The Real Market with Chris Rising – Ep. 75 Aaron Curry
The Real Market with Chris Rising – Ep. 75 Aaron Curry
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Chris Rising (00:00):
Welcome to The Real Market with Chris Rising, the only podcast that brings the real estate conference panel to your headphones. You’ll hear from superstars from every realm of commercial real estate, the biggest brokers, the most well-known architects, the largest investors and the most visionary developers to learn what they do, how they do it and what drives their success. We’ll discuss the latest trends across regional markets, capital flows, both national and global, and we’ll explore technology’s role in shaping all of it. We’ll take a clear eyed look at where we’ve been, where we are now and what’s to come. Real conversations, real experts, real insights, this is The Real Market.
Chris Rising (00:50):
Welcome to The Real Market with Chris Rising, I’m really excited to have Aaron Curry with me today. If anybody has been watching football over the last year, I guess, it’d be two years now but especially last year with the Los Angeles Rams winning the Super Bowl, you’re going to know the project that Aaron works on. And Aaron is in the real estate development group within Wilson Meany, doing a lot around the retail development. I have to imagine that Stan Kroenke, Aaron, looks at you and goes, “All right, I know I can fill this place eight or 10 nights a year. Aaron, how are you going to fill up the rest?”
Aaron Curry (01:24):
Yeah. No, that’s-
Chris Rising (01:24):
That’s got to be part of your discussions over there, I bet.
Aaron Curry (01:28):
Yeah, that’s certainly an exciting topic for us to talk about. I think they’ve done a pretty good job so far, it doesn’t hurt to have the hometown team win the Super Bowl, I think that’s a nice kickoff for us. But yeah, we absolutely are excited about everything beyond just the events that are happening within SoFi Stadium, there’s a lot to be discovered about this project and we’re excited about how it’s coming online.
Chris Rising (01:52):
Well, I remember being in law school and one of the great date nights was going to Hollywood Park with $1 beer and watching some ponies run. The land is a little bit different now and, outside of the Ram games and a few concerts, the real intention is that this project become a focal point for Los Angeles. It’s obviously right near to the Great Western Forum and near where Mr. Ballmer is going to be building a basketball stadium but the driver is what Wilson Meany is doing in the development. So, why don’t you talk a little bit about what SoFi Stadium is but, really, the broader development and what you’re creating there?
Aaron Curry (02:34):
Yeah, absolutely. I think, yeah, you’ve got a great perspective having seen it and remembering the racetrack fairly well and the casino itself because I do believe that there’s some nice homages to what’s been here and that being Hollywood Park Racetrack within the current development. But yeah, the SoFi Stadium grabs a ton of the attention and rightfully so, it’s an incredible venue that I’m actually sitting in right now. It’s so multipurpose and it’s truly state of the art and I just think it’s architecturally one of the best places to be. I’m very biased, again, I work for Wilson Meany, particularly on the retail. I think retail is the heart and soul of the entire space, it’s open 365. The way we’re activating it with different businesses but also entertainment uses, I think it’s something that’s going to be really exciting for the community. And then, yeah, the non-LA dwellers that have come in for, maybe it’s an event or in town on just vacation, will have a lot to see in a close proximity to the airport.
Aaron Curry (03:29):
But to put the scale of the entire development into perspective, it’s 300 acres and I don’t think that’s something that you can even picture when it was Hollywood Park Racetrack. Because they had the stables that expanded east back toward Darby Park but, effectively, we run from [inaudible 00:03:45], which is just south of the Forum, all the way down to Century Boulevard. And if you added it all up, Disneyland would fit solidly within the confines or solidly within the borders of the Hollywood Park development. Office space is at a premium in Los Angeles right now and we’ve got some incredible office buildings that just went up and opened actually. NFL Media is in the building just behind me in about 250,000 square feet and the entire building is 450,000 square feet of class A office space that we’re really excited to have online.
Aaron Curry (04:19):
And then we’ve got a hotel in the works that would be located within the site and then our first phase of residential is going up right now as well, it should be open relatively soon. So, all of that tied together by what I think is truly an iconic retail development and one that, I think, will be really, really powerful is going to create the community that is Hollywood Park. But really, at a base, if I had to be totally unbiased and say what’s the real anchor of this project, honestly, I think it’s the landscaping and the outdoor space. If you haven’t seen the lake on any of the TV shots, it’s magnificent, it’s incredible to see in person but definitely shows well on TV, too.
Chris Rising (05:01):
Let me ask you about the lake because I was fortunate to go a few games this year and the first thing someone says, if they hadn’t been to Hollywood Park and all is, “Why is there a lake?” Is the lake the actual lake? A replica of what was in Hollywood Park? What was the idea, in a place that has a pretty big drought, [inaudible 00:05:20] what was the idea of having a lake there?
Aaron Curry (05:24):
Yeah, it was certainly an homage, one, to the old lake that was inside of the racetrack, on the inside of the grounds in the racetrack. So, a center point for the community was the infield of Hollywood Park Racetrack and had a small water feature. This one’s a little bit larger in scale but we wanted a prominent water feature for the community to have access to 365. So, that was the design influence for the lake and then we were able to bring in our amazing landscape architect and tie in some sustainability experts but it does have a significant amount of eco-positive benefits that help the entire site maintain water levels. It doesn’t rain too much here but it does capture a lot of the rainfall when it does.
