Staff Reporter

When Jeff Dinkin and Doug Brown were in law school together in the early 1980s, they began a lucrative part-time business: fixing up run-down houses and reselling them at a profit.

Now the UCLA School of Law alums head one of the busiest commercial development companies in the county Regent Properties.

Instead of working on homes, though, they're taking on blighted blocks and building projects based on their "urban village" concept, which mixes the compactness of a vertical power center with the ambiance of a pedestrian-friendly project.

"Other people might look at a property and think it's ugly, while we see an opportunity," Dinkin said.

Few vacant sites exist anymore in urban areas, so most development opportunities come from tearing down old projects and putting modern commercial complexes in their place.

Blighted areas often have the cheapest land, and a "town square" retail project is the tool "to bring people to downtowns again, to invigorate an area and give people a sense of place," Brown said.

The Beverly Hills-based development and investment firm has two projects opening this year: a retail complex in Glendale and an office park in the West Hills. It is in negotiations with the cities of Burbank and Corona to build retail redevelopment projects, and it is pursuing a private mixed-use retail and office project in Hollywood and an entertainment-retail project in Westwood Village.

Regent Properties has been around since 1989, when Allen Kohl (a member of the family that owns the Kohl Supermarket and Kohl Department store chains) founded the firm. Kohl oversees the long-term planning, while Dinkin and Brown handle the day-to-day operations.

The pair, both 38, met in Athens, Greece while touring Europe following their graduation from undergraduate school (Dinkins from Washington University, Brown from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania).

By chance, they met up again on the first day of law school at UCLA and became roommates.

The two started their professional real estate careers as transaction attorneys, but law didn't fulfill their "creative and entrepreneurial" ambitions, Brown said.

He was a partner at the retail development firm Albert Glickman & Associates in Beverly Hills when he joined Kohl to form Regent. Dinkin, who was an executive at the Alexander Haagen Co., came on board in 1993.

Regent operated as a venture capital fund during much of the recession, then moved into master-planned developments in Texas and at Kohl Ranch in the Coachella Valley in the early '90s.

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