Business Journal showcases L.A. professionals who are sold on retail property development.
Gwen MacKenzie, 47
Senior Vice President, Investments
Illi Commercial Real Estate, Encino
Veteran retail broker Gwen MacKenzie has sat on both sides of the table. At illi’s, she handles acquisitions, development, repositioning and sales of real estate. Previously, MacKenzie founded Shopping Center Investments Inc., which specialized in finding off-market investments for institutional clients. Earlier in her career, she worked at Federal Realty Investment Trust and Sperry Van Ness. Among the deals she has participated in are Warner Marketplace in Canoga Park, Venice Crossroads in West Los Angeles and Gateway at Burbank.
Why Retail: You have to put the pieces of the puzzle together more carefully. In office and industrial, you can put tenants in the same building that have no relation or interaction. In retail, you can’t just fill the space. Retail leases often contain clauses that can create a lot of moving parts. You can’t put competing businesses in next to each other, like a Bed Bath and Beyond in the same center as a Tuesday Morning.
How I Started: My first real job was property manager and leasing agent for a diverse portfolio of projects: multifamily, office, resort and retail. I quickly realized I enjoyed retail real estate the best.
Best Career Moment: First, being given the opportunity to launch illi Commercial Real Estate’s investment services division earlier this year. Second, being named one of the top 10 brokers nationwide for Sperry Van Ness in my third year of investment brokerage.
Worst: In San Diego, there was a mixed-use development project with apartments that almost fell through after the election of new City Council members quickly changed the political climate to anti-growth. The buyer pulled out and we had to remarket the project.
Best Thing About L.A. County Retail: If a developer is able to assemble a decent piece of land and get entitlements, there are usually plenty of interested retailers.
Worst Thing: Finding land and getting entitlements because there’s so little land left. If you try to change a use for the land, you run up against a lot of opposition. In other states people may think, “Oh, they are going to bring a lot of jobs – let them build.” That’s not the mentality here.
Favorite Project I Didn’t Work On: Empire Center in Burbank developed by Zelman Development. It has an incredible lineup of top-tier retailers in an area that really needed them.
Dream Project: At this point in my career, I want the projects that are difficult, where there may be a tenant that’s a potential problem or isn’t performing well, or where the financing or getting the entitlements is going to be a challenge. The trickier it is, the more rewarding.
If I Weren’t Doing This, I Would Be: If I was 18 and could start over, a hip-hop dancer. I studied ballet when I was very young, and also did jazz and contemporary when I was older. I still keep it up, but nowhere near professional.