Miami Beach native Jay Levy made his way to Atlanta as a young man, celebrating his bar mitzvah at Congregation Shearith Israel and settling in Clarkston with his family. He found his career fit in real estate after a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in taxation from Georgia State University, headed for the world of balance sheets and finance.
Levy is currently the president of Watkins Real Estate Group, Inc., having joined the company in 2014.
“I would not label myself a ‘superstar’ versus a steady plodder,” he said. Levy’s experience in all facets of commercial real estate investment, management and development spans 30 years. He began his professional career in the tax group of the Atlanta office of Arthur Andersen & Co. He then joined Ewing Southeast Realty, an Atlanta-based real estate management and brokerage firm, as chief financial officer.
In 1995, Levy joined IRT Property Company (NYSE: IRT), an Atlanta-based REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). During his years with IRT, Levy served in various roles such as chief accounting officer and treasurer, ultimately becoming the CFO. In February 2003, IRT was acquired by Miami-based Equity One (NYSE: EQY) REIT. Levy was an integral part of the merger, playing a lead role in the negotiations and subsequent integration of the two companies.
Following the merger, he served as the executive vice president, asset manager for Equity One’s portfolio of retail shopping centers in the Southeast U.S. He directed all aspects of property management, leasing and development for Equity One in the region, consisting of 88 retail shopping centers.
Watkins is a real estate development and management firm focusing on commercial, retail and multi-family properties. On the multifamily side, their developments are garden style communities with 300-plus units.
“I have worked on the retail side of commercial real estate, mostly grocery anchored shopping centers. When on the accounting and finance side, I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with tenants and leasing. My time with Equity One allowed me to work with all facets of real estate.”
When it comes to how internet shopping has affected the mix, Levy noted that instead of large 40,000 square feet of local shop tenants “today we build 12 to 14,000 square feet and lease to service tenants such as hair salons, insurance agencies and restaurants with very few hard and soft good products.”
More on the shopping center side, “we have been very active developing Publix anchored centers in Orlando, Atlanta and Alabama. Just last month we opened a new Publix center in Buford. Two more are in development in Statesboro, Ga., and Lakeland, Fla.,” Levy said.
“One of the most exciting new projects is a 55+ active adult community in Duluth, where we just sold the adjoining land to grocer Lidl within walking distance.”
In terms of the effect of the coronavirus, Levy is somewhere between “stop” and “pause” while banks settle on new strategies. “Day-to-day it’s hands on. We employ 17 people operating over 680 apartment units. Four under development, six Publix shopping centers, as well as several single-tenant projects under development. We are ‘full speed ahead.’”
When asked what advice he would proffer to young entrepreneurs, Levy said, “Much of real estate is about personal relationships. I never believed in burning bridges. Also, for ‘up and comers,’ I would advise to take time outside of work to follow up and study what one has seen during the day.” At a recent real estate convention, Levy was influenced and inspired (after reading the New York Times best-selling book “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profit, Passion, and Purpose”) by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, about his mission to make and keep customers happy.
Keeping numbers in the family, Levy is married to Debbie Levy, who works in the accounting department for Jewish Family & Career Services. “She is a great organizer, connector and accountant.”
Levy also enjoys trips to Bagelicious in East Cobb, dashing around in his 1971 British racing green MGB.