Member Highlight: Ashley Jones, Assistant Director of Industrial Improvement for Make investments Atlanta

By City Land Institute

We spoke with Ashley about her change from aspiring restaurateur to actual property gross sales, what’s cooking at Make investments Atlanta and her plans for main ULI Atlanta’s Heart for Management 2021 Class amid the pandemic.

At age 25, Ashley Jones was working at The Coca-Cola Firm as a territory gross sales supervisor when she got here up with a marketing strategy to open her personal restaurant. Apart from recent produce and staffing prices, she realized actual property can be her most costly price — however she got here up with a “loopy thought” to make it work. 

“I figured that if I may develop my very own constructing, whether or not it was a strip heart or a mixed-use property, I might have one other supply of revenue even when the restaurant failed,” she stated. So, Jones enrolled in graduate faculty at Virginia Commonwealth College to review actual property and concrete land growth. “Little did I understand how advanced actual property was. I began to grasp, ‘Oh, this is actual property growth.’ It actually made sense.” 

From there, it didn’t take her lengthy to find her true calling.

“I bear in mind when the director of this system at VCU requested me if I had ever thought-about actual property gross sales, contemplating my background in B2B gross sales,” she stated. Now, she’s by no means appeared again.

Recipe for Success

In 2009, Jones hit the bottom working as a Industrial Gross sales and Leasing Agent with the Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer workplace in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. “I used to be requested to come back on board as an workplace dealer,” Jones stated. “That’s the place that they had a gap, however in a city like Richmond, you be taught to do every part.”

About 5 years later, she heard C&W was planning to increase its Atlanta workplace. “I actually ran to my dealer and stated, ‘I need to go! I need to make the bounce’,” she stated.

He launched her to John O’Neill, who serves as C&W’s President of the Central Area. “After a sequence of conversations, John welcomed me with open arms,” Jones stated. Between 2013 to 2016, she labored on Tenant Advisory Companies, offering strategic steering and transaction administration for company purchasers, together with massive hospitals and medical methods, on a regional and nationwide foundation.

“Via this course of, I began working with extra nonprofits and community-based organizations,” Jones stated. “I began to see recurring patterns with regard to lack of capital, or some landlords not wanting some of these tenants of their area — the record went on and on.”

She thought again to the inspiring classes of growth she had realized in grad faculty, and will see her coronary heart was not 100% into full-time brokerage.

“Whereas I beloved working at Cushman, I additionally actually began to develop a powerful connection to seeing communities enhance — not bettering like we regularly consider when it comes to gentrification, however fundamental stuff like ensuring residents have entry to high quality produce or a YMCA Head Begin program,” Jones stated.

Sooner or later, the items all got here collectively when she reached out to Alan Ferguson, Senior Vice President of Neighborhood Improvement at Make investments Atlanta, town’s official financial growth authority. On the time, Jones was engaged on a non-profit deal wherein Ferguson served on the board, and so they had bonded over a mutual ardour for actual property.  

Make investments Atlanta was searching for a brand new particular person to primarily deal with acquisitions, and though Ferguson was searching for somebody on the junior degree, Jones was once more prepared to leap.

“He’s the very best boss I’ve ever had in my life,” she stated. “He thinks about actual property and most significantly group growth in another way.” Since becoming a member of as a Actual Property Supervisor in 2016, Jones was promoted final 12 months to her present position because the Assistant Director of Industrial Improvement. Along with acquisitions and inclinations, her focus is on working with business builders to search out incentive help via a myriad of how — a part of Make investments Atlanta’s bigger mission to advance town’s international competitiveness by rising a powerful financial system, constructing vibrant communities and rising financial prosperity for all Atlantans. 

“My work is sort of like fixing a puzzle or a sport,” Jones stated. “I genuinely prefer it.”

