Brooks Holstein is the founder and managing member of Biloxi, Miss.-based COMVEST Properties. In today’s Four on Friday, we talk with Brooks about his firm, his career and his important contribution to coastal Mississippi’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Holstein: COMVEST Properties and its affiliate, Net Lease Developers, develop shopping centers and single-tenant net-leased properties throughout the Southeast. COMVEST also seeks out opportunities to redevelop neighborhood shopping centers, grocery stores and big boxes; we revive the properties and reposition them to serve their communities. We also seek to create value-add opportunities through out-parcel development.
HS: Tell us a little bit about your background – where are you from, where did you go to college, and how did you decide to pursue a career in commercial real estate?
Holstein: I was born in Charleston, W.Va., but moved as a teenager with my family on several occasions because the company that my father worked for transferred him. We lived in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and also in Houston. I have actually lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the last 30 years, so Biloxi is home. I ended up in Biloxi as the result of a blind date at Ole Miss, where I received my BBA in marketing in 1977! I attended Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Advanced Management Development Program in Real Estate in 2005-2006.
I entered retail development on the retailer side right out of college as a real estate rep for National Convenience Stores in Houston. Fortunately for my career, I was recruited by a then rapidly growing new fast-food chain that had a novel approach to their business platform at the time – always fresh, square hamburgers and drive-thru windows.
I joined Wendy’s International in the newly formed Real Estate Department in 1980 as the Southwest Real Estate Manger. This was an amazingly exciting time in the development of the Wendy’s brand. We were opening two restaurants per day across North America and the Caribbean. The greatest part of my experience at Wendy’s was forming career-long relationships that I have maintained to this day. I left corporate retail development in 1994 so I could focus on the development and re-development of shopping centers.
HS: Tell us about your experience serving on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's Governor's Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding & Renewal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Holstein: It was quite an honor to be selected by then-Gov. Haley Barbour to serve as the representative of Harrison County, Miss., on the commission. Harrison was one of the coastal counties devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Most people associate New Orleans with the massive destruction of Hurricane Katrina, when in actuality the storm made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with a 30- to 40-foot tidal surge. Our home and those of my mother and my father-in-law were totally destroyed, along with over 80,000 families’ homes in the three coastal counties of our state. Gov. Barbour charged the commission to create one of the largest post-natural disaster plans in history – in only 90 days. The plan, named “Recovery, Rebuilding & Renewal,” resulted in the creation of a proven template for future similar disasters.
HS: What's your favorite way to relax?
Holstein: I love playing my very bad version of golf, which Bob Simons and Peter Hartman have endured on more than one occasion. I am a committed life learner, so I remain very active in the Harvard University Real Estate Academic Initiative and the Graduate School of Design. Reading and enjoying our coastal beaches probably finish the list of my favorite downtime pleasures.