The Power of Real Estate

Driving a Thriving Community

By Jay Gonzales

Building an economy in a community is a concept that literally starts from the ground up.

To build homes, you need real estate.

To build businesses, you need real estate.

To build schools, you need real estate.

The power of real estate is the power to serve as one of the foundations of all that goes on in a community − its growth, its identity, its way of life, says Judy Lowe, CEO of the Tucson Association of REALTORS®.

“It’s the basic foundation of everything,” Lowe said. “It’s the land under us. It’s what’s on top of that land. It’s the people that live on that land.

“Real estate is the foundation, and from that foundation grows all of the ancillary pieces that support the utilization of the land. It touches every aspect of our society here in Southern Arizona.”

Anything so crucial to a community obviously comes with challenges – where to grow, how much to grow and, critically, how to grow. The decades-old debate in the Tucson region has centered on how to avoid losing the community’s identity as a small and caring town while managing its growth into a metropolitan area of more than 1 million.

“There’s definitely a small-town element in Tucson even though we’ve seen a significant number of growth paths,” said David Godlewski, a Midwest transplant who arrived in Tucson in 2008 to work for the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association. He’s been the executive director since 2011. “It’s very clear, even to someone like me who came from the Midwest, that there are certain values and ethics in this community when it comes to growth.

“You only need to live here for a couple of weeks before you’re making sure you’re turning off the faucet when you don’t need it. We’ve got programs like the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan that have been put in place to try and make sure we’re protecting the most biologically rich environmental areas but still allowing growth. I would like to think that these things are not mutually exclusive − that we can protect historic neighborhoods, that we can protect the environment, and we can still accommodate growth.”

Therein lies the challenge, both on the residential and commercial sides of real estate if a community is going to not only exist but thrive, said Barbi Reuter, CEO of Cushman & Wakefield | PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services, one of the leading commercial real estate brokers in the region.

There are so many facets to the real estate ecosystem – land deals, infrastructure, construction, lending, sales and, of course, government. It makes one wonder how everything can possibly be coordinated to simply build a home or to complete a more complex project like an industrial complex.

It all has to come together for the good of the community and for the good of the economy.

“I’ve often said that commercial real estate and a thriving community go hand in hand,” Reuter said. “We all want to live in thriving communities, and jobs drive a thriving community. People need places to live, they need places to work, they need places to play, and real estate really underpins all of that.”

The hope is that each facet of the real estate ecosystem is doing its part for the overall good of the region and to set the area apart from other communities, so when the time comes for a family or a business to make a move, they see a sense of place in Southern Arizona.

There’s a reason that, particularly since the COVID pandemic, people and businesses are coming here. Locals say the Tucson region is unique in its culture, its identity and its livability. Many here want to preserve that, but at the same time, accommodate those who want to come here. It has historically led to friction over growth, although some say recent years of collaboration have eased some tensions.

The job of the REALTORS® has become more complicated, or at least required them to have more knowledge from their clients to find the right real estate to suit the needs of the home buyer or company looking to relocate or expand.

“I think that the requirement for expanded knowledge by the REALTOR® is very dramatic right now,” Lowe said. “They’re being challenged to look at what’s going on in the communities from where people are leaving. They need to be visiting Vail looking at open houses and looking at developments and building a knowledge base. They need to be learning about the water issues in Arizona.”

As growth spreads out over the valley, one of the aspects of what makes the region unique also presents a constant challenge. The surrounding mountains that draw new residents for their beauty and often impact decisions on where to live, also limit where land is available for homes and businesses.

It’s taking detailed planning, projections and some risk to make the next land deal whether it’s for commercial or residential development.

Diamond Ventures took that risk decades ago when it began planning one of the largest master-planned communities in the region, Rocking K, on 5,000 acres southeast of Tucson nestled at the base of the Rincon Mountains. The same is true for Rancho Sahuarita to the south where the Santa Rita Mountains provide attractive vistas to the east of the development.

Available land in those areas made it possible for two communities, and others like them, to follow and provide places to, as Picor’s Reuter said, live, work and play.

Jeremy Sharpe’s late father, Bob, took a risk on 3,000 acres for Rancho Sahuarita in 1993 and didn’t break ground until 2000. The community is 2,000 homes away from selling out the 9,000 in the master plan. The build-out has included plenty of commercial, amenities and even schools for the residents living there. Jobs for many of those residents are nearby with easy access on Interstate 10.

“I give tremendous credit and respect to my father who took on the risk to start Rancho Sahuarita,” Sharpe said. “At the core of it, it takes a tenacious leader and entrepreneur who has the vision moving forward.”

When it comes to land development, a multitude of pieces must come together: the planners who first look at a site for its feasibility and whether infrastructure is in place or needs to be built; analysts who try to project the price and pace and sales of homes if the land is for residential development; companies looking to relocate want to know if their employees will have places to live, not to mention grocery stores to shop.

Then, there’s the identity of the community that must be considered. Developers who take the time to learn about the region are the ones who have the most success, said SAHBA’s Godlewski.

“The big thing is that Tucson is a very relationship-based town. People want to feel like those investing their capital in the community are also committed to the same values as its residents,” Godlewski said.

“Tucson is a place where you know the police, you know the superintendent, you know people at the U of A and in civic organizations. I think that’s a key part for any new business, a builder or otherwise, to really try and make an effort to get to know the community. You still have a business to run, but in Tucson, we like people who respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the place.”

For ticket information on “The Power of Real Estate Summit” on April 19, 2024 at the Tucson Convention Center, please click the link below:


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