As an entrepreneur, how would you create something magnificent out of a massive blank canvas?
Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development, Inc. (MDI), can answer that question from experience: his company is developing Houston’s Generation Park, a 4,000-acre, master-planned enterprise community. And take the word “developing” literally, as in “from the ground up.”
“It’s a remarkably energizing opportunity,” he tells Three Commas, “and we always want to make sure that we are the right stewards for this asset.”
McCord Development, a Houston-based real estate company, focuses on acquisition, development, and management of office, industrial, land, single-family and multifamily assets. Since its founding in 1973, it has acquired or developed projects across the country worth more than $2 billion (that’s billion with three commas).
Generation Park, though, is big, even for Texas.
“This is the last frontier,” Ryan says.
Here’s the Big Picture, according to Ryan: MDI is the second-largest landowner in the third most populous county (Harris County) in the United States. This county – which includes Houston – does not require zoning, and that fact is no small detail. Most major cities in the country wouldn’t even think to forego its control of zoning.
Ryan says that this makes Houston truly the land of the free: no zoning review board is going to stand in the way of development or growth – no committee is going to strike down a hotel or a mall; the city is completely market-driven. The objective, then: to pursue a strategy that can produce the most value.
A tall order, but that old real estate rule of thumb fits nicely here: location, location, location. Generation Park is ten minutes from the main airport, 20 minutes from downtown Houston, 15 minutes from the ship channel, and close to all the major sports teams.
It didn’t take a sporting event for McCord to score a dramatic victory. The biggest win so far was landing a big fish: FMC Technologies – a Fortune 500 company, known as FTI on the New York Stock Exchange. Within the next ten years, FMC’s goal is to consolidate all of its ten Houston facilities, including its corporate headquarters, to a single campus: Generation Park.
This summer, the first waves of FMC employees moved into their new offices, which begat an evolution -- over half a million square feet of retail, and miles of residential development. Earlier this year, a deal was closed on the park’s first hotel: a Courtyard Marriot.
It’s a remarkable change, and a fast one; the quiet rural area that used to welcome hunters is now seeing jogging trails filled with office workers in sneakers. Time lapse: about 24 months.
“It takes time for fruit to ripen on the vine,” says Ryan. “While nothing happens quite as quickly as you would like, FMC coming to Generation Park was the catalyst of us taking off.”
Of course, the FMC deal did not just fall out of the sky. Getting them to even consider the park – let alone, say yes -- was a challenge, and a big one.
“At first, they were not interested in coming to Generation Park,” Ryan says of FMC’s many lucrative location options, “but we persuaded them to at least let us be part of the contest -- part of the site selection process. We understood that the odds were stacked against us, but we wanted to [use the opportunity] to learn to tell our story and learn to compete. One of the things my father [the company’s late founder, Frederick McCord] taught us: get the decision maker to see the real estate. We were able to get their key executives on a pretty dumpy old tour bus. They then recognized their potential -- and our potential. It’s a major decision for the company and one that will define their existence for the next 30 some odd years.”
Entrepreneurs understand this: taking big chances while naysayers are watching from the sidelines, shaking their heads.
“We were swinging for the fences,” Ryan admits, “concentrating on that bigger company. We would have to be successful or completely reassess our strategy. It was a complete game changer. It was a catalyst for thousands of homes being built in the area.”
Generation Park has also welcomed well-regarded schools like Lone Star College and San Jacinto College, which are building new campuses at Generation Park. Ryan says that, although Houston is a very pragmatic city, he is constantly inspired to push the envelope.
“At Houston’s core, it’s a manufacturing/energy-based economy with no real tourism. It doesn’t have the glitz and the glam of New York City or Los Angeles. But my father said, ‘son, you have to ramp it up. You have to step up your game.’ And we’re doing it in the most sophisticated and thoughtful manner ever executed in Houston -- raising the bar high, with businesses not afraid to learn from each other and share their experiences.”
McCord Development, which is in for the long haul, realizes its responsibilities to this growing community, including the complex demands as small as local traffic patterns and as large as global warming. Its partnership with FMC, Ryan says, has formed an alignment of interest, with trusted bonds forming over time that will help Generation Park keep growing.
“It’s a generational strategy, which is why we named it Generation Park,” Ryan says. “It’s not just for the McCord generation; it’s for all the people who live and work in the area now and in the years to come.”