‘I Immediately Had A Good Feeling About Houston’: Caydon CEO Joe Russo At BMAC Houston
The biggest names in Houston development, construction and design will gather at Bisnow’s Multifamily Annual Conference to discuss the city’s bright future for residential real estate. Panels will cover the importance of future-proofing assets, market outlook, sustainable development, affordable housing and dozens of other topics, all kicked off by a keynote from Caydon CEO Joe Russo. Register here for the event.
Joe Russo wants to bring a bit of Australian charm to Texas. As the CEO of Caydon, the largest condo developer in Melbourne, Australia, Russo has chosen Houston for his first vault into the American marketplace.
Caydon’s project, in the heart of Midtown, is dubbed Laneways, in reference to Melbourne’s iconic art-filled alleys. The first phase of Laneways, a multifamily high-rise called Drewery Place, has just opened its doors. Soon, it will be joined by 169 condos, a boutique hotel and 55K SF of ground-floor retail, as well as pedestrian alleys filled with murals by local artists, just like its counterpart in Melbourne.
Russo sat down with Bisnow to talk about how he selected Houston for Caydon’s first American project, and to give us a sneak peek of what he will discuss at BMAC Houston on Oct. 3.
Bisnow: How did you end up picking Houston?
Russo: When I came to the U.S. three years ago looking to expand the Caydon portfolio, I immediately had a good feeling about Houston. The city’s rapidly growing population, diversity, strong economy, employment growth and Fortune 500 companies all drew me in.
I specifically targeted the sites for Laneways as they were on the light rail connecting to Downtown and the Med Center, near some great bars and restaurants, and across the road from the Midtown Park, which at the time was just dirt. I immediately knew I would be able to create a project that would draw in Houstonians while complementing the vibrant and active lifestyle of the neighborhood.
Bisnow: How would you describe what you do for Caydon?
Russo: I started Caydon in 1999, and I am very hands-on across all aspects of the business, from the conception to the completion of every project. I have structured the business so that we execute everything in-house, and I work closely with the different teams to ensure we are never resting on our laurels.
Bisnow: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Russo: When I was younger, my grandfather encouraged me to learn to be the accountant, lawyer and negotiator in any business I took on. It is something I live by now running Caydon.
Bisnow: What’s your favorite part of your job?
Russo: I love buying new sites. The greatest thing about property is that it’s tangible, you can walk through the halls at the end and see what you have accomplished.
Bisnow: What other U.S. markets are exciting to you, either for the same or different reasons?
Russo: I was also drawn to Seattle and the enterprises and tech companies with head offices there, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks and Costco. I also liked that the city is surrounded by mountains and water. With the rapidly growing population rates, the only way to build is up. Additionally, we are expanding into the San Diego market.
Bisnow: How did you make the choice to pursue more traditional multifamily rental along with condos?
Russo: Drewery Place is our first multifamily project. There is currently no condo market in Houston offering the type of product we created — attainable luxury — not only for the $1M-plus buyers but also for first [time] homebuyers, investors and upgraders. I think this kind of project will be well-received in Houston, not just for the affordability but the opportunity to live in a dense, mixed-use district.
Bisnow: What's the most pressing issue in commercial real estate?
Russo: The biggest challenge is always funding. I am a private developer and have no partners in my deals. Over the last 20 years I have built some strong relationships, but funding remains the biggest hurdle for us as we enter new markets.
Bisnow: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Russo: We are constantly pioneering new products in new markets, smaller units, home automation, different amenities and services, and in a lot of cases there’s no data to support these decisions, so I have to just go with my gut. To date, it’s paid off.
Bisnow: What are you looking forward to at Bisnow's Multifamily Annual Conference?
Russo: I am looking forward to connecting with local industry leaders and giving audience members more insight on Caydon. Houston is a very attractive city, almost a secret, and with Drewery Place just opening in July, we are just getting started.