For the past 25 years, Tampa developer Darryl Shaw has lived in two worlds, running a burgeoning real estate empire and establishing a veterinary clinic empire with his brother Neil. And now, as he and his partners prepare to begin work on a massive redevelopment likely to change the face of one of the city’s most historic districts, he’s relinquishing one of the titles.
Shaw is stepping down as CEO of BluePearl Veterinary Partners to focus on his real estate business.
The son of a veterinarian and native of South Africa, Shaw sees giving up one lifelong passion to focus on another as an opportunity to put his stamp on Gas Worx, a 50-acre mixed-use development between Ybor City and downtown. To Shaw, the project is more than just a commercial development. He sees it as a way to use an holistic approach to create and expand a community, to bring art, commerce and housing together. This while revitalizing one of the neighborhoods that makes up the soul of Tampa.
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“It’s an iconic location," he says. "I think it has an opportunity to be one of the best neighborhoods in the United States.”
The Business Observer spoke to Shaw March 4 about his career and hopes for Ybor City and Tampa. Edited excerpts:
Your father was a veterinarian. Did you ever consider practicing veterinary medicine?
So when we were growing up, we used to, my brothers and I, spend time working at the animal hospital, really helping more on weekends and holidays, taking care of the dogs that were boarding. And my brother was always interested in becoming a veterinarian. I was always interested in business. He ended up going to veterinary school and I ended up doing public accounting and then did an MBA. So we took two very different routes.
What drew you to a career in business?
I’ve always been interested in business. From a very young age. I would, growing up in South Africa, I would trade silkworms. When we moved to America, I would buy things at the 7-Eleven to sell them at the school to the other kids that were always interested in business. (He was eight when his family moved to Tampa.)
How did you and your brother wind up working together? Was that always the plan?
No. I had finished business school and was looking to start a business. I convinced my father to hire me as a practice manager. And I spent a couple years working at his hospital. And about that time, my brother was finishing his residency in veterinary internal medicine and he was looking to start a practice and I was looking to start a business. So, we decided to open up a hospital. He was the veterinarian. We had one veterinary nurse and I answered the phones at the front desk, and I walked the dogs in the back. So that was the start. It was very hands on.
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I’m sure you could have had a very successful career with a practice just in Tampa. What was it about you that drove you to build BluePearl into a practice with more than 100 clinics and 7,000 employees?
We spent the first 10 years just at the one hospital on Busch Boulevard, growing that into a large multidisciplinary hospital, especially in emergency practice. He really understood the veterinary ethos and the medicine. And I kind of brought good fiscal discipline, good approach to marketing, training, customer service. It was really the combination of the two, looking to grow and drive the business and also provide a great medical service. It was that partnership that allowed the practice to grow in one location in the first 10 years. And then, completely by happenstance, somebody had visited us and said they were looking to start a specialty emergency practice in New York City (and) asked to see if we were interested. They decided not to move forward and we decided to continue with the project. It was 10 years after we opened the first location. We decided to open up in Manhattan, between Times Square in Central Park. (The first BluePearl opened in 1996, the second in 2006.)
Why did you decide to retire from the company now?
We sold the majority of BluePearl to the Mars family in 2015. I wanted to stay on. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and wanted to prove to myself that I could kind of run the business at a different level. Over the last six or seven years, I’ve been acquiring properties in Ybor City and there’s a lot to do here. It became increasingly difficult to do both and I felt now was a good time to make that transition and focus on Ybor.
What was the first property you bought as an investor?
The first one was in 1988. Right after I graduated from college and I thought I would start a career in real estate. It didn’t work out very well. The economy collapsed. The city condemned the building within a few months of starting the project. And the real estate career quickly ended. We’ve owned that property since then. And it really wasn't until 2014, 2015 that I got back interested in the historic district and began buying more properties.
What attracted you to the real estate business?
I will say it’s less the real estate business than Ybor City as an historic district...it’s really more thinking through holistically what it takes to make a great neighborhood. We’ve got amazing architecture. (There’s) very significant history, multicultural history in the district. It’s got a unique grid structure — every block is 200 feet deep by 350 feet wide. It creates the walkability. It’s in the urban core, so you end up having the opportunity to have multiple interconnected neighborhoods with Channelside and Water Street, the central business district, (Tampa) Heights. It’s bounded by the interstates and all sides. It’s got that little bit of transit Tampa has with a trolley coming through it. So, it’s got all of these ingredients and, as around the country and around the world, people begin to move back to the urban core, a portion of the population seeking to drive less and walk more and have a sort of mixed-use lifestyle where you can live and go out to a restaurant and work. I think we really see Ybor City having that opportunity to materially evolve and be that place for the Tampa Bay area.