Chris Rising (06:10):
Yeah. Well, having been there a few times and watching it go up, one of my dear friends is Todd Doney who I’ve had on my podcast, who does the office leasing and he-
Aaron Curry (06:22):
I know Todd.
Chris Rising (06:23):
Yeah. He, over and over again, says the success of the project is not because there’s one piece to this puzzle, it’s not just because of the stadium, it’s not just because it’ll have some residential or some office, it’s the way it all works together on those 300 acres.
Aaron Curry (06:38):
Chris Rising (06:40):
But to get someone who isn’t going to be living within those 300 acres to come outside of a Ram game or a concert, you’ve got to have there there, you’ve got to have a place. So, can you talk a little bit about the placemaking that you all are doing with the retail and what the vision is for it over the next five years?
Aaron Curry (06:59):
It’s one that we wanted to focus on. We started small so we started to zoom in and we’re like how do we create the best of Los Angeles? How do we tie in the best of Inglewood and zoom out from there. So, literally, from our design of spaces to some of our tenant outreach, we wanted to start local first. The first deal we signed was with a woman named Lynne Weaver. If you don’t know her, you may know her brewery and that’s Three Weavers Brewery which is in Inglewood, it’s a brand that was started here and she couldn’t be more excited to have a second location in Inglewood. And when people are assuming we’re signing chain sports bar type restaurants, for us to be able to have a first deal with an operator like her is really exciting and attractive to us as far as deal making goes and placemaking. And I personally take it as a compliment anytime we start announcing tenants or we introduce future operators into the project and people are surprised to hear that so and so’s coming.
Chris Rising (07:57):
Aaron, I’m really glad that you started there because, also, I think the mayor of Inglewood will go down as probably the most legendary mayor that Inglewood has ever seen. He has brought more business, more jobs but the concern has always been would it drive out local businesses. I can tell you, and I’m a little bit older than you, but I was lucky enough at one point to represent Faithful Central Baptist Church on the forum. And one of the big things that the pastor wanted to do there was make sure that local businesses thrived and the world changed and all of that. I think the biggest criticism that I heard about this project was this fear that there was going to be this amazing amount of gentrification that would drive out local businesses and that you all started with a local business is, I think, to your credit.
Chris Rising (08:48):
I also think that what I’ve seen is it’s also birthed businesses within Inglewood. Because now there’s a reason to come beyond concerts as you build out residential and all that. But at the same time, you’re a real estate developer, we need credit.
Aaron Curry (09:04):
Yeah, of course.
Chris Rising (09:04):
We all need credit when we do this. So, how do you balance giving the opportunity to local businesses with the credit tenants that are going to bring tourists from around the world?
Aaron Curry (09:15):
It’s something that we’ve always worked at. And I think our approach of starting local was not even just for a headline or to feel good about ourselves or better ourselves in the bag, we genuinely felt like this wasn’t going to be a viable retail project if we didn’t include the community, tie in some existing businesses that you may typically see excluded or just not included from a lot of the development on this scale. We’ve been able to curate and work with the operators just to lay out what’s physically going to be there and, in some cases, walk through the steps of going into a brand new construction project. These aren’t second gen spaces, this isn’t you have already existing kitchens or you can just take over.
Aaron Curry (10:00):
So, there’s definitely been a coordination process with a lot of the businesses as we walk through this and then we’ve been able to go back to more national operators, ones that can appreciate the significance of where this development is, physically, in Inglewood, what’s going on around it. Having SoFi Stadium and YouTube Theater just a few steps away and having this lake and seeing what’s coming online over the next few years can also appreciate that the tenant mix is not your typical tenant mix for projects of this type. I think the assumption that we always run into on this project is that we’re building retail to service just the stadium events and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Aaron Curry (10:41):
In fact, if you look back on how this development came together, Wilson Meany’s involvement started in 2004 before there was ever even an idea of a stadium here anyway. So, I laugh when they say what’s going to happen on a non-game day because this entire thing was planned for a non-game day. I do think we’ve tied it together really nicely in SoFi Stadium and I’m happy to have this as a future that we can advertise or utilize for our businesses coming in. But yeah, retail should be a destination in and of itself.
Chris Rising (11:14):
So, I don’t know if a lot of the listeners or watchers, we don’t have a map in front of us, may not know the history of how this all came together. But having been around it, obviously, we had the Forum and, when the Lakers moved to Staples, Faithful Central bought it and then it sold and it went to Madison Square and they made it into a music venue. At the same time, Walmart was going to build a Walmart and the community came out in droves saying we don’t want to Walmart in our community and, at the same time, Stockbridge bought Hollywood Park and Wilson Meany was brought in to redevelop along with Stockbridge. Fortunately or unfortunately, but fortunately, I think, Stan Kroenke knew somebody over at Walmart, I don’t know how that happened and said, “Hey, if you can’t build a store, maybe I build a stadium.”
Chris Rising (12:06):
So, this all starts to come together, it was a little bit happenstance and then a lot of really quality real estate thinking on behalf of Wilson Meany and Stockbridge and Kroenke has some pretty good real estate chops as well.
