As principal at MW & Associates in Chicago, Maurice Williams, CCIM, has planned, developed, financed, and constructed more than $220 million and 1.9 million square feet of big-box commercial retail and industrial space in the area, including Whole Foods Midwest Distribution Center, Walmart Supercenter, Planet Fitness, and Meijer Supercenter. Completed projects range from affordable housing, to brownfield redevelopment, to hospitals and institutional facilities. In 2015, he joined Chicago Community Loan Fund, which provides affordable financing and technical assistance for community stabilization and development efforts to benefit low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in metropolitan Chicago.
CIRE: What did you do before joining CCLF?
Williams: I ran my consulting firm MW & Associates full time. There, I consulted with nonprofit organizations, for-profit developers, and councils of governments to plan and execute real estate projects throughout metropolitan Chicago.
CIRE: Why did you join CCLF?
Williams: CCLF was planning to elevate its lending opportunities in commercial real estate and was looking for an executive staff person to lead the new department. I had a long-standing business relationship with CCLF and admired its work, so the timing was right for me to join the team.
CIRE: What accomplishments make you most proud?
Williams: Earning my MBA in 1996 and my CCIM designation in 2017, and participating, since 2003, in the planning, construction, and development work at Pullman Park. This project includes the rebuilding of a South Side Chicago community called Pullman/Roseland, where I grew up. To date, we have completed over $125 million in projects and created over 750 new full-time jobs. I still use this as a working case study during my teaching and lectures. Also, our son never gets tired of the weekend car tours and points of interest from Dad's stories about his economic development upbringing. (smiles)
CIRE: What are the greatest obstacles to community economic development?
Williams: I believe the greatest obstacles are a lack of public-private-partnership interest and available capital resources. Not that these two are inextricably linked, but many community economic development challenges are large in scale, needing either multiple tracks of land assemblage or many facets of the community pulling together to create necessary changes. To succeed, either requires larger, more flexible and patient capital.
CIRE: How can other CCIMs participate in community economic development efforts in their cities?
Williams: Fellow CCIMs should seek out responsible for-profit and nonprofit development partners and community-level entities to tap into efforts in their cities. You need a connection with the boots on the ground in order to foster community improvements. Get to know your local government officials and small business owners, community block club leaders, and business district and chamber of commerce leaders. Listen to their visions and dreams for a better community - because they are the true stakeholders, living and working in the community every day.
CIRE: Will the new opportunity zone program make your efforts easier?
Williams: The opportunity zone program will offer a source of equity for community development projects that was not readily available before. With this new tax legislation, high net-worth individuals and institutions can gain what I call a triple win - a win for themselves in profit and tax savings; a win for the low-to-moderate income zone spurring new development; and a win for the community in the form of social impacts, including new jobs and defined paths for potential wealth creation. Also, it always feels better to do well and do good.
CIRE: You've successfully closed some deals in opportunity zones. What are the challenges, considerations, or advice for others looking to do so?
Williams: Any complex deal will take longer to complete because more people must be involved to close, so my key advice is to be patient. Also, my rule of thumb on time and effort is that any deal should comprise 40 percent planning and pre-development; 40 percent financing and development; and 20 percent construction and disposition.
CIRE: Why did you become a CCIM? How has that education and the connections aided your efforts and your career?
Williams: I became a CCIM to raise my expertise in commercial real estate to the highest levels. I compare my CCIM experience to gaining a Ph.D. in commercial real estate because even with 30 years of prior real estate experience, it has taken my work to new heights, providing domestic and international relationships, contacts, and insights. I enjoy the deals, but relish the opportunity and responsibility to raise up even more communities along the way.