“Doing It All is Not Common”: SWENSON’s Perspective After 100 Years in Business

SWENSON Builders, San Jose, The Grad, San Jose Medical-Dental Building, Oakland, Jack London Square
The Grad, San Jose. Image Courtesy of SWENSON

By Meghan Hall

Case Swenson, CEO and President of SWENSON

SWENSON has had a storied history in the Bay Area, beginning with its construction of the 10-story San Jose Medical Dental Building, one of the City’s first skyscrapers, to the San Jose City Hall and Civic Center in 1958 to today. 2020 is another major milestone for the company, marking SWENSON’s 100th year in business. The Registry spoke with Case Swenson, president and CEO of SWENSON, on the company’s successes and hot it views its future.

SWENSON has been part of the Bay Area CRE and construction industries for four generations now. Over that time, what is it about the firm’s business model that has made Swenson successful as a company? Why?

Our success is due to an impressive team of people focused on one goal, building communities. While the family celebrates developing and building in California for 100 years, we collectively have hundreds of years of experience to lean on. I am thankful to work with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced minds in the industry. The expertise they bring to the table is invaluable.

SWENSON’S success could be attributed to its unique, full-service approach to real estate development. We handle all facets of real estate development in-house, including land acquisition, architecture, entitlements, financing, construction, lease up and operation/ownership. We do it all and that is not common.

SWENSON’S years of experience through various growth cycles enable it to move with the times and diversify projects into multiple sectors of the CRE and construction industries. We consider different types of projects and industries, focusing on emerging markets and forward thinking. This broad strategy is unique and unparalleled in the Bay Area.

Over the years, what methods and strategies has Swenson employed when deciding upon which projects to pursue, and which ones to pass up?

SWENSON is built on simplicity. Either we can pencil out the idea and see the path to success clearly, or it’s time to move on.

In that time, the Bay Area has undergone a rapid transformation. What are the biggest trends you have seen emerge as a company in the CRE industry?

Due to the booming job market in the Bay Area, we have seen an extreme need for housing arise, with most people wanting to be close to their place of work with access to public transit. At SWENSON, we are responding to this by prioritizing our focus on transit-oriented development near major employment hubs throughout the Bay Area. 

With widespread changes due to COVID-19, we must forward think and evolve in step with the needs of our future residents. As workplaces change, housing requirements will change as well.

As a firm with a long history in working in the San Francisco Bay Area, are you seeing the region as one cohesive entity or do you think certain submarkets will continue to dominate others? Why?

The Bay Area is certainly composed of submarkets, which generally prosper in unison. However, it’s not a given that the whole market will move that way. The Bay Area hosts a healthy variety of all CRE sectors so different factors can impact each submarket in different ways.

We have recently seen office spaces shut down and apartment vacancy increasing, which in turn has caused apartment rents to take a slight dip. Luckily, as of right now, we have not seen too much of an impact in the suburban submarkets. While some submarkets outperform others, in times like this, they seem to mostly lend support to each other.

SWENSON is celebrating 100 years in 2020! How is Swenson celebrating its Bay Area legacy?

During this unprecedented time, we’re celebrating by continuing to move our projects forward successfully. But you better believe, next year, we will be celebrating in SWENSON fashion. Hopefully with a companywide trip up to the family ranch for a big party!

Are there any projects that you are particularly excited about?  If so, how do they build upon — and will continue to build upon—SWENSON’s legacy in the Bay Area?

We recently opened The Grad, the first student housing high-rise in downtown San Jose. We are thrilled to welcome new residents and create a connection to the downtown core.

We are almost ready to start construction on a 103-unit senior living center in San Jose. We have to think ahead and plan for housing our senior population and are pleased to work in this market.

We’re also very excited to pull building permits for a 157-unit, 7-story project in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The project will be our first in Oakland and one of the first to utilize the Opportunity Zone program. This project continues our legacy as trail blazers who take advantage of prospects that are less understood elsewhere.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges that those in the CRE industry face today with construction, architecture, and development? Can you give examples of how Swenson has successfully navigated these roadblocks in the past?

The biggest challenges in the CRE industry today are getting all the players for a deal lined up and ready to execute. Due to the pandemic, there has been hesitation from lenders and equity partners. While this situation is unique, over the past 100 years, SWENSON has been through a lot. With experience comes the knowledge and flexibility to change our business operations as needed to come out stronger on the other side.  

What are SWENSON’s plans for growth in the future? Does the company have any plans to expand beyond California?  Why or why not?

At the moment, we’re focused on the Golden State. By effectively utilizing a three-pronged approach—development, construction, and architecture—we can most effectively be successful within our local communities. 

Is there anything else you would like to add that The Registry did not ask or mention?

We were really excited to launch the SWENSON Foundation a year ago and we continue to look for opportunities to support under-served and at-risk youth throughout Santa Clara County. 

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