By Maria Saporta
After decades in the real estate business, Hal Barry took time Wednesday to reflect on his career and the state of the industry in a talk to the Atlanta chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
He has seen the ups and downs of Atlanta real estate economy, and what he has seen is that “the playing field has changed and it’s changed again and again.”
Barry has not been immune from the downturn in the economy, but he has seen other real estate recessions in Atlanta.
“I have no idea where 2010 is going to take us, but I feel it’s going to be better than 2009,” Barry said.
Up until 2007, there was a range of different financing options available to real estate developers. And then came the crash.
“Nobody saw this one coming,” Barry said. Unlike former downturns, this real estate recession began in the residential sector rather than the commercial market. “It’s been an interesting, interesting ride. I can’t tell you where we will be a year from now.”
Barry did share his thoughts about some of the challenges Atlanta is facing. The capital of the South is beginning to lose ground to other Southern cities.
“Nashville has become a great market for us,” Barry said. “Atlanta is sitting on its hands and feet on our problems. We are not getting it done on traffic.”
The economic development division in Tennessee also is “running circles” around Atlanta partly because it doesn’t have to deal the problems of a major city.
“Thy have a can-do attitude,” Barry said. Nashville also has a strong music industry, universities, the medical industry, and it is still small enough to get things done. “It reminds me of Atlanta several years ago.”
Barry was asked about the challenges facing newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Barry said he agrees with Reed’s priorities, including improving security, finding solutions for the homeless and dealing with the city’s traffic problems.
Two projects critical to Atlanta’s ongoing success will be developing a multimodal station to serve commuter trains and getting a green light to build a streetcar that would travel up the Peachtree spine and connect several top tourist attractions.
“There is going to be a point and time with people moving back in and they’ll get rid of their cars,” Barry said. “The streetcar would be one of the best things to happen to Atlanta.”
Later, Barry told ULI attendees that he often stays downtown across the street from his Allen Plaza development. “Walking to work is pretty good,” Barry said.
When asked about the BeltLine, Barry shared an unconventional view that it might not be the best investment for Atlanta. He openly questioned whether it would preferable to encourage development between Pershing Point and downtown where there already is a transportation infrastructure that includes MARTA.
“We don’t need to be spreading people out,” said Barry, who started out as a suburban developer. Incidentally, Barry and a couple of his associates were involved in a deal to buy five key miles in the northeast sector of the BeltLine, but fell through when the city decided it would rather buy the property itself.
Despite being about seven decades old, Barry still wants to get his father’s approval.
“My mother was an enthusiast. Her glass wasn’t half full. Her glass was over the top,” Barry said. “My father was the other way. He had not confidence in himself and he had no confidence in me. I’ve gone through my whole life trying to prove to him that I can be anything I want to be.”
So as Barry tries to work through another real estate recession, he shows no signs of slowing down.