Brent Jackson: Finding Opportunity In The Shadow Of Downtown Dallas
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Brent Jackson took a circuitous route to commercial real estate development, but the artistic side he developed while seeking a fine arts degree has informed his work in the gritty industrial areas of West Dallas.
Jackson is president of Oaxaca Interests, a real estate investment, development and asset management firm focusing its work within the shadows of downtown urban cores.
Dallasites know Jackson’s work through his first and largest development here: Sylvan|Thirty, named for the intersection at Interstate 30 and Sylvan Avenue where it resides. The development includes about 47K SF of retail, including anchor organic grocer Cox Farms. Jackson sold the 201 residential studios and lofts that were developed as part of the project last year.
Oaxaca Interests is active in multiple projects in the immediate vicinity: It is expanding Sylvan|Thirty across the street and building a 16-unit townhome development two blocks north along Commerce Street.
It also owns Nowhere, Texas, its name for a grouping of industrial buildings at Commerce and Edgefield streets. Jackson has redeveloped one of the buildings into an entertainment center with plans to rent out the others. Across from Sylvan|Thirty, Oaxaca owns a 29K SF office building. It also invests in raw land in the area.
While he is focused on Dallas for now, Jackson said he is eyeing opportunities in Fort Worth and San Antonio for 2019 and beyond. Oaxaca Interests will look for industrial areas that are in transition near those cities’ urban cores, similar to what it found in West Dallas.
How It All Began
Jackson, a Dallas native who graduated from St. Mark’s, didn’t set out to become a real estate developer. He originally attended the University of Texas at Austin for an accounting degree but hit the timeout button after his first year.
“Accounting really wasn’t driving me,” Jackson said from a bar stool at Houndstooth Coffee at Sylvan|Thirty. So he took a year off, worked full time and took a few elective classes for fun. One was a sculpture class. A year later, Jackson was back in school pursuing a fine arts degree.
After graduation, he sold a couple of paintings but worried about the ability to make a career in the arts. He returned to Dallas in 1999 and got a job at Swearingen Realty Group as a real estate broker. Within a couple of years, he determined he wanted to be developing his own product. In 2003, he went back to school via a weekend UT program and got an MBA.
By 2006, Jackson was working for Phil Montgomery at PO’B Montgomery, a Dallas real estate company that bought, sold and developed raw land and retail shopping centers. Montgomery, who died in 2013, was Jackson’s first mentor in the business and became an important figure in his life.
“He was a prince of a man,” Jackson said. “He taught me so much. Not just blocking and tackling in a successful real estate project but also how to be a good person in the real estate business with ethics.”
As Jackson developed his real estate chops, he reached a point where he felt ready to strike out on his own. He and his wife had just purchased a home in Kessler Park, the tree-lined stately Oak Cliff neighborhood just across the freeway from where Sylvan|Thirty now resides, and Jackson thought the neighborhood could use a grocery store.
He approached Montgomery with his idea.
“I asked him, ‘Would you be OK with me starting my own deal?’ Or, I told him we could develop it together. He said, very kindly, ‘I think you are ready to start your own thing.'”
Jackson formed his company. The name Oaxaca Interests comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, a city where his mother lived for several years. Soon, his first project, Sylvan|Thirty, was underway.
Jackson said his biggest lesson learned in his first project was to trust his instincts.
“While I’m a big believer in wisdom playing a role in your decision-making, I think instinct is sometimes underrated,” he said.
With his fine arts degree as a backdrop, Jackson said he called upon his instincts in pursuing a design that tied form and function rather than following the pervasive pedestrian-friendly “urbanism” often cited in current mixed-use design. With a project set against a freeway, he knew he needed to welcome cars as well as pedestrians coming from Kessler Park. The design can “flex” into less parking in the future depending on demands.
When he is not looking for more development and investment opportunities, you’ll find Jackson spending time with his wife and three small children, fly-fishing or running a marathon. He even spent a recent weekend cleaning out the garage, joking about a quote he had heard that a clean garage makes for an uncluttered mind.
As far as his early and continued success in real estate development and investment, Jackson said he believes learning from mentors has made all the difference.
Besides Montgomery, Jackson has five other mentors, all from a variety of industries, including Lyco Energy Corp. founder Bobby Lyle, who is a member of the executive boards of the Lyle School of Engineering and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, and Marshall Payne, a founding partner and chairman of the board of the investment firm CIC Partners.
“I can’t say enough about the process of mentorship, and how influential it was for me,” Jackson said.