malone moved from her hometown of Stafford in Northern Virginia to her father’s birthplace of Chicago eight years ago to pursue a career in labor organizing.
“I realized really quickly that we have tangible issues — health and housing and jobs and then we have intangible — belief, attitudes, mindset and culture,” she said of her adopted city, explaining her mission is rooted in tackling each of these things holistically.
Through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing the current systems in place, Malone believes a more equitable society — one that prioritizes cultivating a better quality of life for everyone — will emerge.
Bisnow spoke to Malone about her background in community development work, her commitment to actualizing equity in the industry and how identity continues to inform her work in real estate. She also discussed how Farpoint’s long-term goals for the massive Bronzeville Lakefront mixed-use campus are being achieved day-to-day and the role of the community as a third-party negotiator in this process.
Much of Malone’s current approach to work is influenced by the economic development practitioner hat she wore as a community organizer.
Volunteering with the nonprofit group Teamwork Englewood, she became project manager of the organization’s Quality of Life program, a revitalization effort dedicated to reclaiming and beautifying vacant land in the neighborhood and developing community restorative strategies.
This work continues to inform her approach to viewing real estate through what she called an ecosystemic lens, rather than a transactional one.
For Malone, it is about “thinking critically about what it means to be a good neighbor, what it means to be a steward of a good neighbor and how you pull all of the pieces together to be purposeful and profitable . . . [to] see cultural preservation and resident retention and people getting the resources and amenities they’ve asked for for generations,” she told Bisnow over Zoom from her Chicago home.
Her commitment to community organizing remains at the forefront of her work where she currently serves on boards for the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Chicago Cityscape. She is also a commissioner on the Cook County Commission on Social Innovation, which focuses on community revitalization, workforce development and job creation among other issues.
In 2020, Malone was named one of Crain's Chicago Business' 20 in Their 20s' for her work with the Chicago Department of Aviation, where she was brought on to advance O'Hare International Airport’s $8.5B terminal expansion and also lead administrative operations.
That same year, she received a call imploring her to meet the principals of Farpoint. One quick check-in turned into a long conversation. Two phone calls later, Malone was hired.
Reinvigoration After Years Of Divestment
The 100-plus acre Bronzeville redevelopment is now the main focus of Malone’s day, and she handles everything from managing the project and making considerations about design and development to building out Farpoint’s narrative — a story centered on prioritizing health equity and building community trust.
The project’s first building is slated to become a 500K SF life sciences and office building, according to Malone, who said planning the megadevelopment has been unique in that the Bronzeville community was offered the opportunity to be a third-party negotiator with Farpoint and the city on key decisions.
Backers say the lakefront development will reinvigorate the region with jobs after decades of neighborhood divestment. For Malone, the commitment extends beyond the volume of jobs granted and prioritizes their quality and lasting potential.
“We are in a predominantly Black community. [It’s about] thinking critically about how you build a strong workforce apparatus so that people are seeing gainful employment on the site,” she said.
Malone believes people stay away from the social components of development because they are harder to quantify. But she hopes more will consider thinking about the built environment as a way to care for one another.
That kind of thoughtfulness is needed in discussions of affordable housing, gentrification and displacement, and Malone said strong community institutions and governmental policy are also needed to address cost-of-living concerns.
“Commercial real estate has to get thoughtful,” she said, imploring the industry to consider how to keep people in the neighborhoods where they live.
Identity And Influence
While Malone’s duties at Farpoint span far and wide, she aims to move with intentionality and lead with authenticity.
“If you choose me, if you want me in any space you know that that comes with it,” she said of her identity as a Black woman approaching real estate from an equitable development perspective.
When Malone is not in meetings with stakeholders, community members, potential tenants and philanthropic organizations for the Bronzeville Lakefront project, she is working to promote connections between marginalized groups in commercial real estate and related industries.
“There’s not very many of us and some of that’s the pipeline,” Malone said.
She co-hosts a happy hour for Black women in architecture, engineering, construction, design and development with Michelle McClendon, a senior project executive at construction firm Gilbane Building Co., every quarter to promote this pipeline development.
Malone said she thinks less about who she is in comparison to others and more about how she can use her influence to advocate for people who look like her.
“I don't think about it much because it’s not that it doesn’t exist, it’s that I’m here because I belong in every room that I’m in,” she said.
In 10 years, Malone said she hopes to see that the work she is doing now will have scaled, with her efforts injected into the methodology and practice of the commercial real estate industry overall.
“That we’ll all be pulling from the same side of the rope," she said of her hopes. "With government and community and philanthropy and more private industry on the same page."