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Client advisors: Our Real Estate and Land Development Vice Presidents in the East share their history and insights on the future of the industry
At Atwell, we pride ourselves on our ability to be advisors to our clients. It’s our keen eye for trends and proactive preparation for the future that separates us from the rest. We sat down with our Real Estate and Land Development (RELD) Vice Presidents Paul Marcus, John Nourzad, Eric Lord, and Stephen Mauersberg to learn about where they’ve been and where they see the industry going. Here is what they had to say:
Tell us a little bit about your career path and any pivotal moments or pivotal points in your journey.
Paul Marcus: In one form or another, I have been in the real estate, construction, and engineering sectors for my entire career. While I gained much enjoyment in turning a medium-sized general contracting firm into a destination organization, one of my most enjoyable career moments was leading the design and construction of two museums in Singapore. That experience not only taught me the intricacies of conducting business in a different country but, perhaps more importantly, it enabled me to experience and appreciate different cultures.
John Nourzad: As a young engineer, I found my way to the retail land development business, then I started my own firm. I owned the firm for 22 years, so I got a good taste for being an owner of a medium size firm. I started with two employees and, when I left, we had 250 people. After that, I was lucky enough to join an architecture firm, where I built their civil discipline. Working with architects was interesting and expanded my view on the consulting business altogether. Then, three years ago, I joined Atwell!
Eric Lord: I followed somewhat of a traditional path. After graduation, I was trying to find my passion within the civil engineering world. My focus in college was mostly structural and transportation, so I thought I wanted to design highways and bridges. I worked on the municipal consulting side at the beginning of my career before moving to HNTB working on large-scale highway projects. I quickly realized the government side of the civil engineering business wasn’t for me. For the next 13 years, I worked for a Michigan-based firm becoming a partner, where I focused on private land development work. I found my lane there and really enjoyed growing with this firm. I’ve been here 12 years now, so probably 25 out of my 30 years of experience has been on the land development side.
Stephen Mauersberg: My educational background is in mining engineering. I was fortunate in finding a job right out of college in 1983 working for a small engineering firm that focused on coal mining. Due to a changing environment toward coal production, I knew in late 1985 I would need to explore other career opportunities. In February 1986 I relocated from western Pennsylvania to join Ben Dyer Associates, Inc. in Maryland to begin a career in civil engineering focusing on land development. BDAI became part of Atwell in December 2022. The biggest pivotal points in my career are first relocating to join BDAI, and then when BDAI join Atwell.
What brought you to Atwell, and why do you stay?
Eric Lord: It was the opportunity to get involved in bigger things that brought me to Atwell. Being a national firm with national offices gets you a seat at the table with some bigger companies and bigger opportunities.
I say this a lot; we’re not perfect by any means, but I honestly believe that we’re trying to get better every year. We’re trying to identify the things that we have an opportunity to improve upon and really make it a focus year over year. It’s that desire to get better that keeps me here.
Paul Marcus: I would say the vision of Dan and Brian is what brought me to Atwell. We had numerous discussions over the years about me joining Atwell. Since joining, I remain very impressed by the quality of people in the organization. So many extremely talented and dedicated people!
John Nourzad: I got to know Dan and Brian about 15 years ago. They were working on the Walmart account, while I was working on the Walmart account with my own company. We kept running into each other during the consultant meetings. There’s something very special about Brian, Dan, and Matt. They kept calling me once or twice a year for 15 years. About three years ago, I was ready for a positive change in my career, and I called them this time. The people and the culture keep me here. I absolutely enjoy everybody. It’s a great bunch of people and awesome culture as a company.
Stephen Mauersberg: We were contacted by Tim Augustine a little over a year ago. Every day as an owner you’re getting bombarded with emails of someone saying they’ll change your life as they help you transition out of your business. It was very interesting getting an email like that from a firm as opposed to a broker. We did a little bit of research, and we liked what we saw. We felt that the people and the culture seemed to be a big family. That was the resounding theme we were hearing. Now that we’re part of Atwell, we’re seeing that in action. Everyone is great to work with. The resources that are available go a long way. It’s a good place to be and I don’t see that changing.
If you could predict the future, what do you think the hottest trends will be in land development in 5 years? 10 years?
Stephen Mauersberg: The continued expansion and growth of data center development and the senior housing market, the repurposing of office space and big box retail, and growth in solar opportunities for residential/commercial, community, and utility-scale projects driven by the demand for renewable energy.
Paul Marcus: The residential housing market continues to experience a shortage in supply. With shifting trends positively impacting the rental market, the build-to-rent and affordable housing sectors should continue to remain extremely strong for years to come. I believe the funding sources supporting these sectors will continue to diversify likely toward institutional investors.
