Blackard Transforms Multifamily with a Village Approach
The developer champions a new vision for multifamily properties that is derived from an ancient concept of community.
By any measure, Jeffory Blackard is a highly successful developer. His company, Blackard Global, has completed developments valued at upward of $2 billion. Among the well-received projects to Blackard’s credit is Entrata, a $500 million mixed-use development in Westlake, Texas completed in 2012, and more than 15,000 single-family home sites in 30-plus communities.
Yet when asked to name his personal favorite project to date, this accomplished executive is apt to offer a surprising and blunt response: He doesn’t have one—yet. Blackard has taken on the unconventional role of a seeker who questions the mission of development.
“I’m not proud of the previous work I did because it was wrong,” he said. “Developers have a huge responsibility in this world because when I build something, ideally it’ll be there for hundreds of years.”
Blackard’s journey has taken multiple turns during nearly four decades as an entrepreneur, yet in at least one respect, his career’s general direction was determined early. “I always thought I’d be in real estate,” he said. His first exposure to the industry came through the family business in Illinois. While studying for his communications degree at Northwestern University, he started his first project—a 36-unit multifamily property in Decatur that was attached to a larger asset owned by his family.
At first, Blackard assumed that he would spend his career as a homebuilder. However, after moving to Texas in 1981, he instead got his start in master-planned developments. Blackard’s first projects were the 1,200-acre Summerfields and 600-acre Meadow Creek, both located in the Fort-Worth metroplex. From there, Blackard continued to branch out on his own after the downturn in the real estate market.
But by early 2000s, Blackard’s restless curiosity drove him far beyond the borders of his adopted home state to Supetar, Croatia. There he bought the majority interest in a resort that included portions of a nearby village. That acquisition proved to be a turning point. Inspired by the experience, Blackard traveled the world for two years, taking more than 200,000 photos and videos in an effort to document the nature of villages. “I became fascinated with how these villages functioned and realized I how I had been developing all these years was wrong,” he recalled.
Blackard returned from his travels with both a new vision of development and a new term to describe that vision: NeoRetroism, a philosophy focused on the natural evolution of real estate to reflect a development’s purpose. “We think back in time to when no humans were on this land and figure out what the population should be and start designing based on its history,” he explained.
In Blackard’s view, the mission of a village is to provide its residents with diverse choices for living, working and getting around their community. “It’s not just the architecture but how these spaces can evolve and how people communicate.” He draws a distinction between master-planned development, which focus on a mix of uses within a space, and villages, which he defines as a community based on the natural evolution of the location.
Having started to define his mission, he brought it to Texas. For the initial location, Blackard chose McKinney, a suburb north of Dallas where he had developed thousands of single-family homes in more than a dozen subdivisions. There he built The Adriatica, a $250 million project that incorporates a bell tower, condominiums, multifamily units, retail and more. Within its borders, The Adriatica contains starter apartments, million-dollar homes and everything in between.
Blackard’s goal for these developments is no less than to fix society: “The core problem is our divided societies. We have a responsibility to the world and how we can make it better.”
“His passion and involvement in this space is very inspiring,” said Brian Adams, urban planner & landscape architect at Kimley-Horn, referring to Blackard’s commitment to NeoRetroism. He credits Blackard with having an a-ha moment, which made him realize that he was doing well financially but wasn’t satisfied with the work he was producing. In 2012, Adams and Blackard partnered on Entrata, an 85-acre, $500 million development in Westlake, Texas. The project included an amphitheater, three hotels, townhouses and villas, and more than 1 million square feet of retail, restaurant, and office space.
Adams reported that he had never worked with a developer who is so driven and entranced and driven by his work. Blackard spends hours asking questions, discussing plans and using past experiences to enhance his future work. “This is more than just a job for him,” Adams said. “He’s really trying to create great places.”
With the first village of its kind under its belt, the firm is moving into Corpus Christi, Texas. Dubbed LaVista Pointe, the new development will be situated on 4.5 acres on Nueces Bay and is modeled on a rugged seaport village. Its signature feature is a proposed 164-foot lighthouse. From there, Blackard also wants to head into the lower-income areas of the town, as well as into Dallas. “As a society we are segregating these areas and pushing them away,” he said. “We need to stop doing that.”
Regarding the village concept of NeoRetroism, Blackard is still learning with every project. “I need to be more aggressive on mixed uses, moving beyond what anyone else has done before, because we can do more.”
With his next project, Blackard would like to incorporate Section 8 housing within the middle of his multifamily properties, as well as less expensive single-family housing. The Adriatica incorporates homes ranging from $250,000 to more than $1.6 million. For LaVista Pointe, he wants to aim at the lower end, around $120,000, he said, so that the community incorporates a mix of incomes. In addition, Blackard wants to associate with nearby homeless shelters and offer a few units for them to use. As for LaVista Pointe’s commercial component, Blackard is taking a lesson from The Adriatica. He intends to assemble the retail components down on the harbor and back up to the thoroughfares. In hindsight, he believes that the layout of The Adriatica should have been flipped from what became its configuration.
“This is the future, this is the new now,” explained Blackard. “I’m not a multifamily guy, I’m not a master-plan guy, I’m a village guy.”