Building from the Owner’s Perspective

January 25, 2019   |   By Bree Morris

SALT LAKE CITY, Jan, 2019 /Construction in Focus/ Fisher Companies is a vertically integrated real estate development group that handles private equity, land acquisition, real estate development, construction and property management. Meanwhile, its subsidiary, Strategic Builders, works closely with its clients on project bidding, design, and building services to complete all projects with an owner’s perspective in mind. This ensures that the ownership groups that work with Strategic Builders and J. Fisher receive exactly what they want, at a great value.

“Since we are so closely involved throughout the development process with the ownership group, we approach our projects from an owner’s perspective,” explains Christian Traeden, Executive Vice President at Strategic Builders. “Our company values clarity and quality above all else. As an owner, if we can set realistic expectations and deliver a quality project that stands the test of time, everyone’s jobs become easier in the group.”

Another market differentiator for the company is its focus on technology as a way to streamline processes and stay efficient and effective. Strategic Builders has been using cloud-based project management software since Day 1 of the business, which helps the team execute estimating, contracts, and billing in a timely manner.

“We use an integrated project management software called PASKR,” says Traeden. “They’ve been great partners with us. Their program integrates bidding, scheduling, contracting, billing, site management, document management – just really every step of our construction process – into one tool. It enables us to hold everyone involved in the project accountable at each state of the process.”

Strategic Builders can build almost any type of product, including offices and Tis (tenant improvements), light industrial, retail, multi-family and mixed-use units, and custom homes. The team has completed class-A, market rate, and more recently, affordable housing projects as well.

For example, according to the JF Capital (another J. Fisher subsidiary) website, the Moda Meadowbrook project is a mixed-use, 145-unit affordable apartment project that “will provide housing to Utah’s workforce that are earning at, or below 60 percent of area median income (AMI). J. Fisher Co has acquired several properties with the intent to develop affordable apartments and improve neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley. Their hope is that these new developments will be the beginning of a solution for the housing crisis Utah is currently facing.

The community’s amenities include a large clubhouse, a fitness center, and bike maintenance facilities, and will be just a five-minute walk from TRAX Meadowbrook station. Moda Meadowbrook is one of several developments under J. Fisher Companies. Moda brand, and the first units will be occupied in Fall, 2019.

On August 1, 2018, just two months after that project broke ground, Moda Granary Place opened its doors. These 134 affordable, workforce housing units are in a five-story apartment complex in an up-and-coming city district, and will help households earning about $38,400.

In 2017, Salt Lake City’s City Council passed a five-year housing plan called Growing SLC that outlines a path to increasing vibrancy in the city’s housing market, providing security for vulnerable residents, and creating equity in housing choice. Strategic Builders in proud to be helping Salt Lake City tackle the issue of affordable housing with quality units that homeowners can be proud of.

“This past summer, we were excited to complete our first affordable housing project in Salt Lake City and break ground on our second. Affordable housing is becoming a key part of our business. Our third project is scheduled to start in April 2019,” Traeden informs us.

Strategic Builders’ upcoming project, Moda Union, will be a 2016-unit TOD apartment development in Midvale City. This project will consist of 96 one-bedroom units and 110 two-bedroom units that are income and rent-restricted. The walkable development will provide immediate access to TRAX at Fort Union Station and will feature wide sidewalks, street level glass “storefront” construction, and tenant amenities and common spaces including a lobby, a gym, and shared office and lounge spaces. Indoor bike storage spaces will also be available to tenants.

But the Moda brand isn’t composed solely of affordable housing projects. Moda Highland Park, completed in February 2018, is a luxury 40-unit townhome development in a growing Salt Lake City community, complete with spacious floor plans and high-end finishes.

“We are excited to have completed what we feel is one of the best townhome developments on the east bench of Sal Lake City,” said Owen Fisher of J. Fisher Companies in a press release. Moda Highland Park is a project that our team is very proud of and we are excited to continue to better the communities we have an opportunity to work in.”

The upcoming nine-story, 220-unit Moda Luxe development represents another high-end project. The majority of the units will be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments with four three-bedroom penthouse units on the ninth floor. At 108 feet, Moda Luxe is the second-tallest rental property in development in Salt Lake City.

