The renovation of Roddy Jones.

Author:Wittebort, Suzanne
Position:Includes listing of pet projects of Davidson and Jones Corp.
 
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How one of the state's top developers climbed out of the rubble of the real-estate market's collapse.

The hot, dry summer of 1990 was a gloomy time for Robert L. Jones, whose Raleigh-based company had been one of the Southeast's premier real-estate developers during the go-go '80s. Take Aug. 31, for instance, an all-too-typical day: No sooner had the developer persuaded First Union National Bank to withdraw a foreclosure against an apartment building in Raleigh than County Savings Bank of Newark, Ohio, filed one on a building in the same complex.

"It was raining foreclosures," Roddy Jones says now. "You never knew where the next drop was coming from."

When the headlong rush to develop commercial properties in the booming 1980s came to a crashing halt, the carnage was extreme. Many developers disappeared permanently into bankruptcy court, while others limped back to Texas or Florida.

Now Jones, the once and future developer, is proving he's a survivor to be reckoned with. These days, the clouds of creditors have cleared (the Ohio bank also withdrew its action), and things are looking a lot brighter. Fresh from a scorching but successful debt workout, he's moving forward with a firm fix on the walk-don't-run realities of the 1990s.

Davidson and Jones has been building commercial Raleigh for three generations. The company was founded as a construction concern by Jones' mother's uncle James Davidson in 1918; in 1935 he took Jones' father, Seby, into the business.

Today Roddy Jones, 56, is president of Davidson and Jones Corp., the umbrella company, and chairman of Davidson and Jones Construction, as well as president of both the development company, recently renamed Tri Properties, and the hotel-management company. As president of Davidson and Jones Construction, Jones' brother-in-law Keith Harrod, who joined the company in 1961, has day-to-day responsibility for the construction business. It has been kept separate from the roller-coaster fortunes of the development enterprise and has flourished as one of the principal builders of Triangle expansion, with $1.5 billion in completed projects there and throughout the Southeast over the past decade. The company is wholly owned by Roddy Jones and Harrod.

During the '80s, Jones firmly established himself as one of the dominant commercial developers in the region. "There's no question they're one of the top developers in North Carolina. It would be hard to look in any sector of the city and not see some evidence of his having been there," says Stephen Stroud, chairman of Carolantic Realty in Raleigh. Offices, hotels, industrial buildings and warehouses, shopping centers and strip centers -- he did it all, from Virginia to Florida.

The development operation grew to 100 employees and, together with the construction company, formed a fully integrated powerhouse, building, leasing, managing and selling commercial property. Jones and Harrod also participated in dozens of real-estate partnerships.

Jones' development projects ranged from the prosaic to the inspired. Imperial Center, on Interstate 40 near the airport and on the border of Research Triangle Park, is viewed as a visionary stroke. The 423-acre center, begun in 1982, features office and industrial facilities and also the Sheraton Imperial Hotel. It was "the first real planned step to support spinoff activities from the park," says John Atkins, president of the architectural firm O'Brien/Atkins Associates. Northern Telecom occupies three buildings in the center and Glaxo, nearly four; other tenants include IBM and General Electric. Says a broker: "They were the first ones out of the ground out there in the I-40 corridor, plugging away at it. It was a pioneering venture, and they were willing to go for it."

As developer, Davidson and Jones performed the full range of tasks to take a project from empty lot to turnkey completion. Typically it obtained land, got zoning permits, developed a master plan for the buildings, arranged financing, hired architects, installed utilities, built roads and put in landscaping. While construction was under way, the company would put out feelers to rent or sell the space.

Another success story is Highwoods Office Park, begun in 1976, in which Jones is a partner with his father, Steve Stroud, Ronald Gibson and the principal owners of General Parts Inc., O. Temple Sloan and C. Hamilton Sloan. The North Raleigh park's tenants include Texas Instruments, IBM and ITT Sheraton Reservations Center. The 2 million-square-foot center runs at 95% occupancy. "Nobody thought an office park could ever be successful in that area," says a broker, who calls both Highwoods and Imperial Center "fabulously successful." Davidson and Jones Construction built all the buildings in both centers.

Though a confessed workaholic who habitually puts in 12-to-14-hour days, Jones found time for civic activities. He was chairman of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in 1985-86, energetically promoting its $3.5 million campaign to support economic development and educational initiatives and to build a new headquarters building. He was president of the Carolinas Branch of Associated General Contractors in 1983 and has held directorships at NCNB, cement maker Giant Corp. and Carolina Power & Light.

He sat as chairman of the board of trustees of his alma mater, East Carolina University. After serving on the University of North Carolina board of governors since 1977, he was elected chairman in 1989, the first non-Carolina graduate and non-lawyer to achieve that post.

"I don't think you can find many people who have invested more of themselves, personally or financially, in Raleigh than Roddy Jones and his company," says James Anthony Jr., president of Anthony & Co., Raleigh brokers.

All of these attainments made the crash, when it came, all...

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