Huge Urge for food for Small Enterprise

The puzzles fluctuate in dimension, scope and issue. Many take years to go from asking, “What if?” to completion, such because the Memorial Drive Greenway which may very well be a five- to 10-year undertaking. Some are actually huge, cool ones like West Finish Mall, a 12.5-acre website in a reemerging business district positioned one mile southwest of Downtown Atlanta, surrounded by 4 HBCUs and linked to the Atlanta BeltLine.

Considered one of Jones’ proudest wins is The MLK iVillage, town’s first transport container village providing inexpensive, enticing and transit-oriented retail on the HE Holmes Marta Station. 

“That was a undertaking that we have been advised ‘no’ 1,000,000 occasions, but our staff was capable of get it achieved,” she stated. “That could be a cool undertaking as a result of it’s serving to small companies.”

One other current undertaking gaining traction — and native information protection — is the Candy Auburn Technical Help and Predevelopment Fund, which Make investments Atlanta accredited in January 2019 to offer sources to actual property growth and financial vibrancy within the historic Candy Auburn District. Earlier this month, ABC Rooster and Waffles opened within the Freedom Nook constructing adjoining to the Madam C.J. Walker Museum on Auburn Avenue, thanks partially to monetary help from Make investments Atlanta.

“We’re actually strolling arm in arm with Central Atlanta Progress and 1045 Advisors to mobilize the property house owners — small builders in addition to the group and faith-based organizations — to assist them reconceptualize what the rebirth of Candy Auburn will appear to be,” Jones stated. “That’s actually thrilling to me. There’s one thing about seeing the small initiatives touching small companies that basically pulls my heartstrings.” 

Particularly in an unpredictable 12 months like this one, Jones is staying centered by celebrating every small victory, whether or not it’s serving to a developer obtain a full capital stack for a undertaking or serving to a undertaking lead land a brand new tenant.

“To see these group builders actually ingrain and educate themselves and provide you with actually dynamic plans and visions on these belongings is big,” she stated. “And to have the ability to present some kind of capital to ignite these visions — that’s one thing the place you sit again and also you say, ‘Okay, I’ll not get the moment gratification of a ribbon-cutting at this time, however once I can drive down the road and see their desires come to fruition, that’s actually cool.’”

Nonetheless, the largest impediment stays the dearth of capital for some of these growth. “Anyone who touches actual property understands the need for inexpensive housing, however oftentimes with inexpensive housing and gentrification, there’s a disconnect with funding for even small business initiatives that home the native salon or daycare,” Jones stated. “These small companies usually get priced out, and there’s a scarcity of capital from the equity- and philanthropic- sides that’s wanted to maintain these initiatives.”

The Particular Ingredient

As a Black girl, one other problem Jones isn’t naive to is the dearth of range within the CRE business. “There’s lots of work to be achieved on this challenge; starting from serving to numerous builders get capital for a undertaking to helping numerous candidates to get entry and achieve development throughout the bigger corporations. Nonetheless, collectively we’re coming collectively to discover a resolution,” she stated. 

She credit City Land Institute (ULI) for doing its half to bridge the hole. “I’ve all the time been a member because the mentor-mentee program again in Richmond,” she stated. Her then-mentor was T.Ok. Somanath, previously of Higher Housing Coalition, the area’s largest nonprofit group growth company, and he piqued her curiosity in getting extra concerned on the group degree.

“ULI hits the nail on the top of what I really feel like my function is,” she stated. 

When she moved from Virginia to Atlanta, she introduced her ardour for ULI together with her. Over time, she continued to attend occasions and make extra connections. When she determined she needed to use for ULI Atlanta’s Heart for Management, she relied on these relationships.

“My community is actually what received me within the door,” she stated. “The primary time I utilized, I didn’t get in. That’s how aggressive this system is. So, identical to most people who undergo the method, I actually needed to mirror again on what I used to be seeking to get out of this system and the way I may enhance myself. Fortunately, it paid off for me.”

A graduate of the 2018 Class, Jones stated the community is simply the tip of the iceberg on the subject of the advantages of being a part of CFL. 