Aaron Curry (12:22):
Chris Rising (12:22):
But it’s still pretty hard to get away from the fact … When I took this to a prominent mall developer in 2002 or so, he brought out a map and said, “Chris, look at these zip codes, half of your potential shoppers are fish.” And you put these circles here and then you look at the zip codes, it’s still a challenge to make something work because, in retail, it’s all of the circles, right? You want people to come from all directions and this is close to the water. So, how do you think about providing a destination because this is what it really is for a lot of people? How do you think about, okay, we want people to come, not to do their grocery shopping for an hour, not to come to a mall for two hours, we want people to spend a lot of time here. How do you do that? What’s the concepts around the food and the movie theaters? How do you put that all together?
Aaron Curry (13:18):
Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve been fortunate to have, again, starting with the early businesses that we signed like the Three Weavers or Sky’s Tacos, these iconic operators that only have one or two locations. So, their brands already are pulling you out of whatever zip code you’re in just by the fact that they don’t have the volume that a chain restaurant might have and then we’re tying it in. We were fortunate enough to sign a movie theater lease with Cinepolis which is, to us, an incredible operator but they’re not coming in just rolling out store number or theater number 555, they’re treating this like it’s their US flagship. Given the visibility of the site, the proximity and all those entertainment features that we’ve been discussing already, they’re approaching this like it’s going to be one of the best theaters in the United States and we’re excited about that. We’d love to hear that from larger operators that the site is a little bit different than other locations.
Aaron Curry (14:19):
So, we’ve been able to leverage those brands, but not to harp too much on the outdoor space, I really think … Personally, I got my driving lessons in the practice of my dad in the Forum parking lot and I think that that’s such an amazing place to just see how the community uses what’s really just effectively just asphalt surrounding the Forum. And you see the RC car meetups and the little races that happened in the parking lot. I do think the community is really going to engage with the outdoor space, still using the Forum and still using Darby Parks and those that exist, but I do think, once the site is a little bit further along and it starts to be like, “Oh, yeah, you can walk by the lake and walk your dog and walk your pet and then go grab an Antojitos Martin smoothie or an Elote in the retail afterward.” I do think the outdoor space is going to serve as a nice draw, especially coming out of what we’ve just been in for the last little while here, we were excited to be able to offer a few different experiences within the site.
Chris Rising (15:18):
Well, I think something that’s lost on people is they don’t quite understand that you all did construction through COVID. The stadium itself was ready during the middle of COVID but the stadium is just phase one, that first office building is maybe phase one A and there is a lot left to do there. What is the timeline, do you think, before the entire 300 acres is built out? Is it a generation? Is it 20 years? Is it five years? I know I’m asking you to predict the future as interest rates are going up-
Aaron Curry (15:55):
Yeah, I know.
Chris Rising (15:55):
… but what do you see?
Aaron Curry (15:59):
No, I think that it’s coming along. What I would imagine is probably, I would say, to give just the vaguest answer, quicker than we think. And I know there’s no real timing on it, I do know that some of the things that we’re excited about on the site, but even just city wide or at least aware of, the Olympics in 2028 and that, to me, is my backstop in working backwards. So, a lot of the infrastructure, outside of just what we’re doing on the project but around the city, I think a lot of people are factoring in 2028 as a short term timeline as far as some development goes. I think this, over a decade, we’ll still be building things. It would be my guess though.
Chris Rising (16:43):
How do you look at providing a retail experience to people as cranes are in the air? Because we all know that construction clogs up streets and makes neighbors unhappy, what is it that Wilson Meany is doing to try to ease that and also to try to make it more efficient so people do say, “Hey, it’s worth coming on a Saturday morning when they’re when it’s not football season to go visit the site.”
Aaron Curry (17:08):
Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think part of that is what we’re doing now. My day to day, I’m out on our retail construction site probably four and a half, five days a week doing tours. So, a lot of it, yeah, we’re trying to drive sales, we’re trying to drive leasing, absolutely. But effectively, I’ll meet with anybody that wants to see it, I think there’s a helpful walk through process that can be beneficial just as far as, yeah, seeing access. This is where you would theoretically enter, this is our retail parking structure and that’s stadium parking over there and what have you. We’ve been doing that consistently over the last two years since we started construction on the retail itself. But then I also think, yeah, just getting people to the site for different features, I think it’s helped the way that we phase the project.
Aaron Curry (17:54):
So, having the stadium open, unfortunately, it was in the heart of COVID with no fans, but being able to get to the stadium and then get to YouTube Theater and then get to the office building. And it’s not like we’re pulling the curtains off of everything at once and saying, “Good luck and find your way around,” we were able to phase the community in, phase tourists in and that’s how we’re trying to attack the familiarity. Because we do think a lot of these large scale venues in Los Angeles, quite honestly, have been around for effectively our entire lives. The Dodger Stadiums of the world and the LA Coliseums and the Rose Bowls and those sorts of things, so there’s at least an amount of familiarity with how you access those spaces. I think for SoFi Stadium, there’s a learning curve just as far as, I’m a shortcuts guy, so just getting the shortcuts down to the stadium or finding your preferred parking space.
