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Beyond The Bio: Bisnow's 16 Questions With North American Properties' Mark Toro

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles. 

In the summer of 1996, as the world’s eyes turned to Atlanta during the Summer Olympics, Mark Toro joined the firm North American Properties and founded its Atlanta office. At the time, the Olympics changed the face of Atlanta’s real estate in many ways.

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Mark Toro at Avalon grand opening

More than 20 years later, the same can be said about Toro, now managing partner and chairman of the board of North American Properties - Atlanta. Toro has spearheaded a number of game-changing developments in Atlanta — from the urban-like mixed-use Avalon development in the affluent Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, to the successful repositioning of Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta and his latest efforts to redevelop Colony Square and create an entire mixed-use project around the Infinite Energy Center arena in Gwinnett County, nearly 30 miles north of Downtown Atlanta.

Toro was named among the “55 Most Influential Atlantans” by Atlanta Magazine in 2015, and serves on the Urban Land Institute Livable Communities Council, the Midtown Alliance’s executive committee and on the board of the City of Refuge, which aims to transition residents of Atlanta’s Westside community out of poverty through housing, health and wellness, vocational training and youth development programs.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Toro: If I'd answered this question pre-recession, I'd probably say we build shopping centers, apartments, office buildings and hotels.  We've now evolved to consider ourselves community builders, engaging our guests in a conversation to assure that we're providing experiences that enrich their lives.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?

Toro: The creation aspect of commercial real estate development is what I find most appealing, so it would have to be something that affords me the opportunity to be creative and impactful, whether it's delivering computers or automobiles.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Toro: In high school and college I worked as a laborer on my dad's construction project. One summer, our project was to replace the liner of a large tank in a sewer treatment plant. There's nothing more memorable than sewage in August.

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Toro: Camp Creek MarketPlace began as a 60-acre power center and grew to encompass 270 acres of retail, restaurant, entertainment, single-family and multifamily residential, hotel and office at I-285 and Camp Creek Parkway.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Toro: Chesterfield MarketPlace in Richmond, Virginia. We suffered through a construction materials defect that threatened the entire project and resulted in litigation. It ended well, but brought many dark days as it taxed our team for a few years.

Bisnow: How do you define “making it”?

Toro: My belief is that "making it" is a moving target, changing definition throughout one's career. At first, it was making the "big deal," then it was about building a world-class team, now it's about moving from "success to significance," [and] contributing to our community.

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Mark Toro at ICSC Global Awards

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Toro: Negative people. I've not been successful in developing a tolerance for "yeah, but-ers," people who habitually cite the limitation instead of the possibility. In a world full of challenges, we've got to remain positive in order to succeed.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?

Toro: Early in my career two of my mentors, Bob Nelson and Dan DuPree, taught me the business of construction and real estate. Now, as I aspire to move from success to significance, Tom Williams is my go-to-guy for advice.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?

Toro: "You worry about the wrong things" was my dad's version of "don't sweat the small stuff." It has served me well. The ubiquitous "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is utter nonsense.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Toro: My wife and I have been buying and selling, remodeling and building vacation homes for more than 10 years. It's a natural extension of the creation process I so enjoy in my day job, and it's afforded our family countless magical moments together. We just moved into our latest home and we're already thinking about what's next.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?

Toro: The original Il Mulino (circa 1985) in New York, Le Millesime in Burgundy, France, and Akelare in San Sebastián, Spain, are some of the best dining experiences I've ever had.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?

Toro: I'd suggest that he think before he tweets. As an avid Twitter user, I've learned to hold my tweet in favor of maintaining proper decorum and sticking to my thought leadership platform.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Toro: Acquiring Atlantic Station at the end of the recession when everyone in commercial real estate said "RUN!" A close second would be buying 120 acres at Georgia 400 and Old Milton Parkway in Alpharetta, un-entitled with no pre-leasing. We call it Avalon.

Bisnow: Whose work do you most admire?

Toro: Steve Jobs is a fearless leader who was unique is his disregard for what others thought of his management style. His ability to take risks and persevere through failure made it possible for him to create one of the most successful brands in history.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Toro: Since I work hard to stay within my circle of influence (as opposed to circle of concern), I'm usually kept up at night by project-related issues. They can range from budget and schedule concerns to entitlements and leasing to challenges with team members.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?

Toro: The development business leaves little bandwidth for golf, fishing or whatever else people do, but I've always sought to make time for my one true passion: family. With two daughters, one granddaughter and two more grandchildren on the way, I'm preparing for my next leadership position: patriarch. 

Learn more about North American Properties' 418-acre Riverton mixed-use project at  Bisnow's New Jersey State of the Market event at 8 a.m., Wednesday, March 14.