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Real Estate Development as a Science & Art

Real Estate Development as a Science & Art

by Kevin Huber, President & CEO
October 13, 2021

For almost 35 years in early December, I made Italian sausage and salami with the Cortopassi and Avansino families. For many of those years, Dino Cortopassi was also making wine (much of which we consumed during our lunch on Salami Day). I remember Dino telling me that making wine takes two disciplines – science and art. Dino explained that the “science” of making wine was to pick and crush grapes that had ripened to a certain level of sugar, place that juice in a container and let the sugar ferment into alcohol – voila! You have wine. The “art” is making that science experiment taste good.

Since then, I have often thought about how real estate development and construction also include elements of science and art. Civil engineering, structural engineering, traffic engineering, Title 24, all the federal, state, and local codes, title matters, and legal matters are all part of the technical or “science” of real estate development and construction. Creating a project that is architecturally appealing to buyers or tenants, one that blends with the landscape and environment in a harmonious way, creating a sense of arrival and place, having it be the location where people want their wedding, prom, or graduation picture taken; these elements constitute the “art” of a project.

Long-term projects almost always face changes in the economy, demographics, buyer/tenant tastes, and political or legal dynamics that require the developer to adapt and make course corrections. The final project seldom looks the way it was initially envisioned. Adapting to these changes and being financially stable enough to weather them is also necessary to bring a project to fruition. Much like a winemaker adjusts each vintage based on that year’s growing conditions and other environmental influences on the wine while it is being fermented or aged, continual adjustments are made in the development and construction process in hopes that the final product is perfect.

When we start a project we take into account topography, surrounding land uses, existing infrastructure, transportation and access, the market and expected demand for the proposed uses, the existing general plan and zoning designations, which designations are needed for the intended use, and what the architectural look should be. I’ve been asked many times, “with all of the things you have to consider, how do you know what you are going to plan and build on a particular site?”

“The Sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”

– Michelangelo

We get a lot of projects presented to us, many of which we pass on immediately, and many of which we do further investigation on only to conclude that we don’t believe it makes sense to continue pursuing the project. When the Grupe Huber team has determined that we do want to pursue a project, we develop a philosophy and vision for what that project should look like when it’s complete. 

We then take all the aforementioned issues into account, and through our discussions with our architects, engineers, attorneys, city or county staff, and market studies, the vision begins to take shape. We begin to see the renderings of that vision in land plans, building elevations, landscape plans, and color schemes. This is where the dance between science and art truly emerges. Often, elements of your design are not feasible for one reason or another, so we push, pull, and tweak until we arrive at a plan our whole team approves. However, by holding true to a certain set of guiding principles led by our vision for the project and by the core values of our company, what we hope finally emerges is a project that was “meant to be”, and one that not only we are proud of, but that the entire community is proud of. If we accomplish this, then we feel like we got the “art” part right. 

I feel proud that Grupe Huber Company has the experience and expertise, the patience and perseverance, and the financial stability to undertake the projects we build, always with the mission to improve the communities in which we live and work.  

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Hybrid Offices: Building a Remarkable HQ

Hybrid Offices: Building a Remarkable HQ

August 3, 2021

Hybrid offices are on the rise, offering the chance for on-site or remote work to their workforce. After a year of remote work for many, the struggle to find a comfortable transition has led many businesses to opt for the flexibility of both options or a mix of the two for their team. If headquarters has become the place for in-person client meetings and team get-togethers, it only makes sense that a team’s homebase needs to be an environment where community, unity, and inspiration are felt. For instance, Grupe Huber Company has been a pioneer in the Stockton community, moving our headquarters from a traditional office “A” class space to a historic remodel in our signature redevelopment project, University Park.

This past year has brought on significant changes in the way people approach their work environment. A recent report from Accenture cited that 83% of workers they surveyed preferred a hybrid model.1 High-growth organizations have taken note with 63% of them enabling productivity anywhere workforce models.2 As the popularity of hybrid offices continues to rise, it becomes increasingly important to invest in spaces that will captivate the team when they come together and facilitate in-person collaboration that is essential to the success of every business. The need for office space is not going away, in fact, it is now an even more critical piece to establishing company culture, workforce engagement, and increasing productivity. “While some level of remote working is going to remain with us, the best future innovation and products will come from the teamwork and collaboration that is derived from face-to-face teamwork with colleagues,” stated Kevin Huber, President and CEO of Grupe Huber Company. New office projects focus on creating a sense of openness, a place that invites teams to congregate while also maintaining more private spaces for individual work.

