By Anthony Clark, The Gainesville Sun
After moving to Gainesville in 2004 for its family-friendly environment, Nick Banks spent a few years wrapping up development projects in South Florida with the idea that he would then do small office and retail projects here.
By the time he was ready to turn his attention to Gainesville, the recession had dried up development opportunities.
“I spent two years looking for the next project that never happened,” Banks said.
What he did see was an opportunity to turn his development business into a commercial-only real estate brokerage firm representing property owners as well as companies looking for property.
The idea was to focus on a select group of clients with the best properties and draw on his contacts and years of experience in development and finance in South Florida to act as a consultant as well as a broker.
Two years later, Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group client properties include the Tioga Town Center, Esplanade at Butler Plaza and a portion of University Towne Center on Southwest 34th Street, as well as new projects planned near the University of Florida campus, in the Millhopper area and near Santa Fe College.
Banks said the commercial market has been a challenge but is turning around.
“I think there’s more interest in Gainesville from outside of Gainesville than there ever has been, and that’s from developers, retailers, restaurants — everybody,” he said.
A lot of that interest is because businesses realize that college towns fared better than other cities through the recession, he said. The transient college population also brings in a lot of people who are already familiar with new brands from other places they have lived.
Front Street is also getting in on the innovation economy, representing Trimark Properties’ eight-story Infusion Technology Center, expected to be completed in early 2014 next to the UF Innovation Hub. The company is also handling Trimark’s former medical buildings in the vicinity that are being redeveloped for technology companies.
“Innovation Square has the potential to be probably the biggest single economic driver for Gainesville since they decided to move the University of Florida here,” Banks said.
The Infusion Center has had a lot of interest from companies that have an affiliation with UF through licensed inventions or research collaborations and want to hire UF graduates, and companies with a small local presence that want to grow here for the same reasons, he said. Local companies that have had to grow into a hodgepodge of different buildings or different spaces within larger buildings are also interested in moving into contiguous office space there.
Banks said he always wanted to be in real estate. His grandfather was a developer in southern California and his father was a developer in southern Florida. He planned to start in commercial real estate, but the country was in recession when he graduated from UF in 1990, so he went into residential mortgage financing for four years.
He then joined the Stiles Corporation in Fort Lauderdale, handling financing and sales of development projects. He and another Stiles employee struck out on their own in 2002 to develop small office and retail buildings in Pembroke Pines and Miramar.
Since starting Front Street Commercial two years ago, Banks brought on Seth Lane, formerly of Coldwell Banker M.M. Parrish Realtors, as a partner, and recently added Sandy Burgess, longtime manager of Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, as director of property management.
Inspired by friends at church who are able to intertwine their beliefs with their jobs, he decided to donate 10 percent of the company’s commissions in their clients’ names to charities, especially the United Way of North Central Florida.
Banks said the Front Street Invested donations have produced unintended but welcome benefits such as raising awareness for needs in the community and by motivating clients to make similar donations.
“My faith is very important to me,” he said. “We’ve looked for ways to be an example of living that faith in how we do business and through our Front Street Invested program. I don’t want to come across as being pushy or preachy or anything like that, but that’s really the foundation for where that comes from.”
Occupation: Managing director and founder, Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group
Personal: Married to Kelly Banks for 4.5 years, four children: Keiley, 12, Cameron, 10, twins Sean and Emily, 2
Pets: Lexie, a 90-pound Rottweiler
Dream partner for lunch: Henry Flagler
Last book read: ”The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber
Favorite book: ”Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand
Favorite TV shows: ”Modern Family” and “Mad Men”
Playing in his car: Coffee Shop station on Sirius
Hobbies: Playing guitar, mountain biking, volunteering at United Way and Grace United Methodist Church
Education: Bachelor of science in business administration, majors in finance and real estate, University of Florida, 1990