Aaron Curry (18:46):
So, I think we’re going through that now but I think it’s really been positive. And for retail itself, we’ve got signalized entrances on the south side of the project that are almost exclusively retail once it opens up, we’ve got our own garage parking mechanisms that we’re excited about. So, yeah, we should ideally be able to coexist on an event day or a non-event day relatively easily.
Chris Rising (19:08):
I have a lot of friends on #REtwit, which is the real estate Twitter group, who are Texans-
Aaron Curry (19:17):
Oh, nice, yeah.
Chris Rising (19:17):
… and, in fact, I was just in Texas. And they love to talk about Jerry’s World and they love to talk about all that there. I’ve tried to explain to them that, look guys, you’re talking about one football stadium and one baseball stadium, your basketball stadium isn’t even that close to it. I think it’s more than half the size of the SoFi project that you all are doing, this is a much more complicated deal. And by the way, last I checked, it’s a little bit harder to get things done in California than it is Texas but we have to all admit that Jerry’s World is the inspiration, I think, for Kreonke and everybody else. What do you think is going to differentiate this project from some of the other NFL stadiums that are really just single purpose, filled with some concerts but it’s really for football games or baseball games? What do you think people will walk away from this experience that is markedly different?
Aaron Curry (20:16):
Yeah, with all respect to Texas, to all of Texas, I think the market shapes a lot of the character of the building that we’re sitting in. And the credit to Mr. Kroenke and his vision on how he wanted to actually craft the entire site but certainly the stadium. First of all, physically, you’ve seen it, we’re over 100 yards into the Earth’s surface, we had to stay out of the flight path of LAX. So, the mass of the building is actually below street level then there’s also two teams that play here. So, it’s not too much skewed one way or the other as far as physical branding on the side, there’s a lot of digital signage that’s flexible but I think that helps make this venue the premier destination in a market that might be the premier destination for sports and entertainment. There are certain tours that just hit LA, New York and maybe one or two other cities or there’s certain events that will only look at an LA or a coastal market.
Aaron Curry (21:14):
And we had a BTS show here, this was a few months ago, and you’re familiar with the BTS-
Chris Rising (21:22):
Aaron Curry (21:22):
… but I didn’t know what I was getting into. I got tied into a meeting with a potential sponsorship group and we did a retail tour ahead of the concert. When I tell you that we’re fans lined up from 7:00 a.m., beating our construction workers here every day, it was consistent, four days. And those are shows that you can’t necessarily replicate in a ton of other venues, they might not do a 50-city US tour or a 40-city US tour. But the events that are happening, and I know that there’s some exciting ones in the works now too, the events that happened within the footprint of the stadium, I think, will truly shape the character of it because they’ll be so iconic.
Chris Rising (21:58):
You know, Aaron, my father used to always say, “Hey, Chris,” and my father is a developer. He said, “Hey, Chris, if I had three people waiting to have a meeting with me and one’s my lawyer who wants to tell me about the legal stuff, one’s my bank who wants some of the finance and the other is my broker who wants to tell me about a tenant, I meet with my broker first.” So, I have to imagine Mr. Kroenke and the senior leadership at Wilson Meany are watching very closely what you’re doing on the retail because it’s going to drive the project. So, it’s a pretty darn big job. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about … I know that you grew up in Los Angeles and went to Campbell Hall, I think you’re a Wildcat, went to UofA. What in your life experience got you interested in being in real estate and wanting to be a part of such a high profile project?
Aaron Curry (22:52):
Yeah, definitely. Real estate wise, I figured out … In my time in Arizona, toward the end, I didn’t necessarily know which way I wanted to go profession wise. But I think I got my first love of real estate, my dad used to buy, and my dad also grew up in Inglewood, particularly, but used to buy and flip houses. So, I would go with him when I was nine, 10 years old and watch him take … He used to buy absolute junkers and I didn’t necessarily realize that it was his business or anything, I would just see the house transform from just dilapidated to a really, really nice house or pretty nice, I’m not going to give him too much credit. The transformation is what attracted me to real estate and I knew that I didn’t want to do residential, all respect to it, I just felt like that was not my calling but I did have this desire to be a part of real estate. And I didn’t realize that but, I think, that was what made me want to be a part of development in particular.
Aaron Curry (23:48):
It was to be able to see this transformation but also to have input and to be able to tie in various, [inaudible 00:23:55], community desires or what will ultimately be needs in the future. I think development is very interesting just from the fact that you’re taking some of the history, you’re taking from the past, you’re trying to project for the future but, in the same time, you’re creating something that should, hopefully, work almost immediately. Be it housing, be it retail, be it office space, you want to actually have some quick successes but it’s a long, arduous process.
Aaron Curry (24:21):
And so, I’ve always liked the interim, the process while we’re in construction. I’ve always enjoyed pitching tenant meetings or being a part of meetings where we’re talking about what … Ultimately, looking back, and it will seem like a small hurdle or it might seem like a mundane detail once the project actually opens, but knowing the battles that were had just to get that landscaping right there or just to get that building height right there, I think, is what’s exciting to me. So, I definitely credit my dad in helping you to see the beginning phases of real estate, albeit from a residential perspective.
