Remember college life? For those who resided on the campus of the school they attended, their memories are likely far more diverse than psychology classes, chemistry labs and academic advisers.
Michael Markman remembers.
In 1998, Markman joined Toll Brothers co-founder Bruce Toll at BET Investments, a real estate company that owns, manages, develops and leases shopping centers, office buildings and apartment units across the United States. The organization’s emphasis, particularly in recent years, has been to create a sense of community in its various projects — an atmosphere not unlike that found on campuses from University Park to Berkeley, where Markman earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California.
“So many people look back on their college days as the best time of their lives, even though they might not have realized it at the time,” said Markman, a Temple University School of Law graduate who now serves as president of BET Investments.
“What we’re trying to do is create destinations where people can come together and be active in what might be described as campus-style communities for adults.”
This includes over-55 communities such as the 192-unit Dublin Terrace, an emerging project located in Upper Dublin. The local project is a vivid example of BET Investments’ acknowledgment of the increasing popularity of 55-and-over communities.
“In our view, there is a real market” for 55-and-over communities, Markman said. “Now that the over-55 population is likely to have more confidence in the stock market than might they had a few years back, when the economy was struggling, they might prefer these communities over the expense of fixing up their existing homes.”
Over-55 communities are likely to hold an increasingly prominent place in the BET Investments portfolio. That portfolio includes approximately seven million square feet of shopping centers, two million square feet of office buildings and 3,000 apartment units. In many of its recent projects, the company is exploring ways to tie these different property groups together, thus introducing live-work-play components into a single project.
“We have a project just outside Richmond, Va., where people are able to walk from their apartments to retail stores,” the 45-year-old Markman related. “People certainly seem to be attracted to bustling spots, with plenty of shopping and restaurants, in close proximity to their residences. These larger mixed-use projects present a wide range of possibilities.”
That includes possibilities in the Greater Philadelphia area, a prospect that pleases Markman, whose entire life, except for his time in Berkeley as an undergraduate, has been spent in the Delaware Valley. His organization’s area holdings range from a pair of auto dealerships — Reedman-Toll in Langhorne and Roberts Automall in Downingtown — to residential properties such as Newtown Place in Newtown and Lincoln Woods in Lafayette Hills. They also include such office buildings as The Commons at Renaissance in King of Prussia, and Rydal Square in Jenkintown; and retail outlets, including the Bucks Crossing Shopping Center in Feasterville and Dresher Commons in Dresher.
One of the organization’s most recent acquisitions — and a high-profile one, at that – was the Granite Run Mall near Media. On a given day, 70,000 vehicles drive past the mall, where Markman envisions a mixed-use marriage of retail and residential interests. “We’re in 14 states, but we’re headquartered in Horsham, and Bruce and I both live in Abington, so we’ve always wanted to focus on the Philadelphia Metropolitan area,” Markman said. “Recently, we’ve been seeing more opportunities here, and we’re pursuing them aggressively.”
In 2008, the recession slowed the real estate market to a virtual stop. It wasn’t until 2011 that the market began to show signs of recovery. According to Markman, BET Investments, with more than 70 employees, is well positioned to move forward as the economy continues to recover. “We had a large number of land holdings that went way down in value back in 2008,” he reported, “but these kinds of things tend to be cyclical. Fortunately, we had a strong enough infrastructure to withstand” the decline in property values “until things began to improve.
“We acquired about $200 million in properties in the last 13 months,” Markman continued. “We have six or seven projects slated in 2014 and a similar number in 2015. Bruce and I are in agreement that it will be impossible for us to ever lose our entrepreneurial spirit.”
Toll and Markman share a community spirit as well, as both are involved in an array of communal activities. As a board member of the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and the Abington Township Industrial Development Authority and former chair of the Abington Township Planning Commission, Markman decided to seek elected office for the first time in 2013, and he succeeded. On Nov. 5, he won election as an Abington Township commissioner.
“I like helping people, and I like being part of the community,” said Markman, who, along with his wife, Lynne — a psychologist at Abington Memorial Hospital — has three children.
“I hope to be able to bring to this position some of my professional expertise as well as some of the things I’ve learned from working with other townships. The truth is, this whole process has been pretty exciting for me.”
Matt Schuman is an area writer. This article originally appeared in the special section, "The Good Life."