VOIT/PROFILE/MIKE1ST/jc2nd By JEANNETTE DeSANTIS Contributing Reporter As president of the rapidly expanding Voit Cos., Robert D. Voit has developed 7 million square feet of commercial real estate and today manages a portfolio of more than 16 million square feet of commercial space on behalf of Voit and other clients. But unlike many of L.A.’s most prominent commercial real estate titans, Voit was not born into a multi-generational real estate family. In fact, his family was quite surprised when Voit told them he had decided to leave his job at the East Los Angeles-based Voit Rubber Co., which had been founded by his grandfather and was run by his father, to pursue a different career path. It wasn’t long before the young Voit found that commercial real estate was the perfect fit for his savvy negotiating style and detail-oriented mind. In 1962, he was hired by the real estate brokerage firm Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles and two years later moved to the firm’s San Fernando Valley branch. In 1971, with a decade of experience under his belt, Voit felt confident enough to start his own commercial real estate firm. Voit, 57, developed much of Warner Center but sold 343,000 square feet of office space in the Warner Center Business Park last year to CarrAmerica Realty Corp. But his company still owns and manages properties throughout the West and is involved in efforts to redevelop the former General Motors site in Van Nuys. Question: Why did you chose commercial real estate over the family business? Answer: I had worked at Voit Rubber for a couple of summers out in the production line. I saw my father come home many nights tired and with a briefcase full of work. I just felt that there had to be an easier way to go. It just wasn’t interesting to me and I was desperately searching for what I wanted to do for a career. Someone mentioned commercial real estate and immediately it sounded perfect for me. Shopping centers and offices were something so physically tangible and it just seemed like a worthwhile way to direct my creative energy. Q: What was your first experience in this field? A: I left the job with my father where I was getting $800 a month to work at Coldwell Banker for $400 a month. I was thrilled, but my father said I would never be a good businessman if I accepted a job working for so much less. He changed his mind a little later on. Q: How did coming from a family-owned business help you? A: It gave me the idea that I could actually run my own company. It showed me the unlimited possibilities one has when one is responsible for their own operation. Q: You were once quoted as saying, “I love the deal. Every day is something different.” Could you elaborate on that? A: What that means is that every day could be the day that a new deal is made. Or it could be the day that a new door is opened or new insight is gained on an old deal. There is just always the opportunity to see something new and make it a “go” rather than a “no go.” I find that there is a lot of creativity in making deals. Q: So making deals is a creative outlet for you? A: Certainly. Very little of it is about making money. I try to make an impact on the community and create a consensus among people about the inherent potential in a piece of land. Those are the things that appeal to me and that help lift the standard of the profession. Q: One of your company’s current projects is the San Fernando Valley Civic Center. At what stage is that project? A: Right now we are negotiating a contract to build the first phase of that civic center project, the Marvin Braude Constituency Service Center in Van Nuys. It is an excellent opportunity to really impact an area that has some blight. If we can do our job and work well together, we can not only house 1,000 city employees but also be able to enliven the pedestrian trail and create a new way for people to view their city government. This project will make city government more accessible, convenient for Valley residents. Q: How long will that project take to complete? A: We are looking at occupancy just after the turn of the century. We are hoping it will be the first of what will ultimately be a three-phase intergovernmental civic center extending eastward from Van Nuys Boulevard, offering the citizenry a more friendly atmosphere to take care of city business from getting permits to visiting the Mayor’s Office to getting dog tags. Q: The Voit Cos. is also redeveloping the now-vacant General Motors plant site. What kind of time frame is expected for completion of that project? A: We have been working for two years on that project with Selleck Development Co. and are hoping to close escrow in September. There will be some 35 acres of retail property, including a theater, and 30 acres of industrial property. There is a big need at the moment for 32-foot-high industrial buildings and rail-served properties. By next summer we should have occupancy. Once we start construction in September, it should go fast. Q: Have you found any reluctance on the part of retailers to move into that part of the Valley, which is primarily a low-income area? A: We haven’t found that. There is another way to look at it. There are tens of thousands of shoppers, a population in need of the services of a Home Depot, for instance, who go to the movies and shop. We are also trying to be different with the design of the property, which we are calling “The Plant.” It is still in the planning stages, but we would like to connect the commercial property with the history of the area, and include things in the building that would be reminiscent of the old GM plant. We look at it as an opportunity to make a major impact on an area that could use some revitalization. We are proud to be a part of that and hope the project spurs more redevelopment in the area. Q: So if all goes as planned, how much do you and the Sellecks expect to make on your GM project, and how would that be split between you? A: I’m not going to get into the financial aspects. We don’t put that out in the press. Q: Selleck Development is owned by the family of actor Tom Selleck, and was largely funded until recently by Tom. Right? How did you meet the Sellecks? A: I met the Sellecks because I used to work for Dan and Tom Selleck’s father, Robert Selleck Sr., who was regional manager of the Coldwell Banker office in Sherman Oaks. I was one of his salespeople, and I’ve just stayed in touch with him over the years. Q: How do you view the high vacancy rate in Warner Center, which will be made worse by the departure of CareAmerica and its 500 workers? A: Right now we have an occupancy rate of 92 percent in all the buildings, with the exception of Plaza III. That building is experiencing a occupancy rate of over 50 percent. It was the last building built, and that is the one we are currently working on leasing out. There are some large users like Care America that are leaving, but all that does is create additional space that has to be back-filled. Q: The entire West Valley is experiencing a high vacancy rate, yet office space is hard to come by in the East Valley. Is this a concern of yours? A: The reason for the difference is the entertainment industry. The things we can do to combat it is use more-aggressive marketing efforts and just hope that no more space will open up in the East Valley. Q: What does the future hold for the Voit Cos.? A: We are certainly looking forward for other projects in the area. We don’t mind ones that are considered difficult . Some people shy away from those types of projects that excite public attention, but we welcome that because we think the project ends up better as a result.