Chris Rising (24:59):
Well, you get out of college and there is no entry point necessarily for undergrad into real estate, there is if you go to business school. And so, you have this desire, you’re thinking, “Hey, maybe I want to be in real estate,” what was your first move to get into real estate?
Aaron Curry (25:16):
Yeah, so I started working at Keller Williams, just primarily a residential agency that had a decent sized commercial arm but I ended up working for one of the franchise owner-operators that was tasked with opening a new office and, in particular, he was opening that office in Inglewood. So, it was like a special projects role, it was a little bit my first taste in commercials. I did some tenant rep jobs on the side just really tried to grassroots it and teach myself a little bit, but also, one of my first projects was literally finding a space for this franchise to open. And then, as far as building up community support, helping to find agents and those sorts of things, all of that was entitled.
Aaron Curry (25:59):
But I knew I loved Inglewood and I knew I had this home feeling because my grandmother’s lived here since well before I was born and, again, I learned to drive in the Forum parking lot, it’s always felt like home to me here. So, I knew I wanted to be a part of that project and, as we grew, I had the opportunity to go over to Marcus & Millichap from Keller Williams. I was at the headquarters so it was more focused on overall, more on the national side and agent services and those sorts of things and then got connected to [inaudible 00:26:31]-
Chris Rising (26:31):
They teach how to cold call there, though. At Marcus & Millichap, you learn how to cold call there.
Aaron Curry (26:36):
If you want me to dial a phone right now, I can still whip it up pretty quickly but, yeah, absolutely. You’re on the phone and I think, yeah, it was great for me to learn and just as far as communicating too. And one of the nice things about Marcus & Millichap, because they’ve got such a global and national presence, you’re communicating with people, not just in the LA market, you’re talking to people across the country, in New York, Southern Florida or Midwest. So, I did get very, very comfortable on the phone, to your point. And then through a friend, a connection, actually, through Campbell Hall and a broker, Michael Townsend, who’s a legend, was able to connect with Will Heidel here on our team who brought me on and introduced me to Chris Meany and the rest is history.
Aaron Curry (27:18):
But I knew I wanted to be a part of this project in whatever capacity. And then, when I heard the pitch that we’re approaching this with a way … We weren’t just trying to fill it up with major chain restaurants and these large brands that, I think, are, yeah, sometimes expected by retail development near a stadium. When I heard the approach that Wilson Meany is taking and I got to know a little bit more about the Ferry Building, I was all in from the pitch.
Chris Rising (27:46):
Well, Wilson Meany has a great track record of known principles over there for many years and great respect. I just like to talk, though, a little bit about … There are some exceptionally successful African-American developers and I’m fortunate to call some friends, Victor MacFarlane, Donahue Peebles. I still think Donahue Peebles is one of the great developers out there regardless of the color of his skin. But I was just at a YPO industrial real estate event and one of the keynote speakers was Eric Dickerson and Chris Hale who are friends of mine as well. And Chris was very quick to point out that the whole room was White and it’s just a reality and it’s not a good reality and it’s not a reality everywhere. But if everyone’s going to be honest, for whatever reason, it’s a White male dominated business and we could, I’m sure, have a beer and come up with a lot of reasons.
Aaron Curry (28:40):
Chris Rising (28:41):
But that doesn’t change the fact it’s a reality that you deal with. I have a, I would say, a fairly Gen Z, millennial audience of all different backgrounds. Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced and maybe some of the opportunities you had to create for yourself? And I’m not trying to make a soap opera but I think we got to be real and say you’ve chosen a career path that is more White than it should be.
Aaron Curry (29:07):
Yeah. No, I think it’s a totally fair point. And I think, even when I was first jumping in and I just jumped all in, I didn’t really have, I would say, traditional training real estate wise but I knew where I wanted to be. But you look around and it’s, yeah, to your point about being predominantly White, but also it is relatively a higher aged threshold. So, you come in, I guess I was 23 when I was getting started, 24, and, even then, you’re still trying to get your footing and they always tell you don’t expect to make money within the first year of starting. And I was like, “Okay, cool. I got that. I think I can battle through that.” But then you start to see how much of a relationship business it is.
Aaron Curry (29:51):
And I went to my first ICSC a few years ago here and it’s a bunch of people that have known each other in a good way, they’ve known each other for a long time but it’s so relationship driven. And it’s like, if you’re a 23-year-old, young, Black man from LA and you’re trying to foster relationships with these institutional landlords or these people with over 3 million square feet of real estate in their portfolio or what have you, I feel like it can be tough to break in. A lot of real estate operators are successful, most people have money and they’ve had success doing things one way and for one way only and sometimes there’s not a lot of … I wouldn’t call it desire to change but, I guess, there’s not always incentive to break from how you’ve been doing your business for the last few years.
Aaron Curry (30:42):
So, I feel like my personal start was to try and reach out to small, predominantly minority business owners and see if I could help them on the tenant rep side. If it’s going to be tough to get a relationship with these institutional operators or this corporation, these corporate operators, at least start to help and build your book of business with emerging brands that can recognize that you’re just starting out too. So, I reached out to some restaurants, clothing operator or apparel operators, I was just seeing if they were thinking about expanding, I did a few tenant rep deals and tried to get the ball rolling on the ground level from there.
