Erik Johnson of White Point Partners: “Don’t give up”

Before we started development at Optimist Hall, many people told us we would never land an office tenant or get any good food & beverage operators. We believed in our vision, put our heads down, and have delivered on what we set out to do. In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience […]

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Before we started development at Optimist Hall, many people told us we would never land an office tenant or get any good food & beverage operators. We believed in our vision, put our heads down, and have delivered on what we set out to do.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewingErik Johnson.

Erik co-founded White Point and is responsible for asset management, underwriting and capital markets strategies. Erik previously served as SVP of Finance for a publicly traded student housing REIT. Prior to the REIT, he worked in J.P. Morgan’s Real Estate & Lodging Investment Banking Group where he advised clients on M&A transactions and raised over 6.5 billion dollars of debt and equity capital. Erik began his career at Wells Fargo as a commercial real estate lender.

Erik received a Master of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Austin and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is active in the Urban Land Institute and the Corners Society. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the McCombs School of Business Real Estate Investment Fund and the Board of Advisors Next Generation Committee of the Kenan-Flagler Business School

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

My name is Erik Johnson of White Point Partners, one of the developers behind Optimist Hall. Opened in Charlotte, NC on August 1, 2019, Optimist Hall is a 147,000 SF redevelopment of a former gingham mill that features a food hall complemented by retail, restaurant, and creative office space. Located in the Optimist Park neighborhood between Uptown and NoDa, the development has transformed the turn-of-the-century textile mill into one of the most unique projects in the Charlotte metropolitan area. Optimist Hall retains many of the property’s original, 120+ year-old elements including hardwood floors, soaring 14+ foot ceilings, and brick and beam interiors with true industrial character. With heritage rooted in the industrialization of the South, and a space dedicated to innovation, sustainability, and historic preservation, Optimist Hall melds the legacy of Charlotte’s rich history with the opportunity of tomorrow. Open tenants include the following: Archer Paper, Ava Pizzeria, Bao & Broth, Billy Sunday, Botiwalla, Boxcar Betty’s, Collier Candy Co., Duke Energy, Dumpling Lady, El Thrifty Social Club, Felix Empanadas, Fonta Flora Brewery, Harriet’s Hamburgers, Honeysuckle Gelato, Papi Queso, Pet Wants, Spindle Bar, Suárez Bakery & Barra, Undercurrent Coffee, Velvet Taco, Village Juice, and Zukku Sushi. Additional tenants slated to open in the coming months include Mezeh and Xiao Bao.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The past year has been a true test of our business. The food hall and the adjoining restaurants, bars, and tap room were designed on the premise that eating and drinking are enriched with social interaction. Sharing tables, meeting strangers and talking, however, became prohibited activities with COVID. This past spring, we were able to quickly pivot to become the “largest drive through in Charlotte,” allowing a large percentage of our tenants to stay in business the entire year. We were able to employ the janitorial staff as food runners so they could keep earning a paycheck, and customers were able to safely order and pick-up their favorite meals from the small businesses that call Optimist Hall home.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Optimist Hall, it’s our tenant community that stands out. Each tenant operates within its own walls, but we see the success of the overall development as a group effort. Tenants collaborate on F&B offerings and work to promote each other’s success. This was especially true when the drive through was operating, as tenants were all in survival mode trying to help each other out.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

The success of Optimist Hall during the pandemic is a result of the tenants, staff, management, ownership and loyal customers. The ever-changing mandates, health information, and technology have required flexibility and adaptability from the top to the bottom.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

As Jimmy Valvano said in his speech at the ESPY’s shortly before he died of cancer, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” It’s only seven words, but it succinctly embodies what it means to be resilient.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Any of the members from our Armed Forces that overcame being physically maimed in war come to mind. The ability to come back from losing a leg, learning to walk with a prosthetic and live a normal life is remarkable. This epitomizes Valvano’s quote.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Before we started development at Optimist Hall, many people told us we would never land an office tenant or get any good food & beverage operators. We believed in our vision, put our heads down, and have delivered on what we set out to do.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

When COVID started to impact the entire U.S. in March 2020, it upended our entire business model. However, with flexibility and adaptability, we were able to pivot to a drive-thru-only operation until it was safe to open our doors again with a COVID protocol plan in place. We’re proud to say that all of our tenants are still in operation, and we’ve even signed on two more tenants since the pandemic began.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Don’t give up
2. Be flexible
3. Be adaptable
4. Believe in your ideas
5. Have confidence in yourself.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@optimisthall on instagram

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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