Vincent R. Bennett is CEO of MBA Properties, Inc. and president of McCormack Baron Salazar, where he oversees all aspects of operations and manages a multi-disciplinary team of design, construction, legal, finance, and project management staff across the country. Headquartered in downtown St. Louis, McCormack Baron Salazar employs almost 600 employees across the country, including 135 corporate employees in St. Louis. It operates in 28 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Prior to joining the firm in 1993, Bennett managed commercial and economic development activities for a community development corporation in the City of Pittsburgh. He is a graduate of the University of California in Santa Cruz with degrees in Economics and Psychology and received his master’s degree in Management and Public Policy with concentrations in Financial Management and Urban Development and Planning at Carnegie Mellon University. He serves on the boards of the YMCA and the Regional Business Council.
The St. Louis American spoke with Bennett about what is new and upcoming with McCormack Baron Salazar, including its ongoing investment of New Market Tax Credits in St. Louis and the firm's intention to groom minority contracts as partners in St. Louis as it has done in other cities. Bennett said, "It is important that we create an ecosystem where minority developers can thrive with a pipeline of opportunity and support, both technical and financial."
The St. Louis American: What's new and coming up with McCormack Baron Salazar?
Vincent R. Bennett: As we have for 50 years, McCormack Baron Salazar continues to prioritize the voices and priorities of resident leaders, with inclusion and diversity at the core of our focus. We are now operating in 28 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We work primarily through public-private partnerships, valuing collaboration with local minority developers and community organizations. Not surprisingly, we continue to see a major need for affordable workforce housing at all levels of income.
Here in St. Louis, we are hard at work with the $186 million transformation of Preservation Square just north of downtown adjacent to the relocated U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This development in what is St. Louis’ “new front door” includes both demolishing and renovating existing buildings, new construction, and reopening the site to the street grid. The plan includes 695 new and renovated apartments, including replacement of all 342 subsidized units originally at Preservation Square, along with 148 affordable/low-income units, and 205 market-rate/unrestricted units. We celebrated the grand opening of the first three phases in September.
We have recently been selected to undertake major transformation plans in:
• Atlanta, to redevelop the 74-acre Bowen Homes public housing site working with minority developer The Benoit Group and others. The development will include 1,892 mixed-income rental and 108 ownership units. Approximately one third of the for-sale units are reserved for households receiving down payment assistance. The plan includes 75,000 square feet of retail space, parks, and a state-of-the-art storm water management system;
• Las Vegas, to create a mixed-use community including 2,200 units of workforce housing just minutes from The Strip in what was a 100-acre city-owned municipal golf course. Working jointly with Chicanos Por La Causa, the development will also include community facilities and neighborhood retail;
• East Harlem, New York, to preserve and renovate 1,000 units in the Jackie Robinson Homes working with local minority and nonprofit partners and the New Your City Housing Authority.
We continue to develop mixed income, mixed finance developments in urban areas of California, Texas, and Florida. and Puerto Rico and, in areas experiencing increasingly intense weather – like Fort Myers, Galveston, New Orleans, and Puerto Rico – we are making a name for ourselves designing with resilient strategies to protect people, physical construction, and finance structures.
The St. Louis American: Your company has made news in recent months in Baltimore, Fort Myers, and San Francisco, where you recently partnered with a Black-owned contractor. Any new initiatives stirring here at home? Any Black-owned contractors here you're talking to about working together?
Vincent R. Bennett: In St. Louis, as we close out the Choice Neighborhoods work on the near north side, we are exploring ways to partner with local minority developers and nonprofit sponsors on specific community-supported needs, including affordable housing, supportive housing, and serving as a mentor to emerging businesses. We are hoping to participate in a major transformation effort to support the creation and growth of emerging developers to support their capacity building and to scale up their work. It is important that we create an ecosystem where minority developers can thrive with a pipeline of opportunity and support, both technical and financial, and provide leverage strategies that can help bridge constraints on working capital, predevelopment, and balance sheets to support guarantees and other mixed finance leverage strategies.
The St. Louis American: A year ago, your Urban Initiatives CDE LLC affiliate was awarded a $60 million allocation of New Market Tax Credits through the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDIF). Have you been able to invest any of that in projects here? How are you leveraging those funds?
Vincent R. Bennett: Our Community Development Entity, MBS Urban initiatives CDE, is a nationally focused CDE that has received 10 awards of New Markets Tax Credit allocation totaling $525 million. Our local investments include Better Family Life’s Cultural, Educational and Business Center; KIPP St. Louis High School; the St. Louis Food Hub/Field Foods; Confluence Academy; and the SLHA Central Office Building. Additional national investments include schools, early childhood centers, grocery stores, innovative mixed-use spaces, light industrial and manufacturing, community facilities and non-profit office space.
The St. Louis American: Are you all settled in at your new corporate headquarters at 100 N. Broadway in downtown St. Louis? What is the rough percentage of on-site versus virtual workforce for you? What are the opportunities and challenges to downtown St. Louis as a hub for you?
Vincent R. Bennett: We employ almost 600 employees across the country, including 135 corporate employees here in St. Louis. In this rapidly changing work environment, we understand that our most valuable assets are our employees, and their well-being is key.
Our St. Louis employees have been given the choice to work entirely remotely or work in the office three days a week. We offer hybrid meeting options, huddle and zoom rooms, and have invested in technology to support work at levels of the company. We are committed to providing flexibility for childcare, adult care, and selfcare.
With employees living throughout the region and on both sides of the river, we find downtown to be convenient. Now entering our fifth month of occupancy in our new headquarters on 100 North Broadway, on any given day, approximately one-third of our 135 desks are in use.
As evidenced in our office space investment, we maintain a positive outlook on the future of downtown and the region and we will continue participating in efforts to solve St. Louis’ complex and complicated issues.
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