Dawn Weinberger, Freelance Writer

Sackett shifts from design to development

By Dawn Weinberger

Jeff Sackett thought he wanted to be an architect. He even received an architecture degree from the University of Oregon, graduating in 1979. But after working in the field for three years, he had a change of heart.

"Much of my practice was doing commercial real estate design," Sackett said. "I saw my real estate developer clients having a lot more fun, making bigger decisions and making more money, and I thought 'shoot, I could do that,' so I quit [architecture]."

Sackett's next step was graduate school. He earned an MBA in economics and finance from the University of Washington in 1985, and briefly considered some other careers. But, real estate development continued to intrigue him, so he moved back to Portland and went to work for The Koll Company, eventually becoming a vice president. In the 20 years since he began, he's also been a vice president for Trammell Crow Co. as well as a founder of three independent development companies -- Triangle Development, Forum Properties Inc. and his current venture, Capstone Partners LLC, a firm he formed with three others in 2002.

Capstone, which specializes in industrial, retail, medical, office building and multi-family housing development, has offices in Seattle and Portland, and recently started doing business in Reno. In 2004, the company closed $78 million in real estate deals and "is currently working on projects in various stages totaling well over $200 million," Sackett said.

Capstone, though less than three years old, has developed several prominent properties, including a medical building on the Peterkort property on Southwest Barnes Road and a phase of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The company also developed a 2.5-acres corner parcel across the street from The Streets of Tanasbourne. Coined Cornell Corners, the lot now houses a bank, a deli, a tanning salon and Starbucks, among others.

"The [lot] was too small for the big guys and was not openly marketed," he said. "We saw an opportunity, and are now 90 percent occupied."

Though an MBA and the will to succeed certainly play a role, Sackett said his childhood taught him many of the skills he uses in business today.

"My dad was a professional grad student, so we moved around a lot," he said. "I learned a lot about making new friends and adjusting to change. It was good training, because [in real estate development] every new project has a different set of characters."

One of those characters is Barry Schlesinger, owner of BPM Development, the company that manages Star Park in downtown Portland. Schlesinger and Sackett have been friends and business associates for more than 20 years.

"I think Jeff is very intelligent and very honest and ethical," Schlesinger said. "He brings a crisp, clean approach to his work. He is solution-oriented, he is thoughtful, and he knows real estate from many angles."

Sackett also believes in putting people before profits, a bold statement for someone in the real estate business.

"This is a people business. It is capital intensive, but you cannot talk to money. You have to enjoy building personal relationships," Sackett said.

In fact, Sackett has recently built a very significant personal relationship -- he married Lori Flexor, a portfolio manager for a financial services company, on Feb. 17. Sackett is also the father of two teens. His son Joe, 18, is a freshman at New York University in New York City, and Kate, his 16-year-old daughter, attends Wilson High School. Now that Joe and Kate are busy with college and high school, Sackett volunteers with the SMART reading program, an activity he got involved in "out of frustration of my kids being too old for me to read to them anymore." He also finds time for running, traveling and relaxing with his family, something that can be difficult with a 45-hour-a-week schedule.

"You can never really leave [this job]," he said. "The phone is never far away."

Sackett doesn't mind, however. A self-described optimist, he finds the day-to-day challenges of the real estate business invigorating. He enjoys working on complex problems with "smart and interesting" people, and creating something (a new building, for example) out of nothing (i.e., a piece of land).

"In this business there are lots of risks," he said. "But at the end of the day if we have happy tenants, happy neighbors, happy investors and happy partners, it is all worth it."

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