EXCLUSIVE: Lucy Billingsley on Mistakes, Deals & The Future
She may be the tiniest commercial real estate developer in stature in Big D, but development guru Billingsley Co partner Lucy Billingsley is definitely one of the biggest players in the field. The matriarch to the family-owned Billingsley Co (and two of her offspring) sat down with Bisnow to dish on projects, their biggest mistakes and what’s ahead.
Lucy (center, between daughters and colleagues, co-partner Lucy Burns and VP Sumner Billingsley) says she’s learned the hard way that the company’s focus should be on commercial real estate. She’s tried her hand at other investments, but they didn’t work out, she says. What she loves about her family business is the ability to go into the conference room and make a decision. She’ll admit though, that there’s a Billingsley Co witticism about her: I may make bad decisions, but they’re fast. One of her worst? Going with some low bid contractors. It wasn’t the right thing to do in this market because they aren’t able to perform and the low bid didn’t end up being low.
Lucy says she feels like a farmer who has a ton of kids to help harvest the crops. Her son, George, handles industrial; Lucy Burns handles office; and Sumner handles multifamily and retail. The secret to the Billingsleys ability to work well together: Lucy says each family member has their own authority in their area. That made getting everyone to join an easy sell, she says. No one wants to live with their siblings’ mistakes. The only family intervention, thus far, Lucy says, was when the kids thought she was getting too wild on deals. The challenges Lucy has seen in the hot market: cities that weren’t ready to manage all the development coming their way. Infrastructure was left to the developers, at times, and that’s been really hard, she says. Lucy says all of the development today is a great opportunity to create and change communities. “We must grab and savor each one and not be cavalier,” she says.
Sumner, who joined the company last year after stints with CBRE out of state, says Billingsley’s multifamily has three projects under construction—the 700-unit Hudson at Austin Ranch and the 500-unit Brickyard at Mercer Park delivering in 2016 and a 500-unit project in the works at International Business Park. She says one of her biggest challenges is the tremendous multifamily growth in the works and making sure it lives up to the Billingsley reputation for quality. The company was building about 500 units every two years and now has 2,000 units going in different stages. As far as retail goes, the demand from residents and office tenants is better quality and healthier options. She says a salad-focused restaurant is coming along with (potentially) an organic group. “The way we look at our retail is as an amenity to support the multifamily residents and office tenants,” Autumn says. “One thing we do at Billingsley is create master planned communities and retail is a small part that’s really there to be the icing on the cake.”
On the office side, Lucy Burns says IBP, Austin Ranch and Cypress Waters are all active, but she anticipates the 1,900-acre Austin Ranch to get even busier as Legacy West gets built out. The single-tenant buildings are going gangbusters, she says. Spec buildings are soon being converted to build-to-suits, which creates another challenge, she says. Once you submit a development plan to the city for spec, then you have to go back when you get a single tenant lined up. Often, the huge deals have been easy and it’s the 20k SF deals that have been incredibly painful, she says. And, there’s no slowdown in activity level, Lucy says. There’s no spec space available right now, she says. But, with all the development, construction and growth, she’s trying to find the right balance for adding more members to the team, but being sensitive about what the future may hold.
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