Interestingly, J. Fisher Companies is not much older than Strategic Builders itself. It was founded in 2007 during the downturn of the market, acquiring band notes and land. Soon, the company was in possession of a significant amount of land assets, and started a production home building company to sell these assets.

“That evolved to a full private equity shop, commercial real estate development, commercial construction with Strategic Builders, and obviously we have our own in-house property management group. So, we took each step of the real estate development process and brought it all in-house to create a vertically integrated company, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Traeden explains.

Indeed, the Utah real estate business is going strong, and the state is projected to continue its economic growth, allowing J. Fisher to confidently continue to invest in this market. On top of Salt Lake City, Strategic Builders has also been fortunate to work with the other cities in Utah, such as Ogden. In 2019, J. Fisher Co and Strategic Builders will collaborate with Ogden as part of a public-private partnership and are pursuing opportunities with the newly formed Millcreek city as well.

“Planners and economic development directors in these cities have come to us to help create some amazing projects. Some of them are still in design and concept, but we are excited to be involved with these visionary city officials – which are tough to find sometimes – who understand how to transform and revitalize their city,” says Traeden.

At the moment, Strategic Builders employs about 15 people, but all that may change if the company continues to grow at its current rate.

“We’re pretty lean,” says Traeden. “That is partly because we are involved in the process from the beginning. We do third-party deals on a relationship basis, but most projects are done in-house through our own companies. Since we’re involved from Day 1 as part of that team, we’re pretty efficient in how we operate and plan for staffing the projects.”

That being said, the growing, six-year old company currently has over $500 million worth of projects in its pipeline.

“If we hit all that we’re planning for, we will probably double our number of employees through the end of next year,” Traeden adds. “We’re actually breaking ground on our own Strategic Builders corporate office because we have outgrown our current space.”

The firm broke ground in November on the Parrish Crossing Office Building, and will move in by Fall of 2019. It will occupy the third and topmost floor of its new building, and will design the Tis for other tenants as well. Tenants will be able to lease between 2,922 and 28,225 square feet of office space is desired. There will be ample parking and immediate access to both I-15 and Legacy Parkway, making the new facility a great central location with excellent surrounding amenities for businesses in Centerville, Utah.

When hiring, Traeden believes that the best leaders are proactive, thoughtful, and able to keep a clear vision of the project at all times.

As he says, “I look for energy and leadership in our employees. We could list a lot of different qualities like experience and time management, which are nice to have, but I find that the biggest asset in our team members is being proactive not reactive. There are so many moving parts on a construction project that if you don’t have leaders with a clear vision of how they want to project to progress, and the ability to guide all the team members and subcontractors to achieve that vision, then schedules push, quality slips, and budgets get overrun,” he explains.

While Strategic Builders has certainly been lucky to find amazing team members to take a proactive approach to construction and lead each day by setting the vision for the project, the company’s trusted subcontractors are also key to the team’s success. Traeden notes that finding and keeping amazing subcontractors can be challenging in a booming market, but by running efficient, safe, clean job sites and showing appreciation for the subcontractors and all that they do, the company attracts like-minded trade partners.

“We try to create a team mentality on our projects,” he says. “If we can help subcontractors be successful each day, then we’re going to be successful, and the projects will be successful. They play a huge role, and our goal at Strategic Builders as a contractor is that when subs are given a choice, we are the ones that they lean toward when choosing their next project. We want to make sure that they want to be on our jobs and let them know that we definitely want them on our jobs,” he explains.

In fact, Strategic Builders’ safety-first philosophy is trade-marked as S.A.F.E. (Strategic Accident Free Environment), and the philosophy is greatly appreciated by all who do business with the company.

Since its establishment, Strategic Builders has doubled its volume each year. Now, it is working toward continuing this trend of sustained and measured growth, laying the groundwork to someday become a legacy company and pass management on to the next generation of talented individuals.

“We’re a young group, so we still have several decades – hopefully – to build the business, but we’re also taking on more third-party clients each year, and it has been great to expand that line of our business through strong relationships with other developers in Utah,” says Traeden. “As word gets out about our approach to the process from the owner’s perspective, we’ve been able to be a bit more selective in the partnerships we create, and have been fortunate to work with amazing owners.”