Author: Julie Murphy
Article as published in the St. Louis Business Journal, January 24, 2014.
Phil Hulse, founder and managing principal of Clayton-based Green Street Development Group, is known for his perseverance.
“Phil always finds a way to get things done, whether that’s on construction or in an interaction with the client,” said Brian Pratt, vice president of business development for Green Street.
Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corp., echoed Pratt’s take on Hulse. “Phil’s the kind of guy who sees something that he wants to get done, and he will stay the course and get it accomplished.”
Hulse, with his staff of eight, has spent the last seven years, for example, advancing a plan to redevelop the site of the former Carondelet Coke plant into a business park, 54 acres that will accommodate up to 700,000 square feet of new buildings in south city. Green Street will likely begin construction of the first building there in the second quarter of this year, Hulse said.
Hulse formed Green Street in 2008, with the plan of carving out a niche in commercial real estate – namely by redeveloping urban properties in St. Louis, transforming the bones of vacant buildings and polluted or contaminated “Brownfield” sites, into something “pretty spectacular,” as Hulse says, including “green” or sustainable elements.
Since 2009, Hulse’s firm has executed some $90 million in redevelopment projects, and it has approximately $100 million more in the pipeline, he said.
Hulse was born in St. Louis, but grew up in several cities across the country, depending on where his father’s work took the family. After graduating from theUniversity of Denver in 1971, Hulse worked for Hartford National Bank, in Connecticut. In 1974, he returned to St. Louis, where his brothers and father were living then. Hulse struck out on his own, running a couple of businesses, then changed course again. “I just did a 180, got my broker’s license, and started as a broker for Hilliker Corp.,” Hulse said.
In 1998, he helped form Summit Development Group, where he worked until the end of 2007, when he turned his attention to establishing Green Street.
At 64, Hulse has three sons from his first marriage. Following in their father’s footsteps, Peder and Chris work as local brokers and developers in town and have worked on and off with Hulse over the past decade. Hulse’s other son, John, is the director of business development for locally based StraightUp Solar.
Hulse lives in Ladue with his wife, Janice Rohan, owner of Park Avenue Design, and their daughter, Irina, 16, whom they adopted from Ukraine when she was two.
Early on, after working in banking, what businesses did you own?
I owned a construction company (Hulse Construction), a privately held company that did work here. I did that for about seven or eight years. We did mostl
y commercial installations for businesses. We were a private contractor for Southwestern Bell and Continental Telephone. After that, during the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, I had a fireplace and patio shop called Rockwood Stoves. Then in 1985, I transitioned into being a real estate broker.
You have a reputation for being very tenacious in your work.
I was always ambitious and interested in learning. I always wanted to connect with people who were smart and talented because you learn from them. If I was in a crowd, in high school or college, I would associate with people who were doing well, both academically and socially, because they were great role models. Then as I learned real estate, I picked mentors who were guiding forces, and then put my own spin on it. And you can have great talent, but unless you’re tenacious – there are a lot of road blocks sometimes to getting something accomplished, so our (Green Street’s) success has a lot to do with never giving up and sticking with the user (client). Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first time – sometimes it takes years to get a project off the ground. And if something negative happens, you have to always look at the bright side. Being in this business is very tough, and there’s a tremendous amount of risk to it, so you’ve really got to be light on your feet, smart and always push toward the finish line.
What else has allowed you to succeed?
It’s a combination of factors. We have a lot of experience in just developing, so we know how to dance through the woods when it’s not so pleasant. My focus has always been on the user market. How do I represent somebody, getting them to where they need to be with the real estate side of their business? You know, speculators will develop and build something without having the tenant or user, so having a user really defines the project. They help guide the ship to a good landing, with a good project because, without it, it’s hard to drive the financing, the equity or the vision. And then we’ve always had good partners that we collaborate with. Financially, there’s a lot to do, on this scale, in development, so you’ve got to have good partners who can weather the ups and downs. Whether it’s an architect, engineer, contractor — we work as a team. We have lots of perspectives, and what we (Green Street) do is guide the overall ship.
How do you find “users” or tenants?
It’s generally me, having that brokerage background, sniffing around like hound a dog … and we typically buy things before we have the user. Then you’ve got to find the user that kind of sets the stage for what you’re going to do. You’ve got to create a “story” that works on multiple deals. And you’re congregating people that benefit from everybody else being around them; you’re creating synergies.
Describe a typical Green Street redevelopment project.
A good example would be when we did the Sheet Metal Workers’ (Local 36) project down on Chouteau and Jefferson. Here you have a union membership — a body that you have to somehow guide through a transaction and deliver a building. This kind of evolved from, yes, we need a new building for administrative offices; we need a union hall; we need a school, but how do we do this in a way that distinguishes us within the trades and within the construction industry itself? The approach that we ended up taking, which they (the union) have a big impact on, is sustainability, green development. They have a lot to do with solar installations, green roofs, heating and cooling that needs to be highly efficient — if you’re going to get points within the LEED certification system. So we ended up turning this project into an opportunity to exemplify who they are.
And it involved a lot of public incentives. Having a school that’s training people for the future allowed them to attract a big allocation of New Markets Tax Credits that we sold to help buy down the project. We used Brownfields tax credits to deal with some of the environmental (issues). We had a TIF that we put on the whole site to capture the tax revenues that were flowing through it. And we used energy tax credits. So, we used a lot of tools.
What are some of the specific sustainable or “green” elements that Green Street incorporates?
It really starts with the site you select, and because it’s existing buildings, we’re reusing, recycling, which is a better approach. And we typically put much more sophisticated heating and cooling and lighting systems in so they’re efficient and you’re saving money on the operational side. We use a lot of natural light. We’re sensitive to how the site impacts what comes onto it, in terms of storm water, and we can manage that with bioswales. We use renewable energy more and more. We install a lot of solar panels and geo-thermal (systems).
Do you live a “green” lifestyle at home?
I put geothermal in it. When we redeveloped it and took things out, we reused them in different places. For example, we had bay-window doors that had non-insulated windows, so we used those same doors for interior doors, instead of throwing them in a landfill. And that’s why we (Green Street) reutilize buildings, rather than do them from the ground up. If you can find a building, and it’s got good bones, it saves a lot of energy and materials, so you’re decreasing the overall (environmental) impact. And when we take out older units we’re constantly donating stuff to groups like Habitat for Humanity. It’s just the right thing to do.
Hulse the history buff
“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow
“Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship” by Jon Meacham
Where you can find Phil Hulse
On his bicycle, cycling down Conway, Clayton or Ladue roads, toward Chesterfield.
Jazz at the Bistro. “We’re season ticket holders.”
Old Warson Country Club, playing golf.