“Whenever you’re in a room filled with like-minded people who need and go after the identical issues as your your self, you can not do nothing however be taught,” she stated. “I actually applaud ULI for that — it’s all the time difficult you to be higher. Actual property can look like an enormous, larger-than-life business, however ULI makes it tangible. Everybody’s voice is accepted and the programming undoubtedly makes you sharper. You don’t get that wherever else within the business actual property business — you don’t get hardcore comps at a cocktail perform.”

In truth, Jones now sits on the board for Centered Neighborhood Methods (FCS), a 501c(3) group that empowers under-resourced Atlanta neighborhoods to thrive, as a direct results of her mini Technical Help Panel (mTAP) via CFL. “I like the work of my pals at FCS,” she stated. “They’re the prototype of not solely faith-based growth, however group growth general for my part. They aren’t afraid to have laborious conversations, and so they method their neighborhood and its residents with a lot dignity. It’s a shared mutual respect between them, that many organizations may be taught from.”

“For anyone who’s contemplating this system, I can’t communicate sufficient about what CFL does for broadening your relationships, particularly when working within the collective vitality of teams like mTAPs,” Jones stated. Inside her mTAP staff alone, Jones labored alongside a land use legal professional (Julie Sellers), an architect (Jason Snyder), a small developer (Mike Inexperienced) and a dealer (Inga Harmon). “The mTAPs are nearly like fortune-telling in a manner as a result of so lots of the initiatives CFL has centered on previously can come to fruition.”

Final 12 months, Jones additionally served as CFL’s Co-Chair and shadowed then-Chair, Regent Companions’ Director of Improvement Companies, Keith Mack. Usually a nine-month program, COVID-19 considerations brought about the 2020 class to adapt its timeline and programming to a digital format, whereas nonetheless delivering an abundance of camaraderie, perception and problem.

“Being Co-chair was so enjoyable,” Jones stated. “I can by no means change Keith Mack — he’s an amazing man and has a very phenomenal outlook on life. Like every other group that needed to pivot throughout COVID, we had our challenges however once more, it made us sharpen ourselves for the upcoming 12 months.”

Now getting into the Chair position for the 2021 class, Jones plans to dive even deeper into the curriculum’s subjects. “I’ve gotten suggestions through the years that CFL solely scratched the floor on some conversations,” she stated. “That’s one thing that we’re incorporating into this 12 months’s class, whether or not it’s an out of doors facilitator to information us via a management evaluation or different methods to additional discover every part from transportation to inexpensive housing to financial growth incentives. As a result of we’re working with leaders within the business, all people has a unique viewpoint and a thought course of and we welcome these passionate conversations.”

 With help from her Co-Chair Sheba Ross, Vice President of design agency HKS, Jones can also be working to diversify panels, audio system and content material to set this 12 months aside — particularly because the digital format permits for the chance to herald leaders on the nationwide degree. “We love the data and expertise our native leaders share with the category, however we’re additionally asking ourselves: are there different nationwide thought-leaders we will name upon to help us in telling a holistic story about actual property growth and land use to assist remedy our native points?”

Staying Hungry for Extra

Whereas she now not plans to open a restaurant anytime quickly, Jones says she nonetheless enjoys time within the kitchen in addition to eating out at a number of the metropolis’s finest eating places.

“I might by no means name myself a proper chef, however cooking is one in all my pastimes I’ve preferred to do since I used to be a child,” she stated. “My mother jogs my memory that even once I was younger, I might all the time level out completely different restaurant ideas as we might drive round. That was my factor.”

Whereas she has been spending extra time at dwelling this 12 months, she has additionally elevated to VIP standing with UberEats and GrubHub supporting native favorites like Atlanta Fish Market and Chops.

When she does enterprise out today, you could discover her on the rooftop patio like American Cuts having fun with the view over Peachtree Highway and or at Estrella keeping track of new growth alongside the Atlanta BeltLine. 

In spite of everything, identical to her life-long appreciation for good meals, her starvation for supporting native companies and group growth is insatiable.


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