You grew up here in Tampa and saw what Ybor City was like in the 1970s and 1980s and what it became starting in the 90s. What is your vision for Gas Worx and what do you want to see it accomplish for the area?
First, I would say the vision is holistic for all of Ybor. Gas Works is a very significant component of the vision, given the amount of density that will be there — five to six million square feet of development, 4,000 to 5000 residential units.
I think that will be very significant, but it is one component of the overall vision for Ybor. And that vision, first and foremost, involves bringing people to live in the district. That creates a vibrancy and a need for grocery stores and nail salons and everything else that comes with it. That, ideally, would be in walking distance. Gas Worx is an opportunity to do that. It also sits in what’s right now a no man's land between Water Street, Channelside, the central business district, the Encore (district). And so, it’s an opportunity to connect the various neighborhoods and bring them together working on the grid structure, the road structure — bicycle paths, pedestrian paths. Ybor, you know, kind of starts coming alive after 10 p.m. I think that having that entertainment component is a strategic advantage for Ybor. It’s what helps set it apart from other neighborhoods.
But at the same time, it is definitively not the only thing that we want Ybor to be known for. We would like that to be one component. And so we’re really looking at what is Ybor — from a residential perspective, from an office perspective, from a type-of-business perspective — and trying to think through how to enhance what’s here already and so wonderful. How do we build upon that and really enhance that? It used to be more of an arts district. Artists typically move out when rent or buildings become expensive. How do we bring that back? I think that’s a significant element to creating vibrancy and diversity in the district. That won't happen by itself, because prices will only go up.
So we’re trying to be thoughtful. We have a warehouse on 2nd Avenue. We’re working on plans now to create affordable artists work studios we believe we can bring 50 plus artists to and kind of give them the space that brings them into the district. We’ve got 12 to 14 studios sitting above King Corona Cigars on 7th Avenue. So how do we bring the artists back to Ybor through public art and that has to be done in a thoughtful way. If we can think through an approach and then coalesce the various stakeholders, we would like to do that.
And then we’re looking at greenspace. Every residential area, you want a park, you want an oasis of respite in a gritty neighborhood. And so we’re beginning to think through what that might that look like. Where could those be located within Ybor. And then how do we bring the stakeholders together to get support for that. Yes, the vision is for Gas Worx for sure. But gasworks is part of an overall vision for the district.
Over the last five or six months we’ve started to feel the brunt of all this recent growth in Tampa, housing prices have been going up, rents have been increasing. How do you manage what you’re developing with serving the need for affordable housing?
There’s multiple ways to address that. I look at it first as a supply demand imbalance that’s creating that rapid escalation of housing and rent prices. So first and foremost, we need in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere around the country, to think through how to increase the supply of housing and offset some of that imbalance. That will lower the rate of increase or even potentially bring a decrease in housing costs.
And I think that's imperative if Tampa’s going to have sustainable growth long term we can’t be in a superheated market. So I think bringing in supply of housing is important. We’re actively planning and thinking through both workforce housing, at 80% to 120% of AMI, and true affordable housing, at 60% of AMI, to incorporate that as part of the overall Gas Worx plan, both within the footprint of Gas Worx and within the broader historic district. So, I think that's very much part of our plan and our intention. Clearly, we alone can’t solve the housing crisis for the Tampa Bay area. But we can definitely help and contribute to that. That is an important component of what we’re doing. We don’t want to wait, like what often happens with a large master plan and then folks wait for the later stages to do the affordable housing because it doesn't make economic sense. We’d like to come forward and do that in the earlier stages and be proactive. So yes. Definitely part of what we’re planning.
You’ve stepped down from Blue Pearl. Now you're focused on this project. Have you even started to think about what may be next or may be expanding your real estate investments elsewhere?
No. My focus is on Ybor. My commitment is to Ybor and to Tampa. And there’s a lot of work to do over the next few decades. Hopefully I’m fortunate to be around and have that opportunity to continue to focus on that.