The days of big walls and siloed cubicles are long behind us. Amenities are an important factor when recruiting new talent, because companies are expected to contribute to larger lifestyle aspirations in order to stay competitive. A headquarters should offer a standard slate of amenities including a modern but functional kitchen, warm common areas, fun break out spaces, and more. It’s essential to provide amenities that are functional, yet aspirational for workers and tailored to the overall company culture. Just as a medical office prioritizes patients, a tech company prioritizes innovation so each of those office spaces needs to reflect the business’ mission and values accordingly. It’s also a chance for the company to show some personality. The Grupe Huber headquarters located at University Park does just that, balancing modern design and layout with archival pieces that nod to tradition and legacy. The right amenities help to establish a healthy and engaging work environment that encourages workers to feel invested, and pay forward that investment with their dedication to the work.

A historic remodel property offers a great approach for building a headquarters that is modern and forward-thinking, while maintaining the history and character of the community – a truly unique office. In a Capital One workplace survey, 79% of full-time office employees agreed that a company cannot encourage innovation unless their workplace environment is innovative, and bringing a fresh perspective to an existing space can help build that foundation.3 Workers want to feel like the place where they work with their team and achieve their goals is special. It is impossible to replicate authenticity, you have to build it from the ground up.

Revamping a historically significant building is also an incredibly effective way to show respect for tradition and signal a long term investment in the community. Oftentimes, historic buildings that are optimal for a remodel are located in areas that have been somewhat overlooked by the surrounding community and are in need of something new. A historic remodel can serve as a new hub for continued investment, bringing new businesses, jobs, and foot traffic that can revitalize an entire neighborhood. It is important to consider the history of the land, its existing tenants, and the overarching needs of the community in order to make a historic remodel successful. Grupe Huber’s University Park, a momentous, 20 year remodel project, brought over 20 new and thriving businesses to a site that dates back to the 1850’s. An era when, following the Gold Rush, Captain Charles Weber donated 102 acres of land to the city of Stockton to provide hospital care to those who were struggling with mental illness. “By marrying modern technology and design with public artwork, a world-class rose garden, historic features and a contiguous 102 acre campus, we have been able to create a truly special place where people work, learn, heal, and play” commented Mr. Huber. University Park doesn’t shy away from history, it’s an integral part of the project’s mission.

A remarkable headquarters is essential to building a successful business and Grupe Huber approaches each project with a deep understanding of how physical space can impact people. We approach every project with fresh eyes and a modern point of view, understanding that as the workforce continues to move to the future, we are here to help build it. We are developers who partner in every step of the process, committed to shaping spaces that reflect your business’ story.

  1. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/consulting/future-work
  2. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/consulting/future-work
  3. https://medium.com/@lindseypollak/what-do-multigenerational-employees-want-in-a-work-environment-a5ae1803ef4b
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Focused on the Future

Focused on the Future

by Kevin Huber, President & CEO
March 29, 2021 

As I reflect on the last 12 months, I am reminded that on average it takes 66 days of a behavior change to form a habit. Think about that… 66 days, yet we have all had our behavior disrupted for over 360 days. If you are like me, there are definite changes that you’ve accepted as your “new normal.” Some of these may be positive changes, and some may be ones you hope to change “post-COVID.” Everyone has a story the past year and, just as I am, you are likely fatigued by all the COVID commentary, which is why I want to talk about the future and how I intend to think about it going forward.

I want my future to consist of at least these 5 things:

    • Maintaining a strong foundation.
    • Focusing on what is truly needed for success.
    • Taking care of people.
    • Having goals beyond financial success that improve the lives of others.
    • Taking risks.

As I sit in my office at University Park, I am watching the new 50-bed post-acute care rehabilitation hospital start construction. The first thing they have done is remove between 6’-10’ of soil and replace it with new soil and base rock that will allow for a much stronger foundation. This reminded me of the importance of a strong foundation. In our lives, I believe that a personal foundation mainly consists of four components: our Family, our Friends, our Faith, and a Good Education. When these components are bound together, they create the basis for a strong foundation. Without a strong foundation, anything we build can crumble.

When I reflect on past learning experiences, I am reminded of when my CFO/CTO for the corporate housing company I sold to Marriott in 1999 was designing a proprietary software for our company with an outside firm. When she presented the preliminary outline and budget, she broke it down into three categories. The first were things we absolutely needed to include, which became our base budget. Next were features that she felt would be nice to have and had the potential to add some value to our services, and that added an incremental increase. The third was what she called the “cool factor” which included features that were not necessarily going to add value, but that would seem cool. Of course, this added a third layer of cost. Since we were running on a tight budget, we chose the features that we needed and the ones that we had confidence would add value. We passed on the “cool factor” features. As I think about my personal and business decisions, I plan to focus on what I need and some things, that by having them, I am confident will add value. I’ll leave the “cool factor” for people cooler than me!

