The attorney didn't set out to buy commercial real estate, but his background pushed him in that direction
Richard Lawrence never intended to be a commercial real estate investor.
He didn’t set out to be an attorney, either, or earn an MBA.
Instead, growing up Lawrence only wanted to play pro baseball. He got pretty close to The Show, too — All-State in high school, Division I ball at University of Central Florida, drafted by the San Diego Padres, spot on the Junior Olympic team and a stint with a Cincinnati Reds’ farm team in Montana.
But the prospect of career-threatening ligament surgery and the often 15-hour bus rides required to get to games pushed the Naples native to consider an alternate career path.
“I enjoyed baseball so much, but after my first season in Billings I realized that education was where I had to focus,” says Lawrence, 44.
So it was that during spring and summer, Lawrence pitched baseballs; in fall and winter, he cracked books at UCF focusing on business and finance. Upon graduation, he spent seven years in Orlando, working as an investment advisor and financial analyst and earning a Masters in Business Administration — a degree paid for partly by the Reds.
But Lawrence wasn’t finished.
Shortly after grad school, he enrolled in Stetson University’s College of Law, taking classes primarily at night and during the summer, finishing in 2006.
That same year, Lawrence moved to Sarasota to clerk at Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen, one of the city’s most prominent firms, and joined full time the following year to carve out a real estate practice.
Lawrence spent the next dozen years at Williams Parker, becoming a partner and a board certified real estate attorney with an emphasis on commercial leasing, construction contracts, development and land use issues along the way.
“The beauty of Williams Parker was you really learned how to practice law,” Lawrence says.
But while he had carved an enviable and lucrative law practice, Lawrence also felt the itch to do something more entrepreneurial.
To get there, he did what few lawyers in Sarasota have in the firm’s nearly century-old history: He left Williams Parker and eventually started his own firm, SRQ Property Law.
It didn’t take him long to realize that many of his wealthy law clients needed help with their real estate holdings; they also frequently solicited him for independent advice on properties to invest in throughout the Gulf Coast.
“Leaving Williams Parker was a difficult decision, but at the same time, I sensed that I could be a real guide in an advisory capacity, where I could assess risk and other functions,” he says. “I saw a lot of opportunity there, especially in helping people from start to finish.”
Earlier this year, he created Lawrence Capital to further advise clients on how and where to invest their money in commercial properties.
“People often don’t know what questions to ask, and with my background both in business and law, combined with a local market knowledge, I do,” he says.
To date, Lawrence Capital has purchased a pair of assets for $10.35 million, which he describes as “gold-star locations.”
Most recently, the firm spent $7.4 million to acquire the three-story Lake Osprey Building in Lakewood Ranch from community master developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
Built in 2007, the 34,103-square-foot building on more than five acres is fully occupied to a half-dozen tenants — although Sarasota Orthopedic Associates has committed to relocating to a new building in the ranch’s 265-acre C.O.R.E. health and medical business park in early 2020.
The 6230 University Parkway property also enjoys close proximity to Interstate 75.
The firm also acquired a PDQ restaurant in Fort Myers for $2.95 million, a move Lawrence says stemmed both from the restaurant’s location in a prime growth area and the Tampa-based chain’s potential for “explosive” growth internally over the next several years.
Those who know Lawrence say his eclectic education and real-world working knowledge of the real estate industry make for a potent combination.
“He’s a really smart and ethical guy,” says Matt Drews, director of commercial real estate and property management at Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co.
“He’s very thorough, and someone who really tries to understand the underpinnings of something and what’s happening before jumping in. And the fact that he understands real estate law, management and development make him the total package.”
Although Lawrence says he wants to focus on the Gulf Coast, and especially in medical office, technology uses and “up-and-coming fast-casual food units,” he’s open to other types of properties, including industrial — especially if the opportunity presents itself to add value through improvements or redevelopment.
Within the next few years, he hopes to have tripled Lawrence Capital’s investment total, to roughly $30 million.
“Right now, it’s mostly about finding the right product to meet our criteria,” he says. “I consider the Lakewood Ranch acquisition to be our coming-out party, of sorts. It’s the type, and the quality, of real estate we want to focus on.
“That building really checks all the boxes for me, and hopefully it shows the folks we work with, and want to work with, what we can do.”
Lawrence admits that while he will continue to practice with SRQ Property Law, seeking out properties to investigate and investing in them can, at times, be more fascinating.
“It’s often more exciting, looking for deals and analyzing them,” he says, laughing. “But what really appeals to me is that I get to be a quarterback, of sorts, because I come to the table with a varied background in finance and law.
“It wasn’t intentional, but it does seem as if everything in my background has led me here, and contributed to what I’m doing now.”