Alumni Stories

People from all walks of life come through our training programs with newfound knowledge and skills that they take back to their neighborhoods to start small development projects. Here are just a few stories of alumni spearheading change in their neighborhoods.

 
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Nathaniel Barrett’s 500 Fitzhugh

 

Nathaniel Barrett, a Dallas-based accountant, attended IncDev’s second workshop in Oak Cliff, TX in 2016. Going into the training, he had a side-hustle development project in mind, but working with IncDev cofounder Monte Anderson helped him realize that the project wasn’t doable. Disappointed but undeterred, Nathaniel went back to his Old East Dallas community and purchased an abandoned commercial building on the 500 block of S Fitzhugh Ave, just down the street from his house, that had been on the market for years with no interest.

Nathaniel says it quickly became evident why the nearly 9000 square foot space hadn’t sold; it was “in terrible, terrible shape.” He thinks many developers in his shoes would have torn it down and built from scratch. But Nathaniel loves the history of his 150 year-old neighborhood, renovated by entrepreneurs and makers who transformed tattered warehouses into thriving clubs and social venues, and he wanted to preserve it.

The $1 million project went over-budget, costing Nathaniel $1.3 million in the end. The only building elements that didn’t need to be replaced were the foundation, some floors, the exterior brick, and the original trusses. For a first-time developer it was a lot to take on and Nathaniel believes he was naïve.

“Once I’d raised the additional money it wasn’t that hard, but it brought me a lot of stress. I started grinding my teeth at night, and I had to buy a night guard. I took a second mortgage on my house, I sold all my stock in the company I used to work for, and I borrowed $150,000 from family and friends,” he explained.

He remembers IncDev cofounder John Anderson telling him that the project was the equivalent of skipping a master’s degree and going straight to a PhD.

“And I was studying every night until midnight to get a C-,” Nathaniel laughed

In hindsight, Nathaniel says a lot of his stress could have been avoided and urges small developers to learn from his mistakes. His first piece of advice is to always have a contingency plan if you need more money. Nathaniel relied too much on early cost estimates and was overwhelmed when things didn’t work out as expected. He also encouraged developers to take the time to understand each piece of construction work that needs to be done in order to ask contractors the right questions.

With perseverance and guidance from IncDev, Nathaniel’s company Barrett Urban Development completed renovation in the summer of 2017. Their work maintained the building’s original façade while giving tenants the freedom to make the suites their own. Nathaniel signed the first tenant in June 2017, a tattoo and body modification shop that occupies a 2,110 sf space for $2,405/mo. Through word of mouth in the community, the next three spaces filled quickly - a 1,834 sf ice cream and juice store ($2,425/mo), a 1,280 sf tortilleria ($1,800/mo), and a 1,280 sf studio dedicated to introducing kids to STEM ($1,700/mo). The last suite in Nathaniel’s building, 1,280 sf going for $1,500/mo, took much longer to fill, which he believes was mostly due to a lack of parking. After Nathaniel built an additional parking lot, the space was leased to a tax firm in December 2018.

Today, the dust has settled and Nathaniel’s stress has faded. What remains is a newly invigorated community. The street is livelier than Nathaniel has ever seen it, and he says it all feels worthwhile. The building cash flows well; when he crunched the numbers, Nathaniel saw that the project still made a profit despite the overruns. The building is now worth $1.5 million, and Nathaniel anticipates all investors will be paid off in the next two years.

After completing the large commercial space, Nathaniel transitioned to something smaller: a 3,200 sf fourplex in the same neighborhood. This project, though smaller and better funded, presented its own set of challenges.

“There were obviously some plumbing issues when it was originally built, and over the years, there’s a lot of rot from that,” he said. “There was a lot of work done incorrectly, so we’re trying to slowly fix all that.”

Even so, the four two-bedroom units are cash flowing well, each bringing in $875/mo, and the plumbing issues gave him the opportunity to work with construction expert and fellow IncDev alumnus Pete Cioe. The pair have been partnering on projects in Dallas ever since. 

Nathaniel and Pete are renovating a Vermont Village church into a mixed-use space and recently closed on a new building in the area. There are no definite plans for the newest project yet, but the guys are excited to clean it up and start moving forward. They know that every project will have its challenges and stressors, but Nathaniel said that when he sees his neighbors going for walks, supporting local businesses, and showing pride in the community, the rewards are palpable.


 
 

Pete Cioe’s Dallas Dwellings

 

In the Vermont Village neighborhood of Dallas, TX sits a grey house with a porch. The front steps are decorated with potted plants and a ceramic owl perched in the entryway, waiting to greet visitors. The look is clean and simple with a touch of Southern charm, but the real story behind the house can’t be seen from the street.

When IncDev alumnus Pete Cioe first purchased the fixer-upper, it was almost literally his only possession. Pete had sold everything he owned in North Dallas and purchased a small trailer that he parked behind the house. He lived in the trailer throughout construction, trying (and often failing) to prevent break-ins. At the time, asbestos was covering two-thirds of the house. It needed a new driveway, new windows, and new siding. But Pete saw the house’s potential. He was still a relatively new resident of Dallas, and he wanted to live in a neighborhood with a strong sense of place and feeling of home. He realized that no one else was coming to create that place for him, so he decided to bet on himself.

