Clark Machemer’s Development Journey With the Titans
- Aug 07, 2020
After more than 19 years with the Rockefeller Group within the Pennsylvania and New Jersey markets—a period that he says shaped his career trajectory—Clark Machemer moved to Crow Holdings Industrial, another titan of the American real estate industry. In 2018, he assumed the role of senior managing director, where he worked on building the company’s Northeast operations hub from the ground up. Two years later, he continues to be a key player in the industrial landscape of the region.
Machemer has amassed more than two decades of expertise in the real estate development industry, all the while making time to do things that fulfill him. In an interview with Commercial Property Executive, he revealed what has shaped his career path, and also provided his insights on the industrial sector, one of the few niches that proved resilient in the face of COVID-19.
What do you consider your mission in life? What drives you?
Machemer: A few years ago, someone asked me to sum myself up and, at the time, I said “the month of October.” In that previous month, three things happened to me that really showed me who I wanted to be.
On the business side, I concluded a lengthy, but rewarding, 1.3 million-square-foot development project ending with the sale of the property. On the personal side, I was training for the New York City Marathon, which was in November. Running the marathon is the easy part, but the tough part is what you do to get there. I was only able to finish the marathon in November because of all my commitment to practice in October and during the earlier months.
Finally, on the community side, I was honored by Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey—which is now Pillar Care Continuum—at their annual gala. It’s an organization that I have been active with for many years, so it was very meaningful. The event raised significant funds for the organization.
You’ve spent nearly 19 years with the Rockefeller Group. What experiences during your time there have most influenced your career path?
Machemer: The development projects I worked on before joining Crow Holdings shaped my career trajectory. One of the first projects I led was a speculative development of a 680,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center at 324 Half Acre Road in Cranbury, N.J. After construction, we quickly leased the building to several tenants, and ultimately sold it. For me, the whole process was a tremendous learning experience.
More than anything else, though, the relationships I built and mentorship I received during my time at the Rockefeller Group influenced me and impacted my approach to development. Leslie Smith was my boss, mentor, colleague and friend. He always had confidence in me and supported my projects, and I can’t give him enough praise. Also, while at the Rockefeller Group, I learned a great deal from the company’s CIO, Bob Jackson, and many others.
After nearly two years with Crow Holdings, which situations and tasks come easily for you and what do you find more challenging?
Machemer: Building Crow Holdings’ Northeast operations from the ground up and expanding its portfolio of assets has been both challenging and extremely rewarding. I’m fortunate, but the easiest part for me has been the real estate tasks. I’ve been sourcing deals and working through approvals for long enough, so I haven’t found that overly challenging. I’ve also been helped by the Crow Holdings affiliation. In New Jersey, in particular, we are often dealing with capital-intensive projects that require complicated entitlements. It would be very hard to navigate these situations without the support of Crow Holdings.
Building business operations has been a challenge that I didn’t quite anticipate. Because I was the first in the door in our Northeast office, I’ve been very involved in all the little things it takes to run a business, from finding the space for the office to hiring, and more. It’s been a very enriching entrepreneurial experience, albeit a little different from anything I had done earlier in my career.
What are your goals in your role at Crow Holdings Industrial?
Machemer: My primary goal is to represent Crow Holdings and the Crow family and their incredible legacy. There are few people who have had as much of an impact on commercial real estate as Trammell and Harlan Crow. Trammell built his first warehouse in 1948, pioneering spec development and impacting the way real estate developers build and lease commercial property. Crow Holdings Industrial was founded in 2013 and it carries the legacy forward. To me, it is a true honor to be associated with this incredible family and organization.
I don’t think of goals in terms of square footage, but I certainly want to grow the business, help cement Crow Holdings as a leading player in the Northeast, and create a foundation of success that I, and others, can build upon in the coming decades. In 30 years, I doubt I will still be doing this, but if the Crow Holdings team is still creating thoughtful developments that serve the communities of the Northeast, I’ll know I was successful.
You’ve dedicated more than two decades to the real estate development industry. Tell us about the milestones you’ve reached throughout this period.
Machemer: One of the most exciting projects I worked on was The Green at Florham Park, a 268-acre, master-planned development located in Florham Park, N.J., which truly reshaped the community. The property includes a build-to-suit office, a flexible-stay rental community, a new hotel, and a state-of-the-art cancer center that’s unlike anything in the region. With an ideal location near the New York Jets training facility, the development evolved over time, adjusting to the market demands, and I was honored to be a part of the development team. Being able to see our vision come to life was truly remarkable.
The FedEx Ground development in Lehigh Valley—a 1.1 million-square-foot industrial property—was also another memorable project. There were a lot of potential complications in the development process, and, with so many different parties involved, there was always an obstacle to overcome. But after years of collaboration between various public and private parties, we were able to see all of our efforts come to fruition with the opening of the facility in 2018.
There have been other highlights, as well, including a joint venture with Michael Alfieri. It was a true privilege to work with Michael, and together we were able to complete a successful project.
How have energy efficiency and sustainability altered development strategies in the industrial sector?
Machemer: A decade ago, sustainability was a differentiator, but in the current landscape, sustainability and efficiency are the standard—at this point, everyone recognizes that you have to be respectful to the environment when approaching new development projects.
Today, there is less of a focus on formal certifications like LEED than there was in years past, but as global citizens, we remain devoted to building responsibly. One key is to consider sustainability early in the development process. Building and mechanical systems and building orientation can make a big impact, and those things should be prioritized at the very beginning of the design stage.
What challenges would you say are unique to the industrial sector?
Machemer: One of the biggest challenges associated with the industrial sector is a lack of understanding of what it is—effectively, we have to help municipalities overcome misperceptions about industrial properties. Most people have been in apartment, retail and office properties, and they know what they are and what they can offer a municipality. But many people in municipal government have never been inside an industrial property, so they often do not fully understand the actual operations of these properties or the benefits they will bring.
As I see it, industrial properties are both tremendous employment centers, which provide a consistent tax base, as well as service providers to the larger community. While this was largely true a decade or two ago, it’s even clearer now as e-commerce has matured. While some municipalities already see the value, for others we have to help them understand the long-term benefits the development can bring their communities.Your 925,000-square-foot industrial project in Franklin, N.J., was slated for completion this March. Tell us more about its construction timeline. Has LG Electronics moved in yet?
Machemer: We began construction on the spec project in late summer 2019. Before the end of the year, we had signed LG as a full-building tenant. As it happened, LG was moving from a property where their lease was expiring in early 2020, so it was critical for us to complete the building on schedule. Fortunately, we were able to work closely with our contractor Alston Construction to complete the property, and LG began occupancy in April 2020.
What development plans does Crow Holdings Industrial have for this year?
Machemer: We are currently working on finalizing the details for a number of projects across New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and hope to break ground on several over the next few months. While these three states have been our primary focus thus far, we are actively looking to expand to new markets in the Northeast as we strategically grow our portfolio.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you see the Northeast industrial development market advancing in the next 12 months?
Machemer: It’s difficult to predict what the next year will look like, since things are still so fluid. Everyone is rethinking just about every part of their business, and the larger impact on the economy has yet to be seen.
What is clear is that there is a great deal of potential in the industrial sector. We have long believed in the macro trends of industrial, and COVID-19 has actually accelerated many of those. Looking ahead, we’re staying true to our strategy, remaining aggressive and actively pursuing sites across the Northeast for development.