John Nourzad: The use of “self-driving vehicles” will dramatically change the use of commercial and residential properties in 10 years. The SDVs will take you shopping, restaurants/entertainment, and work. We will not need these huge parking lot inventories to park our cars! We will probably see much smaller residential garages in our houses as well. The real estate landscape will change substantially!
Eric Lord: There are several, but one interesting trend to watch is where the people are moving to. Population growth requires the development of land for all different end uses. Warmer weather may not always be the answer.
What emerging trends are you seeing in land development?
Paul Marcus: I like to stay on top of economic trends, and even go so far as to try my hand at making economic projections. I keep an eye on the various economic indicators to understand how they are either working with or against one another. By that, I mean opposing trend lines have become more meaningful in the past three to four years We’re seeing a disparity between what’s happening in the commercial real estate sector versus the residential sector. I think the commercial real estate sector is trending in a negative direction, led largely by office space underutilization. However, we still see a lack of housing stock, most particularly in senior and affordable housing stock, and it’s defining what would normally be a full-on upcycle or full-on downcycle of the entire real estate sector. Now we must bifurcate how we look at the various sectors in the overall real estate market. So, with rentals, whether affordable senior living or build-for-rent, I see these sectors bucking the trend and staying strong for the next five years, whereas the commercial side will likely take a considerable dip.
Stephen Mauersberg: In the mid-Atlantic area, we’re seeing a market of rental housing coming into play outside of what you would consider a rental apartment-type complex. We’re seeing single-family communities and townhome communities come online as rentals. We’re also seeing the repurposing of existing infrastructure; office buildings that are being converted to condos; retail shopping centers; and the big box being converted to storage units. People are using space for purposes other than what it was originally planned for.
John Nourzad: Most of my career has been on the retail side. Retail was drastically changed by Amazon when it came online a few years ago, so retail is going to be changed. The office space is going to change drastically because of the pandemic. A lot of office space is going to be converted to residential or other uses. Senior housing is going to be a big deal because the baby boomers are all aging. All of that has been negatively affected by the interest rates that keep going up. Things are going to slow down for a while, and we need to keep that in mind. Also, the use of “self-driving vehicles” will dramatically change the use of commercial and residential properties in the next 10 years. The SDVs will take you shopping, restaurants/entertainment and work. We will not need this huge parking lot/ Parking Garage any longer! We will probably see much smaller residential garages in our houses as well. The real estate landscape will change substantially! As our CEO Brian Wenzel says, “Lean into it and try to look at it as an opportunity and take advantage of it.”
Eric Lord: Change can be a scary word sometimes, but we have to look for the opportunity within that change. There was a time where Internet sales were ticking up and up, and everybody started talking about the retail apocalypse. While it did instigate change, it created an opportunity elsewhere. What ended up happening is that the industrial market became a pseudo-retail market. Every time you see Internet sales ticking upward, it just means that the logistics and warehousing are also ticking upwards. The two are more related today than they have ever been, and that’s created an opportunity for us.
We’re doing a lot on the restaurant, small format retail side of things right now because that world’s changing a bit. Everybody wants drive-throughs. A lot of restaurants that never traditionally had drive-throughs now want them, and that’s what changes their footprint and changes their whole model, which again creates an opportunity for us. Change can be scary, but you have to peel the onion a little bit to find where that opportunity is.
What motivates you in your career?
John Nourzad: Mentoring our younger generation to become better at their career
Stephen Mauersberg: To drive by a project site and know that the work we perform provides benefits to those that live in the communities, are employed in the buildings, or play at the parks we design every day.
Paul Marcus: Mentoring. My enjoyment comes from watching others succeed when having a hand in their development.
Eric Lord: Generating opportunities to help others grow and develop in their careers.
What 3 words would your family and friends use to describe you?
Paul Marcus: Thoughtful, intelligent, leader.
John Nourzad: Friendly, loving life, Caring
Stephen Mauersberg: Caring, fun-loving, and giving.
Eric Lord: Easygoing, thoughtful, and witty.
Favorite summer activity?
Stephen Mauersberg: Hanging out at the pool on the weekends.
John Nourzad: Water sports
Paul Marcus: Cycling and Canoeing
Eric Lord: Golf, enjoying the northern Michigan playground
Favorite way to relax?
Stephen Mauersberg: I don’t know why, but I can clear my head when riding the lawnmower with a cold beer and cheap cigar in hand.
Paul Marcus: Getting together with family and friends for a long meal with enjoyable conversation and great food.
Eric Lord: Fumbling around on a guitar.
John Nourzad: Swimming