To understand the lasting influence of Charlotte real estate legend John Crosland Jr., it helps to look beyond the houses, apartments and shopping centers his company built: The company also helped build the networks of executives now running some of Charlotte’s most prominent development firms.
Companies building apartments, mixed-use developments and affordable housing sprang out of Crosland’s firm when he decided to sell the company’s operating divisions in 2011. Crosland seeded the city’s development community with successful spinoffs. Those who worked for him say the success of Crosland’s alumni is a testament to his ability to hire entrepreneurial individuals and foster their growth.
Crosland died last weekend at 86, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. He built his father’s real estate and home-building company into one of the top developers in the Southeast, and sold off the company’s single-family housing business in 1987 to Centex Homes.
In 2011, after financial struggles brought on by the recession, Crosland LLC decided to spin off the company’s operating divisions into their own companies. Partners in the business were given the chance to buy their divisions and strike out on their own – and they jumped at the opportunity.
“It seemed only natural,” said Peter B. Pappas, now a partner with retail developer Crosland Southeast. He was hired by Crosland in 1984. Crosland Southeast was formed by five partners in Crosland LLC’s retail division. “I wouldn’t have expected anything else other than the opportunity to say it makes absolute sense to spring out of that.”
Crosland LLC, the former parent company, is focused now on managing its assets – which include about 1,200 apartments, 1.2 million square feet of retail and office space and 1,400 acres of land – instead of new development. President Adam Ford said the assets provide funding for the Crosland Foundation, a charitable group John Crosland Jr. established. The company is involved in limited new development, including a hotel under construction in SouthPark, and is exploring redevelopment of the James K. Polk building uptown.
Executives who worked for Crosland said he could be an intense manager, staying late and outworking almost everybody. Crosland also loved dancing, they said, and sweets. Even though he wore a hole in his rug jogging in place to stay fit, he couldn’t pass up a dessert.
A combination of hands-on management and delegation was key to his success in fostering entrepreneurs. Crosland knew the details of all the diverse projects underway at his company, but largely gave his people freedom to run their businesses.
“In many respects, my team functioned as a small, entrepreneurial group within a much larger company,” said Dionne Nelson, chief executive of Laurel Street Residential. The company was created from the 2011 spinoff of Crosland LLC’s affordable housing division. Crosland invested in the new firm.
She said her group had the opportunity to identify, develop and pursue projects on their own.
“There was oversight, obviously, but it was very entrepreneurial for a corporate environment,” she said.
David Ravin is chief executive of Northwood Ravin, an apartment company that sprang out of Crosland’s apartment division. He said treating each of the major divisions as its own entity contributed to the success of the 2011 divestitures.
“A lot of the spinoffs worked because the divisions were feeling independent,” said Ravin. He said that when given the chance to go out on his own, it was an easy choice because his group felt like its own company.
“It never really was a choice in my mind,” said Ravin. “It wasn’t, ‘Hey, someone in corporate can worry about the situation.’ It was on me.”
Ford, president of Crosland LLC, said Crosland was happy to see the spinoffs and those he hired succeeding on their own.
“Mr. Crosland took a lot of pride in seeing the success of the new ventures,” said Ford.
Crosland’s influence is still visible in projects being built today. Crosland Southeast and partner Childress Klein broke ground Wednesday on Waverly, a 90-acre, $200 million mixed-use development in south Charlotte that Crosland helped put together. Pappas said Crosland wrote the property owner, a longtime friend, a letter encouraging him to work with Crosland Southeast.
The groundbreaking was the day of Crosland’s funeral. Pappas said Crosland would have been happy to see his legacy carried on in moving dirt.
“Although we’re not blood to Crosland, it’s part of the next generation of Crosland,” said Pappas. “He would have said, ‘Have the groundbreaking.’”
Crosland alumni and spinoffs help drive Charlotte’s development community
Here are some of the businesses and executives that came out of John Crosland Jr.’s development company:
▪ Crosland Southeast: Five Crosland LLC partners – Peter B. Pappas, former president of Crosland LLC retail, Tim Sittema, president of Crosland LLC investment services and Crosland LLC senior vice presidents of retail Mike Wiggins, Austin Williams and James Downs – acquired the company’s retail division in 2011 and started Crosland Southeast. The company’s current projects include several shopping centers and the prominent Waverly mixed-use development on Providence Road, just south of I-485. Crosland Southeast has a $500 million development pipeline and is active in five southeastern states.
▪ Northwood Ravin: David Ravin heads this Charlotte-based company that’s developing major apartment projects such as Morningside Village in Plaza Midwood. Northwood Ravin also bought and revived the Vue apartment tower uptown after it failed as a condo project. Ravin was formerly president of Crosland LLC’s residential development division before the 2011 spinoff.
▪ Laurel Street Residential: This company was a product of Crosland LLC’s affordable housing projects, which it purchased in 2011. Principal and CEO Dionne Nelson was the former senior vice president of Crosland LLC’s affordable housing development group, and other key team members also worked at Crosland LLC.
▪ Yellow Duck Marketing: Although it’s not a development company, Yellow Duck Marketing is still part of the development web in Charlotte, handling marketing and communications for many major developers. Founder Julianne McCollum started the company in 2011, after leading marketing, communications and technology at Crosland LLC for more than a decade.
▪ Many other prominent executives locally have come through Crosland LLC. Todd Mansfield, CEO of Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, was chief executive of Crosland LLC for 11 years, until 2010. Jim Merrifield, managing partner of MPV Properties, was a longtime Crosland LLC executive. He purchased the company’s commercial division and spun it off into a separate company in 2004. Saussy Burbank CEO Charles Teal was chief financial officer at Crosland LLC and chairman Jim Burbank also worked at the firm.