Jan 04

Greatest Accomplishments of the Past Year

With a new year on the horizon, Commerce + Communities Today contributing editor Joel Groover asked eight decision makers from across the Marketplaces Industry to share their proudest moments from 2022, a year characterized by strong retail traffic and sales, along with headwinds like the labor shortage, high construction costs and rising interest rates and inflation.

On a professional level, their accomplishments included things like launching a tech initiative for a top mall REIT, christening Ikea-anchored centers across Europe and North America, rolling out organic grocery stores in affluent California markets like Beverly Hills and partnering with a fast-growing fitness chain on its Texas expansion.

Baker Katz Principal Jason Baker

Baker Katz principal Jason Baker has worked with a who’s who of national retail, restaurant and entertainment operators over the past 20 years, including AMC Theatres, BestBuy, Darden, Fox Restaurant Concepts and Northern Tool + Equipment. But in addition to leading the firm’s tenant rep team, the veteran retail broker also puts on a developer hat to scout Greater Houston for acquisition and development opportunities. “We made a conscious decision back in 2008 and 2009 to go deep into those areas,” he said. “Ever since then, we have steadily been opportunistic in either buying existing assets or building projects from the ground up.”

This past June, Baker Katz acquired Pecan Park Plaza in the southeastern Houston suburb of League City. The 108,000-square-foot shopping center is in the middle of a rapidly growing commercial corridor. Meanwhile, construction is underway on the firm’s ground-up development of Texas’ Brenham Crossing, a 200,000-square-foot center anchored by Hobby Lobby, Marshalls, PetSmart and Five Below. “Thankfully, we got all of our numbers in just ahead of the crazy price increase in construction,” Baker said. “Brenham Crossing might just be the only ground-up development of its kind within an hour or so of Houston since COVID started.”

A Houston native, Baker earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and is a past president of X Team Retail Advisors. He sits on business and nonprofit boards and is an active community volunteer.

Commerce + Communities Today contributing editor Joel Groover spoke with Baker:

What’s your proudest professional accomplishment from 2022?

One of our big wins for 2022 was picking up the account for EōS Fitness. They’re an Arizona-based fitness user that takes 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of space. We started working with them this past spring, and we now have four leases signed in this market, with more to come. During the worst days of COVID, the fitness segment was seriously disrupted, but it has bounced back nicely. EōS could not have better timing coming into the Houston market. They have really turned the high-volume, lower-price-point fitness model on its ear by adding a level of quality, technology and service that has been missing in that space. They are very entrepreneurial and have been incredible to partner with as they have expanded into Houston and Texas.

Another highlight from 2022 is the continuing leasing, traffic and salve momentum of our acquisition, PlazAmericas, on Bellaire Boulevard in Houston. This used to be the Sharpstown Center regional mall, originally built back in the 1950s. Today, it has got a strong Hispanic customer base and we have seen our occupancy and traffic go way up, even during COVID when many regional malls saw big declines. We are as excited about that project as anything we own right now in terms of moving into the future.

What’s your proudest personal accomplishment from the past year?

There are so many great memories over the last year of being a husband and father. My wife and I just celebrated 21 years of marriage, and we’ve got these four children — all girls, all under 16. It has been just an incredible time. But another personal accomplishment I’m proud of was to start working on a master’s degree in theology in 2022. I have been hard at work on it, with about a year-and-a-half to go. I have always loved learning, and I believe it’s important to continue to grow in every area of your life. I have been putting in probably 10 to 12 hours a week of study. I had an hour-and-a-half webinar earlier this morning and I’ve got an hour-long call later this afternoon, all relating to the program, and twice a year I go up to Vancouver for two-week, 8-to-5 learning intensives. Taking a full month out of my schedule is a massive commitment. I have certainly needed to be more organized and careful with my calendar. For some people, this might feel like a part-time job on top of their existing responsibilities, but for me, pursuing this course of study has been well worth the effort. It’s something that I’m super excited about heading into this year.

How about a professional or personal goal you plan to pursue in 2023?

I would like to make big progress toward the 85- or 90-project mark as we work toward a total of 100 acquisitions and developments. Right now, I’d say we’re somewhere north of 70. I think it’s doable because we are flexible and creative about the diverse types of opportunities that we pursue. A couple of years ago, after we closed on several empty, freestanding Payless stores, someone said to me: “What is your deal at Baker Katz? Is there a method to your madness?” My response was that each deal stands on its own. We are opportunistic. We believe in Texas and Houston over the long haul. It’s true that we’re at the tail end of a worldwide pandemic and might be on the front end of a depression or recession, but to me this disruption feels a whole lot like opportunity. It’s in periods of turbulence when you experience the most growth.

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