Aaron Curry (31:22):
But yeah, it’s definitely something that should be addressed as far as maintaining these relationships with these big accounts, the ones that are going to get you large commissions on the brokerage side or these landlords or developers that are going to be doing large scale developments fairly consistently. It’s tough to create that relationship out of thin air.
Chris Rising (31:42):
Yeah, I think you hit on a lot of the realities in the business that I do try to explain to people. Deals I’m doing today have been 20 years in the works.
Aaron Curry (31:51):
Chris Rising (31:52):
Whether it’s the equity source that took me 20 years to have them to have confidence in me. And I think one of the realities too in this business is, you hit it, if you’re going to go the brokerage side, I went to law school then I went to the brokerage side. So, going to commission after getting a salary was a really tough thing but-
Aaron Curry (32:09):
Chris Rising (32:09):
… it’s a real issue. You come out of school and people have student debt and, all of a sudden, you’re told, “Hey, you got to work for free for a year or two.” So, I think those are real issues. I do think, on the converse of it all is, the reality is the whole world is changing, has changed immensely and there are decision makers who are women, people of color. And I’ll tell you, I’ve said this on my podcast before, one of my biggest lease deals I ever did, I walked in the way I was trained with the dark suit, white shirt and tie and this young woman who was in 6,000 feet going to 60 said, “Get out of here.”
Chris Rising (32:44):
And I’m like, “What do you mean? We have a meeting.” She said, “I don’t meet with white guys in suits. I’m afraid, I’m afraid.” The next day I showed up, at that point I was doing a broker, and I showed up in jeans and stuff like that but what she told me something that has always stuck with me, which is, “I’m going to be your tenant which means I’m going to be your client, I need people who look like me, talk like me.”
Chris Rising (33:05):
So, I think there’s a very solid chance, as the generations go, we’re going to see it but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s challenges there but it ain’t going to get anywhere if we don’t work hard. And I know that you and your team are working your tail off on this project.
Aaron Curry (33:24):
Chris Rising (33:24):
Part of it is because we went through COVID, part of it is these things are difficult. What kind of lessons did you learn breaking into the business that you think are important to where you are now?
Aaron Curry (33:36):
Yeah, great question. Obviously, persistence. Very cliche answer but you have to … I’ve seen deals, on this project alone, where we talked in 2018 and things died down or never went away for whatever reason and we’re executing leases with them next week, those sorts of things. And so, nothing’s ever really dead, it’s one of the lessons I think I’ve learned. And again, speaking to the earlier point about just relationships, I do think you always want to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody whether a deal goes left, sideways or doesn’t perform as you thought it would, I definitely think it’s important that you maintain those relationship levels.
Aaron Curry (34:17):
And then just on this development, I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, and I credit Wilson Meany and the ownership group, Hollywood Park Management Company a lot is that, I think, when I first started on this project, I went into a meeting. We just brought on brokers, we had a meeting with our landscape architects and we had design architects, it was very much like a mindshare, get everybody familiar with the layout and just talk about how we’re going to pitch and how we’re going to present this project together. And I was very much the new guy on the project so I might have said four words in this entire meeting.
Aaron Curry (34:52):
And we were sitting there and, at one point, and these plans have been in motion for over a decade at this point, and we’re sitting there and one of our brokers casually just brings up like, “How about we just move this building from here all the way over here and reposition these three buildings?” And I thought the whole meeting was about to go off the rails, I got ready to duck under the table. And then, ultimately, everyone at the table, and a credit to them again, were like, “Okay, let’s talk this through. How does this make a better project? Is this going to help us achieve what we’re ultimately trying to do?” And we sat there and moved this building around and redesigned these plans that had been in the motion for a long time, I think they may have even been submitted for [inaudible 00:35:35] at that point and we undid a lot of the work but we felt like we can make this project a little bit better, the ownership was absolutely willing to do that.
Aaron Curry (35:43):
So, I learned that there’s no sense in being rigid or married to an idea just because you’ve had it for so long or you’ve been committed to it for X amount of time. Anything should be pivotable in one way or another and we were able to talk it through there but that was an eye opener for me. It’s like, oh, this massive development, this workship of the development, no way they’ll actually change a building that’s been in the work. So, that’s probably something that I want them to take with me for a long time. So, [inaudible 00:36:12].
Chris Rising (36:14):
That’s a great story. Let me ask you this, if we were talking to a young person who was asking you for advice and they said, “Aaron, what’s the difference between being a broker, what you were doing, and then what you’re doing now as a developer?” How would you explain that to somebody who is interested in the business?
Aaron Curry (36:34):
Yeah, on this project, there’s a lot of the same. So, there’s nothing that you’re going to learn as a broker that’s going to necessarily hurt, in my opinion, hurt you development wise, I think it’s all additive. Development is very much you have to center your focus. Me particularly, I work on Hollywood Park retail and you’ve got people in our office that are on several other projects but you really do have to be committed, not to say that brokers aren’t, but you have to lock in on one physical piece of real estate, land or project, however you break it down. I do think you have to be able to lock in and live it, breathe it, get out, walk it. I think you got this obligation to get to know the neighborhood or get to know the area you’re developing. So, a lot of this project, for me, and I obviously grew up here, first onboarding here is driving around and meeting anybody that was willing to meet and starting to get to know people.
