Jay Atkinson is a thoughtful investor and developer with a unique global perspective, a proven track record for driving the transformation of under performing assets and a passion for making a difference in the communities in which he operates. He founded Paceline Investors, his third venture, in late 2015. Upon returning to the US in 2009 after three years in China, Atkinson co-founded Cannae Partners LLC, a San Francisco-based real estate investment company and enjoyed a successful run.
Prior to Cannae Partners, in 2006 Atkinson actively built Gerrity International’s GMS China business, a venture that was partnered with Morgan Stanley and whose purpose was to develop Wal-Mart anchored shopping centers in mainland China. Gerrity International/GMS China’s other goal was to build up an operating company that could develop, manage and lease those shopping centers by utilizing best practices from around the world. The work required a great deal of creativity as the centers were generally in infill locations in vertically stacked environments with structured or rooftop parking. Wal-Mart was typically 50% of the GLA in a 500,000 square foot center. “The experience was ridiculously consuming of time and energy, but the challenge of building a company from the ground-up, in such a fast-paced environment cemented my interest in being an entrepreneur and having my own company, said Atkinson. “It was an equally fascinating experience to live outside the US and to have that experience in a country undergoing such dramatic changes.”
Atkinson’s sense of adventure is alive and well with his new company as Paceline focuses on investing in infill projects in the Bay Area where there is a compelling story to the business plan and the ability to create something unique for tenants and the larger community. “My time in the Bay Area has informed my thoughts about Paceline’s goals of being active not just in the re-positioning of existing properties, but also active in the entitlement and redevelopment of properties into better, more appropriate uses and densities for today’s needs,” said Atkinson. “Much of coastal California was developed in the 1960s through the 1980s and often repurposed, however, much of it is at lower densities than it should be given the demographic and economic pressures.”
Several exciting projects currently have Atkinson’s creative juices flowing. He recently acquired a three building, 267,000 square foot office property in San Mateo. The deal provided him with exactly the type of repositioning challenge that he thrives on. Paceline also owns positions in two Oakland residential projects and a neighborhood shopping center in the downtown Walnut Creek. With the strength of that market, Atkinson is analyzing the options of long-term ownership versus the chance to redevelop it into mixed-use product. “We are engaged on several office and industrial entitlement projects presently and hope to announce an East Bay creative office acquisition in the near future,” said Atkinson. “I like articulating the unique story that makes a project stand out and gives it a compelling reason for its existence.”
Atkinson, relied on NAIOP SFBA when he moved back to the Bay Area to reconnect him with the real estate community. “I began attending industry events as a means to meet peers and network in our industry and I found the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of NAIOP to be the most inclusive of the multiple perspectives in our industry – from developers to investors to brokers and service providers, he said. “I gravitated towards getting more involved with the chapter through the Programs Committee and fortunately was then asked by Scott Pertel to join the Board. Now going into 2018, I am honored and excited to begin my term as President!”
In terms of advice Atkinson has for peers and those coming up in the industry relative to NAIOP, he believes that active involvement is key. “It is easy to engage casually with an organization and say that you are too busy to get more involved. This too often becomes a reflexive excuse for sitting on the sidelines,” he said. “However, you get way more than you put in when you get actively involved in organizations and causes that you believe in. It’s worth the leap of faith and the time commitment because of the relationships you develop and the sense of pride you get from knowing that you really invested in the cause rather than just floating by.”
Relative to the younger generation coming up in the industry, Atkinson has two pieces of solid advice. First, find mentors. “I was fortunate to work in strong organizations like Trammell Crow Company immediately after college, but more importantly I was fortunate to find great individuals to watch and learn from. Those mentors taught me about how to act and communicate professionally and with a sense of vision, empathy and camaraderie towards those around me,” Atkinson shared. “From early on in my career, I was always seeking those types of relationships with experienced real estate professionals that I could learn from. If you are young you want to be looking for those type of individuals both ahead of you career-wise as well as peers that can serve as a sounding board for professional advice. Second, be fearless. “Push yourself outside your comfort zone because this is how you grow professionally and personally,” he said.
Atkinson, who spent many years competing as an endurance athlete, is no stranger to testing himself. Prior to moving back to the Bay Area, he was an active Ironman triathlete who enjoyed pushing himself to see how far and how fast he could go. The last few years, however, he has sacrificed the grueling training schedule to push the companies he has founded forward and to be an active parent to his two young children: Trey,7 ½ and and Jasmine, 5 years old. “I enjoy my kids more than anything and am active in their lives and as a coach for their sports teams,” said Atkinson. “I love being around them and being able to see them grow into the young people they are becoming.”
Exploring the globe and supporting non-profit educational programs at home and abroad are high on Atkinson’s list as well. “My personal passions include traveling and putting myself into new environments to meet different people and to see different places,” he said. “As an adult, I have been fortunate enough to travel significantly for fun around the world and have had some remarkable experiences.” Together with his wife, Julie, he is involved with several educational initiatives associated with improving access to resources within under-served communities here in the Bay Area and with Center of Hope – Haiti, an elementary school and orphanage in rural Haiti. “As a mixed-race couple, Julie, and I are inspired to give back in this way,” Atkinson shared. “We find the work with Center of Hope – Haiti fulfilling and the mission of helping children in need is very much aligned with our values.”