Oxford Development Retains Youthful Vigor

Published: Monday, November 12, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 By Sam Spatter

For a company celebrating its 50th anniversary, Oxford Development Co. isn’t acting its age.

Instead of resting on its accomplishments, the commercial real estate company — which is marking its birthday on Tuesday at the Rivers Club at One Oxford Centre, Downtown — will continue its aggressive pursuit of development and management opportunities, President and CEO Steven J. Guy said.

It was the aggressiveness of the late Ed Lewis that produced three projects that Oxford is best identified with — the 45-story One Oxford Centre, Downtown; South Hills Village mall in the South Hills; and the Monroeville Mall, Monroeville.

“Obviously, his achievements live on in the buildings he built, but his greatest achievement, in my estimation, was his work as a promoter of Pittsburgh and its people. No one I’ve known loved this city more than Eddie, and no one was more determined than he to help it survive and thrive (amid) the demise of steelmaking and other heavy industry,” said Anne Lewis, his widow, who is chairwoman of the company’s board of directors.

Guy said that aggressiveness continues.

A decision will be made by the end of the year on Oxford’s latest project, he said. The company has proposed two options for upgrading Downtown’s sliding Smithfield Street corridor.

One is a new “350 Fifth” tower, a $238 million office tower rising 33 stories between Fifth and Forbes avenues. A second option is a more modest $40 million upscale renovation of the six-story building at 441 Smithfield. The company announced its plan in May.

“A lot has happened about the project over the last five months,” Guy said, declining to elaborate on what interest has been shown.

Oxford’s choice will depend on whether it can land big tenants. Speculation has centered on U.S. Steel Corp., which has been looking at possible alternatives to U.S. Steel Tower when its lease expires in 2017. Marcellus shale natural gas companies such as Royal Dutch Shell plc, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp. are other rumored candidates.

Regardless, “we are well capitalized to secure opportunities in offices, student housing, multi-family, sports and entertainment facilities plus health care,” said Guy, who became CEO after David Matter retired in February 2010, after 22 years in that role.

Guy, 53, joined the company in 1987 and served as executive vice president, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, vice president of finance and corporate controller.

He is proud of the company’s employees. “We are very fortunate to have long-tenture employees who have been here for 25 to 35 years, and who have and continue to participate in the company’s growth,” Guy said.

Oxford is on a mission to bring more young talent into its ranks, he said.

“We are adding younger employees, primarily from this area. They will be involved in all areas — construction/development, brokerage, investment management, operations, marketing, business development and other aspects,” he said.

Guy believes young talent may bring new dynamics to a company that was started when Lewis, in the mid-1960s, joined his father, Eugene Lebowitz, his brother-in-law, Mark Mason, along with developer Don Soffer and his father, Harry Soffer, in starting Don Mark Realty — the predecessor of Oxford.

“They helped build the company that has, in our real estate development portfolio, 40 million square feet of commercial real estate across all asset classes,” Guy said.

Among Oxford’s management portfolio are Consol Energy Center, UPMC Sports Performance complex, Theater Square and parking garage, Washington Mall, August Wilson Center and Village Square Mall, Bethel Park.

“I have worked closely with the people of Oxford since their offices were in Monroeville, before they built One Oxford Centre,” said Gerry Dudley, executive vice president at CBRE Group Inc. in Pittsburgh. “They are great people to work with, and they have always had the ability to adapt to the changes of the commercial real estate industry, and they have proven to be agile.”

Dick Donley, president of Chaska Property Advisors, said: “The excitement (and risk) in moving forward with a speculative project such as Oxford Centre is incredible, and the development to this day remains a vibrant part of our business community. Oxford … has been an iconic developer whose projects have enhanced our lifestyles and skyline for half a century. With its new leadership, Oxford should be in a great position to continue to grow and contribute to the success of our region.”

Guy feels Oxford is in a strong position financially.

Growth could be in areas outside of the Pittsburgh region, such as a return to Philadelphia, where Oxford once had a presence. Guy said he is looking for opportunities in a number of other markets, which he declined to identify.

Over the years, Oxford has been involved in South Florida where it developed the Turnberry Isle Resort and Country Club, the Aventura Mall, the Bell Tower Shopping Center and an office building in Fort Myers, and the Pierre Condominium, a 66-unit luxury beachfront complex on Longboat Key, Sarasota.

In 2010, it opened a $19.5 million Hyatt Summerfield Suites (now called Hyatt House) in Broomfield, Colo. And, in conjunction with Keith McGraw of the Concord Hospitality, the company will open a 136-room Hyatt House at SouthSide Works, South Side, in April.

“I’m confident that were Eddie still with us today, he’d be delighted, not just with what Oxford has accomplished but also with the new 21st-century Pittsburgh it is helping to shape,” Anne Lewis said.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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