Through the pandemic, we did not layoff any employees, we created a new 401k plan with a safe harbor match, and an improved menu of health benefits. I have had multiple employees pull me aside and thank me for helping them make it through this past year and improve their financial situation. I know in my heart that if one of these people were recruited by another company, unless the opportunity was substantially better than their current situation, they will feel as loyal to us as we feel to them. Taking care of people when they need it will result in them taking care of others when they need it.

Our family has a history of community involvement with a variety of educational, charitable, and community organizations. Some of the most rewarding experiences and relationships we have built are through endeavors that aim to serve others. If your goals are focused only on you, then you will be the only one working on them. When you help others reach their goals, you’d be surprised how you find yourself reaching your own goals along the way. I plan to continue having goals that improve the lives of other people, not expecting anything in return. I have found that when I have done so, the reward is always returned to me in some meaningful way.

Finally, I believe that taking risks is part of what creates meaning in our lives. In a speech that I heard Senator Alan Simpson give he said “if you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t- then do!”.

Senator Simpson went on to quote Leo Buscaglia’s thoughts on Risks, which goes as follows:

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return,

To live is to risk dying,

To hope is to risk despair,

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. I plan to continue to take risks and experience another year full of meaningful experiences.

I hope my thoughts have helped you think about your future. What will you focus on? Share it with us on social media! 

My Warmest Regards for a bright future!

Kevin

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Our New Brand: Two Names, One Company, And a Family You Can Trust

Our New Brand: Two Names, One Company, And a Family You Can Trust

September 29, 2020
By Kevin Huber, President & CEO

Over the past few months, you’ve been introduced to the Grupe Huber Company, formerly known as Grupe Commercial Company. Neither of these two names are new to you — and that’s the point. Over the years, both the Grupe and Huber families have built strong relationships in the Central Valley and beyond. We’re native Californians, and our work with the land and the people who live here means something to us. We created Grupe Huber Company so we could continue to build upon that foundation and develop a legacy that will carry all of us into a bright future.

The projects Grupe Huber takes on are designed to strengthen our communities, enrich the lives of our employees, and return healthy profits to our shareholders and investors. We are continuing to develop commercial projects, expanding upon our existing 1.5 million square feet of office, retail and storage projects. In addition, with the experience of our leadership team, we are adding new residential opportunities to our portfolio — but we’re not going to build just for the sake of building. There’s a real meaning and purpose behind everything our company tackles.

A little more than a year ago, we sat down and really began to think through the core values of this new company. These reflect who we are as a business, but they’re much more than that. They reflect who we are as people, too.

Integrity. We will always strive to do what’s right, even when it’s not easy. That means no cutting corners, no sacrificing quality for quantity, and nothing built solely for profit.

Invested. We promise that we will use our financial strength and experience to create a better world. Our projects will benefit our loved ones, our employees, our tenants, and our communities.

Resourceful. Where other people see problems, we see opportunities. In an upcoming University Park newsletter, you’ll read about how the lake at University Park came to be. That was a logistical problem that became a source of pride and beauty. It’s a small example sampled from many years of work, but it speaks to how we approach and solve challenges.

Quality. If you know us, you know that we don’t do anything by half. We have a proven track record of execution and success, and we create projects that are built to last.

Service. We will leave this world better than we found it. That starts with treating our tenants and customers with respect and always overdelivering on their expectations.

These five core values may sound simple, but they give us a blueprint for our projects and for our future. Every single thing we do is designed to fit within these values, from the way we communicate with you in our newsletter to the way we work with municipalities on new design plans to the way we show appreciation to our tenants. What you see is what you get with Grupe Huber. We’ll always be genuine and transparent with you.

Our new company has a new home, too, and that home is a reflection of what we do. It’s in the Spruce Building at University Park, a 1929 structure that Sandy and our team of partners restored with a lot of care and attention. We could have put up a new building so we could start fresh — but that wouldn’t have been us. Spruce has great bones, great history, and a new mission and purpose. It will be solid for generations to come. You could say that it’s the perfect metaphor for Grupe Huber.

Our company name may be new, but we’re still the same people you’ve worked with for years. Grupe Huber is two names you know, one company, and a family you can trust.