Focus Feature: Courtney Brower

06 August 2020

We recently sat down with Senior Project Manager, Courtney Brower as part of our Focus Feature series. As a member of the Focus development team, Courtney is responsible for shepherding Focus' projects from concept to reality. Her experience working in the suburbs and in downtown Chicago give her a unique perspective on the Illinois market as a whole and her background as an architect shines through-in the design of the projects she's been a part of. She shares some of her insights and experience below.

As a Senior Development Manager you’re responsible for stewarding Focus’ development projects from start to finish – talk to us about role and what makes it unique.

I'm asked that question frequently by people in the real estate industry and it’s difficult to give a simple response. My responsibilities vary greatly based on where we are in the development process, and I think the simplest answer is that I function as owner’s representative within the ownership team which is typically made up of Focus, our joint-venture partners and equity investors. I represent the owner’s interests throughout the project and report to other members of the ownership team with project status and financial updates. I am responsible for navigating the entitlements process, organizing the design team, developing project budgets, making design decisions, and overseeing construction.

In my role as Senior Development Manager, I oversee the project from conception to completion. I also manage the soft cost budget, contingency spending and investor reporting, as well as oversee the project team of architects, engineers and consultants.

It’s fulfilling to be involved from the conception of the project because I can leave my fingerprint on the design and program. When considering the development, I contemplate what it would be like to live or work in this building and what kind of amenities and features would get me excited about residing there. I am lucky that I can shape those ideas into reality with our amazing design teams.

What makes my role at Focus unique from many other real estate developers is our in-house construction team. Our integrated real estate and construction delivery model sets us apart from other developers. I work very side by side with our construction team from the conception of the project to the execution of the project through turnover. This is paramount because the construction team understands the budgetary constraints and brings construction expertise and innovative ideas that allow us to deliver great design within budget.

You are the lead Development Manager on one of Focus’ largest projects ever, 167 N Green Street, what makes this project unique? What type of innovative design features have been integrated?

167 N Green features a unique pedestrian walkway called, ‘The Mews’, which is a covered outdoor corridor that connects Green Street and Halsted Street. The mews is located on private property but will be open to the public and has been designed to provide a unique experience for the community with public art, food and pop up retailers along the walkway. The ceiling at the mews will be clad in a material with a mirrored finish creating another opportunity for interactivity. This design aspect, along with amenities like multiple outdoor terraces and a full size basketball court, certainly makes 167 N Green unique and sets it apart from other office buildings in Chicago.

167 N Green also utilizes an innovative VRF HVAC system that provides operators with increased control of the interior climate while reducing the amount of shared air between units. This increases tenant comfort while taking up less space than a traditional AHU HVAC system. This is an important feature in the post-COVID world where indoor air quality is more important than ever.

Like many of Focus’ development team members, you are trained as an architect, how do you think that experience informs your work with Focus?

I worked at a large architecture firm headquartered in Chicago for a few years and that certainly influenced my work ethic. I think working in the architecture field gave me an appreciation for the time and tenacity devoted to creating great buildings. I also came to understand the importance of a solid project team and how quickly things fall apart without it. This extends beyond the architecture team to the army of engineers, consultants and contractors that make these projects come together. Now that I’m responsible for assembling those teams, I pay attention to the consultants that work well on a team and tend to work with them again and again.

I also care a lot about design and so does the entire development team at Focus. Focus never has and never will produce cookie cutter developments and each project is unique and is contextually appropriate for the community. My background and experience in architecture help me work on detailed masonry mid-rises that fit into the context of suburban communities and also work on high rise buildings in downtown Chicago.

You have lead projects in Chicago and in the Chicago suburbs, what would you say the biggest differences are between developing real estate in the suburbs versus in the city?

The biggest difference is the entitlements process. In the city, you typically know what to expect and how long it will take to get through zoning. In the suburbs, the timeline is not always predictable and we may be entering that community for the first time. With over 5 years of experience at Focus, I've worked on projects in the city and in multiple Chicago suburbs where I've developed valuable relationships with community leaders, city officials and local trade partners.

What was your favorite Focus project and why?

My favorite project to work on was, The Parker which is a 29 story apartment building in Fulton Market. The Parker was the first high rise project I worked on at Focus and it provided me with many learning experiences. I really enjoyed working in Fulton Market and witnessing the tranSFormation that occurred in the neighborhood over a few short years. The Parker was one of the first apartment towers that opened in Fulton Market and it was astonishing to see how much the neighborhood has evolved since then.

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