Aaron Curry (37:35):
I don’t think you can be a successful developer without getting an understanding of the community needs, what you’re trying to create, being transparent with what you’re trying to create but also including people as you create it. So, it’s very much you have to get your boots on the ground. Brokerage, I think, you can look at brands and you can do it a little more remotely, I think you probably want to be boots on the ground there anyways, But development, absolutely have to get to know the area and you have to get to obviously know ties in politics and you’ve got to know the zoning timings and all those sorts of things or permit timings, excuse me. So, yeah, all of that ties in but, yeah, getting to know the area is huge and being present in the area, I think, is very important.
Chris Rising (38:18):
What would you say was a challenge moving over from brokerage to real estate developments? It’s a little bit of a loaded question that I’m about to ask you but what did you think, okay, you had to be prepared for? Because I know on our side of the business, because I’m a developer too, the financial analysis is a different look than it is when you’re a broker. Broker, you got one tenant, you’re worried about the economics for that one tenant. On your side, it’s not just the economics of that deal, it’s how the economics of that deal is going to affect all the other deals within your project. So, was that a tough transition for you? Were you ready for that?
Aaron Curry (38:52):
Yeah, it was definitely tough. I think for how we approach it on this project and there’s not a ton to compare this project to so I absolutely have been learning it in real time since I’ve started. But we’d break it down, certainly with the financial component by project, project yield. Office has one and retail has one and hotel [inaudible 00:39:15] and we’ll try and tie them together and present them so nothing we do doesn’t affect any other portion.
Aaron Curry (39:20):
But yeah, zooming in on the retail itself, you do have to manage the overall. And so, we might have a potential tenant that would be really great at X economics, and we can do the deal and I think the brokers would want to push a deal, but we just know, on the development side, we know we’re going to have to make up that dollar amount somewhere else or we’re thinking about the next deal rather than just singularly that one. So, that was a little bit of a learning curve or an adjustment. But holistically, I think, yeah, we’ve got a good amount of flexibility in how we set up economic deal terms for tenants [inaudible 00:40:01] and we just try and do our best coordinating that.
Chris Rising (40:07):
So, I guess I really have to also ask you, so the deals that you were looking at doing pre-COVID, whether it’s the credit of the tenant or the structure of the deal, percentage rent, leased, fully paid lease, did it change in post-COVID world when you guys were shut down for so long? Did you have to get more aggressive or did you choose to get more aggressive? How did that look?
Aaron Curry (40:30):
Yeah, so there’s a few different … The short answer is yes, we certainly made some adjustments. Again, our biggest deal signed is a movie theater and I don’t know too many industries that were hit harder than the movie theater industry. We were luckily able to restabilize that deal with an operator that we’re excited with and Cinepolis and Cinepolis was signed prior to COVID as well. But yeah, there was certainly a pivot economically. I think, physically, the site is actually designed for a post-COVID world and, again, credit to all the designers and consultants that were in on the project from day one. Because again, we maximize outdoor space, patio is at a premium on this project and we have tons of different restaurants that are spread throughout that are small business or minority-owned businesses that are also tying into the consciousness, I think, that’s come out of COVID as far as how people spend their dollars.
Aaron Curry (41:27):
And then, yeah, economics, one, COVID impacted it but, also, we know that this is going to be a new project and we’re factoring in that we’re going to need a little bit of runway for takeoff. Again, I mentioned we talked about some of the other venues that have been around for so long but this is going to be brand new and I think there’s going to be a getting used to it for a lot of potential guests and consumers that are coming to the site. So, we wanted to give the tenants that we’ve signed and tenants that we will sign a runway to get stabilized and then, ultimately, get their feet under them and then we do have some stabilization dates as far as when to expect everything to be solidified.
Chris Rising (43:02):
So, as we hit 2028, we’ll have the airport connected via rail, there is a plan for a people mover in Inglewood, I was trying to say, similar to some that we’ve seen in other cities. What do you think the whole site’s going to look like in 2028? Will this be car dependent? Will people really be taking rail or public transportation? Will people be walking to the shops and doing the game day experience like I have when you go to New Orleans or Seattle? How do you think it’s all going to look?
Aaron Curry (43:40):
Yeah, I think my hope is that it’s less car dependent, obviously, environmentally but also, yeah, we’ve got a lot of parking lots on the site now and, if you’ve been to the stadium, you’ve seen all of the on-site parking is actually entitled for other phase develop. Now, they will build garages and things to replace the spaces that are ultimately getting constructed on but I do think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for walking, I really do. And then you factor in third party rideshare and how accessible different pieces of the site are by Uber. But once you’re inside, I don’t think you need a car, to be honest with you. I do laps, again, from the retail to the stadium and it’s not a terrible walk especially when you factor in some of the lake and the landscaping.
