From Swim Coach to High-Tech Broker

By David B. Pittman

Bob Davis, a prominent and successful Tucson commercial real estate broker, earned a reputation as a relentless proponent for high-tech and bioscience business development in metro Tucson – and for his devotion to the University of Arizona.

Davis comes by those interests naturally. A Tucson native and UA alumnus who majored in biology, he is a former Wildcat swimming coach and associate athletic director. He bleeds cardinal red and navy blue.

Today, Davis is a senior VP of the global commercial real estate firm of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank – but he still does an enormous amount of work, both professional and charitable, for UA.

Tom Knox, today a principal at
PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services, hired Davis into the commercial real estate business in 1985 when he was VP and regional manager of Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate Services. He said Davis is widely recognized by his peers as one of Tucson’s top commercial real estate brokers.

“Bob is very smart and I have a high regard for his integrity,” said Knox. “He is an excellent broker.”

Davis has negotiated many of the biggest transactions in the region, particularly when it comes to the biosciences and technology.

After graduating from UA in 1971, Davis (a former life guard) landed what he called “my first real job” as a biology teacher and swimming coach at Tucson High School.

“I was fortunate enough to have an Olympian in 1972 that won a bronze medal and a world record holder in 1973 right at the time the University of Arizona was emphasizing its minor sports programs. I got the job as UA swimming coach,” he said.

Davis did a phenomenal job of turning the Wildcat swimming team around and began a tradition of UA swimming excellence. During the five years Davis coached the team, the UA won four Western Athletic Conference championships.

Davis left coaching in 1978 to accept a position as UA associate athletic director for development, a job he held until 1985 when he started his new career in commercial real estate at age 38.

“It was a difficult transition. I had to learn the basics kind of on my own,” he said. “You have to have a feel for the product, a feel for the market and a feel for the industry. Those things eventually fell into place, but the first couple of years were tough.”

However, Davis soon began to shine as a solid, competent and hardworking real estate professional in the industrial market. And because of his interest in UA and his knowledge of incubator bioscience and high-tech research efforts there, he developed a specialty in brokering property transactions involving dynamic, innovative science and technology companies and the university.
One of the earliest and biggest of those deals occurred when IBM downsized its operations in Tucson. Davis was part of the team that represented IBM in the sale of its Rita Road site to UA for use as the UA Science and Technology Park. Davis was involved in brokering more than 1.7 million square feet of leases with IBM, Hughes Missile Systems (now Raytheon) and Microsoft at the tech park. He also procured the first biotech, software and internet tenants at the facility.

Davis brokered other sales resulting in UA acquiring major properties, such as the UA Mars Phoenix Mission Headquarters, UA Biosphere 2, UA Phoenix Biomedical Plaza, and UA Bio5 Labs in Oro Valley. He has brokered nearly $300 million in real estate transactions involving UA.

Davis is optimistic about the possibility that the Tucson region could become a national biosciences leader.

He notes that two of the world’s largest global pharmaceutical companies each have a huge presence in Tucson – Sanofi, a French company that acquired Selectide Corp. and Roche, a Swiss company that purchased Ventana Medical Systems. The roots of both Ventana and Selectide stretch back to cancer research at UA.

“Roche and Sanofi could have taken those companies anywhere, but they’ve chosen to grow here – which is huge for Tucson, Oro Valley and all of Southern Arizona,” Davis said.

With Sanofi and Roche leading the way, and about 120 smaller biotech firms already in the region, Davis said metro Tucson has a good start in “creating the critical mass needed” to become a national biotech leader. “We are very lucky to be one of a dozen communities in the country that has developed a foothold in biosciences.”

Davis’ high-tech, bioscience and research and development clients have included, among others, Critical Path Institute, DxInsights, Accelr8, Solstice Capital, UA Center for Integrative Medicine, Molecular Power Systems, Derma-Wound, Ridgetop Group, Brock Technologies, Medipacs, Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi.

Davis represents select developers, including Venture West for Innovation Park in Oro Valley. He also represented in its 975,000-square-foot Rita Ranch fulfillment center.

Davis, who will be 66 in January, says he has no plans of retiring.

“As long as I’m healthy, having fun and providing value to things I’m interested in, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.

Michael Kasser, president of Holualoa Companies, a global real estate investment and development firm headquartered in Tucson, said Davis is an asset to Tucson and the UA.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bob on several projects,” Kasser said. “He has built a reputation for being keenly focused on bioscience and high-tech industries and for giving his time, energy and funding support to the university. He’s a good man.”

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