Building bridges concept

Developing Leaders Spotlight: Building Bridges in Commercial Real Estate

McKenzie Darr, a recipient of the 2022 Developing Leaders Award, has a career goal of building bridges – metaphorical ones, that is, between public and private sectors – to advance communities. To that end, she holds not one but two advanced degrees: a Master of Science in Real Estate degree and a Master of Urban Planning degree, both from the University of Washington.

McKenzie Darr

“My work has led me to become acutely aware of gaps in understanding between the public and private sectors,” Darr said. “Policymakers want what is best for their communities, but a lack of understanding about real estate and finance can lead to the adoption of policies that do not produce the desired outcome.”

She serves as a development manager for Grand Peaks, a multifamily investment firm in Seattle. Previously, she worked for The Wolff Company for several years, starting as a graduate-level intern and advancing to become development manager. In that role, she led the firm’s expansion efforts in the Northwest region, overseeing due diligence, design, entitlements, and development. Darr also assed the feasibility of new product types and new site sourcing strategies.

In addition, Darr currently serves as co-chair of the government affairs committee for NAIOP Washington State, with a focus on state-level engagement. She works closely with the chapter’s advocacy team to advance the interests of commercial real estate including testifying multiple times before the state legislature.

As part of her co-chair role, she participates on the Washington State Department of Commerce Multifamily Tax Exemption Advisory Committee. She also participated in a state legislative work group on the multifamily tax exemption program that resulted in the successful passage of legislation enabling program extension in 2020.

She previously led the committee for the NAIOP Washington State Real Estate Challenge, a regional competition drawing students from British Columbia, Oregon and Washington, from 2020-2021, working to pivot the experience to a virtual format when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and adding new components – now permanent changes to the program – to enhance students’ experiences.

Darr is a member of NAIOP’s Developing Leaders 17/18 National Forum. The Developing Leaders Forum is a select program that provides commercial real estate industry professionals the unique opportunity to advance their careers by gaining insights from and networking with seasoned commercial real estate professionals and peers over a two-year period.

Darr serves as president of the University of Washington Real Estate Alumni Group and as a member of the University of Washington Runstad Department of Real Estate Advisory Board Executive Committee.

NAIOP wanted to learn more about how this committed leader got involved in commercial real estate and what inspires her to pursue her goals.

NAIOP: What motivated you to get involved in commercial real estate?

Darr: In college, I became interested in the way that land use policy shapes communities and housing affordability. I believe that, in order to make sound policy decisions, policymakers must understand the economics driving those to whom regulations apply. To better understand both the public and private sector perspectives on land use and development, I pursued my Master of Urban Planning and Master of Science in Real Estate degrees. I quickly learned that I love the problem solving, negotiation and creative pragmatism associated with development.

NAIOP: What is your advice for Developing Leaders early in their careers?

Darr: I would advise Developing Leaders who are starting out in their careers to join a committee in their local NAIOP chapter. Consistent, active participation in a committee will help you build a network of people who know both you and your work ethic. Taking a leadership role in a committee can also significantly increase your visibility in the broader real estate community.

NAIOP: What could you give a 30-minute presentation about with no advance preparation?

Darr: I could easily give a presentation on Washington State’s Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) program on the spot. I have led the application process for more than 1,000 units participating in the program and have been actively involved in the program’s expansion. I am currently a member of the Washington State Department of Commerce MFTE Advisory Committee and previously participated on the legislative workgroup convened to advise on the most recent statewide program update. I believe that, when appropriately calibrated, the program is a great public-private partnership tool.

NAIOP: What’s your favorite famous or inspirational quote?

Darr: When I was in graduate school, I was talking to a mentor, Joe Polito with Touchstone [also a member and leader of NAIOP Washington State], about what I should do to be successful in my first development role. Joe told me, “Just get things done.”

I love how simple and effective his advice is. To me, that quote is a reminder to be productive and add value, whether that be through working diligently to move projects forward, thinking creatively to identify market opportunities, or volunteering to tackle new challenges.

Read more about the 2022 Developing Leader Award winners in Development magazine. Applications for the 2023 Developing Leaders Award are open through June 30 – apply today!

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