Pete, a born and raised Rhode Islander, always enjoyed working with his hands. As a child, he did maintenance and construction for his youth group’s yearly haunted house fundraiser. When he bought his first home, he could only afford a fixer-upper, so he renovated it little by little, learning how to tile and paint and scrape popcorn ceilings. Pete was passionate about the incremental development movement before he knew it had a name, so when he met IncDev’s co-founder, Monte Anderson, and attended a workshop in 2016, he was hooked.

“I heard Monte and Patrick Kennedy speak, and I was all like, ‘What is this? How do I join the cult? I want to drink the Kool Aid! I’m in!’” Pete laughs.

When he bought the house in Vermont Village with an eye for incremental development, Pete spotted something a regular homebuyer may have overlooked: the garage behind the house could be a leaseable living space. He worked with architects to plot a 400 square foot accessory dwelling unit (ADU), including a full kitchen and washer/dryer, in less than a third of the space as the 1483 square foot, two-bedroom main house. When he completed renovations on both spaces in the spring of 2019, Pete was inundated with tenant applications for the ADU.

“I must have had over 100 applications on it. We were asking $700 a month, and people were bidding me up to $900,” he recalls. “It was pretty crazy.”

Pete suspects the ADU was so attractive to tenants because of a lack of mixed-income housing in the area. Most places available for lease nearby were created to be occupied by families of four with two steady incomes. The ADU, conservative in both space and cost, provides a new and needed housing option for the neighborhood. Although Pete and his tenant are pleased with the ADU, he is gathering her input to learn from the space. He is always contemplating how it and any future projects could be improved.

Both the house and the ADU have been occupied since mid-May of 2019. And Pete? He’s happily living in his trailer, parked behind his current development project, a church renovation just a few blocks from the house, which he and a fellow IncDev alumnus are converting into a mixed-use building with commercial and residential space. Living in the trailer allows Pete to be fully present for his projects, in both a mental and physical sense. He is wholly devoted to his work, and Vermont Village is all the better for it.

 
 
 

Cary Westerback’s Fir Street Flats

IncDev alumnus Cary Westerback of Westerback Architecture, LLC began construction on his new fourplex, Fir Street Flats, in downtown Bothell, WA. From Cary: "...the small grey building you see in these pics on site is our triplex where we live upstairs and have two renters downstairs. We bought the property in 2014 with the plan to develop the lot. We sold our house and moved into the triplex in 2015. Then I started designing the new fourplex and working on the short plat that allowed us to divide the lot and build in the front yard of the old triplex, thus giving ourselves free land to build on, which helped the project pencil out."

The project is in the framing stage, and the third floor and roof deck are going up soon. Rough-in will start soon for electrical, fire, etc., and roofing began in May 2019.

 
 

Erin Claussen’s Hotel Royal

IncDev alumna Erin Claussen, Principal and Owner at Toledo Revival, is starting construction on the Hotel Royal in Toledo, OH in April. The property is 8,000 square feet of rehabilitated, mixed-use space in Toledo's Middlegounds neighborhood and contains 2,900 square feet of commercial space and three two-bedroom apartments. From Erin: "I attended a workshop in Memphis in 2017, and the info that I took home from there was so helpful, in addition to what I've gleaned from the small developer [Facebook] group. We are finalizing construction documents, have a tenant for our entire commercial space, and are currently seeking investors to secure construction loans."

 
 

Matthew Denker’s 11 Lamberton Place

Matthew, an alumnus of IncDev's first-ever boot camp, is currently constructing a duplex in Rochester, NY.

11 Lamberton Place contains two 850-square foot apartments, each with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Construction began in December 2018 and was completed last month. Matthew held the first open house during the first weekend in May, and is close to getting his first tenants.

To learn more about 11 Lamberton Place, click here.

 
 

Ryan Saunders's Washington Street Alley

IncDev alumni Ryan Saunders is spearheading the development of an ally on Washington Street in Greensboro, NC.

From Ryan: “This project involves participation from 14 different buildings and owners and this is a master plan…that I designed and concepted…We are still lobbying the building owners and trying to get grassroots support from community members to help motivate the building owners and the city to participate to make it happen.

I first became aware of incremental development through listening to a podcast from the Switchyards team in Atlanta on which they interviewed Eric Kronberg. He was discussing human scale design and breaking the city down into micro economies. I had the pleasure of spending some great quality time with Jim on a couple occasions when he visited Greensboro, and he said no one should have to go outside of their neighborhood to get essentials: Basic groceries, coffee, a meal, a beer, or a place to meet friends. I have also had great contact with Susana Dancy, and she further indoctrinated me in these practices. Everything combined to look at this alley and understand not only its direct impact but also the radius of impact it has on the city acting as an amenity for potential office users in the area, the ability to springboard from small startup spaces to larger brick and mortar locations, and on turning a dead alley into a river for surrounding property values.”

To learn more about the project, click here.