Aaron Curry (44:26):
And then ultimately, once we have businesses open, I fully expect it to be a highly walkable site once you’re inside, yeah. We’re working on some opportunities that would make a little pedestrian access to the Clippers site relatively easy as well. And so, yeah, we really feel like walking is going to be a big feature of this project, more so than you see in other cities in Los Angeles or other neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Chris Rising (44:54):
Well, yeah, to that point, how do you look at it in terms of this 300 acres but there’s a lot of Inglewood around, a lot of single family homes that goes back to just after World War II that were built. How do you see that part of the Inglewood community blending in with the new 300 acres that are being redeveloped?
Aaron Curry (45:13):
Yeah, we’re excited about that and the existing community, honestly, is a huge reason why we wanted to create this in the first place. We wanted to create a retail development that we felt was elevated but one that was emblematic and representative of what the community was looking for from retail experiences. And we look at any other neighborhood around Los Angeles and you’ve got your regional shopping centers or your sub-regional shopping centers that have different elements of food and beverage or movie theaters or what have you and Inglewood is underserved in that regard. Not that there’s not incredible retailers here, there are, we’ve signed a few of them, but there are just great businesses around. But we also wanted to provide the infrastructure to have the placemaking to tie that into the existing operators and then have the infrastructure to bring in operators that were either, not in the market already or couldn’t figure out how to break in from a national perspective.
Aaron Curry (46:12):
And so, we wanted to create a place where we can merge. But effectively, my own personal goal was I want to provide smaller businesses with a stage and a platform to capture a lot of the foot traffic because there’s so many iconic little food spots or little apparel stores that don’t get the benefit of having high volume foot traffic because they’re at a smaller location that only the neighborhood knows about but they’re supported in high amounts. So, we wanted to create something … Honestly, you worked with Faithful Central, the post church brunch crowd is a real thing.
Chris Rising (46:50):
Aaron Curry (46:51):
It’s real, real thing. That’s huge for us in the community and I think that there’s not enough of … You can never have too many restaurants, I think, especially [inaudible 00:46:59] operated out that was previously in the Forum. You can never have enough restaurants nearby and I think we wanted to create some elevated opportunities for a brunch crowd or a date night, I think, yes. I believe Cinepolis is going to be the only movie theater in Inglewood for a long time, a lot of years. I know Miracle Theater has been recently renovated but they’re going to show first run movies. We’re excited about having an elevated opportunity be it lunch, brunch or date night, what have you.
Chris Rising (47:29):
That’s great. We’re going to wrap up here to in a moment but how do you look at how many nights or how many days a year the stadium will be used and how will that affect your retail?
Aaron Curry (47:43):
Yeah, and I don’t know the exact numbers but I think the estimates are about 60 or so event days in the building. And so, for us, I think, yeah, the majority of those or, actually, majority of them will be concerts and then, ultimately, the 20 or so football games between the Chargers and the Rams. And for us, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to connect and that’s what some of our operators, so far, are excited about. Because of the flexibility of this venue, some of these creative business owners are already figuring out, okay … We’ve got a residency art galleries and art gallery that wants to do, I think, during Super Bowl, he’s got these artists that’s used a lot of football inspiration.
Aaron Curry (48:25):
And then we’ve got a couple like Antojitos Martin which is the aguas frescas and the elote traditional Mexican snacks that they’re going to be doing out of a brick and mortar. They’ve got a Ramza Lote that they do on Rams game days and can tie in, but also concerts, too. We’ve had some apparel operators come in that are going to do custom merch when there’s a big concert here that you can only get at the Hollywood Park location. And so, tying into that regional or drop based retail is an important piece that can let the events dictate how you operate your business or let them help dictate how you operate your business and, yeah, [inaudible 00:49:04].
Chris Rising (49:05):
Terrific. Well, I know we’re on a short timeframe today and, really, I’ve been trying to get a feel for this beyond when I saw the games and you’ve done a great job of laying this out. I really appreciate your perspective and all. If people want to find some information on, not only SoFi Stadium, but what the Hollywood Park Management is doing and what the Wilson Meany team is doing, where can I point them?
Aaron Curry (49:33):
Yeah, hollywoodparklife.com is definitely the best place to get all the vertical information. So, office, residential and retail is all located in one place and you can get connected to the SoFi Stadium website or YouTube Theater websites from there as well.
Chris Rising (49:49):
Terrific. Well, Aaron, thanks for being on The Real Market. I really appreciate it, this is a great conversation.
Aaron Curry (49:55):
Yeah, I appreciate you having me.
Chris Rising (49:55):
Speaker 1 (49:59):
And please don’t forget to follow us, we’d really appreciate it if you subscribe to the podcast. You can do that on Apple iTunes or in any of the other podcasting services. It’s The Real Market with Chris Rising and follow us on Twitter @ChrisRising or @RisingRP and please follow our blog, chrisrising.com or risingrp.com. Thanks so much.
Speaker 4 (50:24):
This episode of The Real Market is brought to you by Rising Investor Platform. The platform provides accredited investors with exclusive real estate investment opportunities on a deal by deal basis across various asset classes including office, industrial, hospitality, multifamily and data. The platform also provides an inside look at deals in our pipeline while giving investors the chance to indicate interest before it’s too late. We recently funded our acquisition of 9320 Telstar, a mixed use office industrial property in El Monte, California using our investor platform. To learn more about how accredited investors can join the Rising Investor Platform, please visit risinginvestorplatform.com.