Stanford Alexander – Pioneer in Shopping Center REITs – Passes

HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith) – Stanford Alexander, a national  leader in retail-focused  real estate and a noted philanthropist in his hometown of Houston, passed away at his home. He was 93.

Stanford Alexander

Mr. Alexander was a giant in the real estate industry, spending years leading Weingarten Realty Investors, a Houston-based real estate investment trust that built and owned scores of shopping centers around the nation.

He personified corporate responsibility, long before it became a buzzword and he taught two generations about how to follow a dream while advocating for the best in their communities and for Houston.

There are few non-profit organizations that did not benefit from Stanford Alexander’s vision and quiet, unassuming generosity that touched lives in Houston.

In Texas – and around the nation – Mr. Alexander was a leading force in the shopping center business. He was instrumental in advancing the REIT (real estate investment trust) industry as a vehicle for investing in property, such as retail centers and warehouses.

“Stanford was the go-to guy”

Herb Weitzman, Executive Chairman of the Weitzman firm headquartered in Dallas, says, “I met Stanford early in my career when he was head of Weingarten’s. He had a great relationship with Henry S. Miller, Jr., my mentor and partner. As a young person in the real estate business, he was always respectful to me and I did my best to help Weingarten with some of the tenants we represented. He also had contacts not only through business but also through the non-profit community, both of us worked on the Board of Visitors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I also worked with Stanford on the Board of International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Stanford was respected by everyone in the industry not only because of his integrity but also because of his corporate responsibility. People from all walks of life sought his advice. The industry will miss Stanford and all of his wisdom.”

George Weatherall, Director of Leasing at 5Rivers CRE wrote on social media, “Truly a class act. His character, his love of teaching, his compassion and work ethic are unparalleled. So proud to say I worked with Stanford. You will be missed. Peace and comfort for your family.”

“I joined Weingarten’s in 2003 when I was 44, as a Regional Director of Leasing. Stanford took everyone under his wing – he was a great teacher.  I’ve worked with the likes of Herb Weitzman, so I had had good teachers before. That’s like the `university of retail.’ I cherished the moments when Stanford would pop in and share some wisdom. Stanford was a month older than my father.  He had a great character and was instrumental in Weingarten Realty going public.  I’m so fortunate to have experienced those five and a half years with Stanford.  He taught me so much. And he was swinging all the way to the end. We’ve lost a great one.”

Patrick Frease, Vice President at The Shopping Center Group (TSCG) posted, “You were a pioneer in our industry and I am forever thankful for working for the company you built.”

Alan Hassenflu, Chairman and CEO of Fidelis Partners says, “Stanford Alexander was one of the great pioneers in shopping center development, ownership and value enhancement.  He was a true professional who Fidelis did business with and partnered with.  And as good as he was in the retail real estate business, he was an even better gentleman and philanthropist for numerous endeavors in Houston.  He left Houston a better place because of his many efforts and contributions.  A life very well lived.”

Mike Axelrad, Managing Director of Rockspring Capital, a private equity firm, says, “I think his guidance is what set the standard for early REITs in shopping centers.  I would look at his shopping centers and then look at mine and his were always better.”

Pioneer of Modern REIT Industry

Hap Stein, Executive Chairman at Regency Centers recalls, “I will be happy and honored to share my thoughts on Stanford Alexander, whom like everyone else I held in the highest regards.

“Stanford Alexander was truly one of the important pioneers for the modern REIT industry,” said Stein. “He set a standard in what was a fledgling industry by always doing what was right for Weingarten’s shareholders, tenants, and employees. Stanford was not only an outstanding businessman, but also a true gentleman. I will never forget how gracious and welcoming he was 30 years ago when I was a young CEO after Regency had just gone public as a small REIT. Every time I had the opportunity to be with Stanford I knew that I was in presence of an industry giant, who had built an excellent company, but also a man who was a humble, wonderful human being.”

One of the best in the business

“Stanford was one of the great long-term holders of real estate,” says Steve Alvis, Managing Partner at NewQuest Properties. “His vision to hold long-term quality properties was probably one of the best in the business. Stanford was a great one he will be incredibly missed.”

Lauren Bottonari, Vice President and Market Officer at Regency Centers Houston says, “Our industry lost a good one this week. RIP Stanford Alexander. You taught so many people and myself the skills and techniques to run a successful real estate company at Weingarten Realty. I’ll never forget the phone calls to run through the portfolio and your passion for the business.”

Stanford Alexander was born in Houston in 1928 and attended San Jacinto High School. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and Harvard Business School followed by service in the U.S. Air Force. He was involved in the family business, Weingarten’s grocery stores, throughout his young life.

After the Air Force, he returned home to Houston and his family’s burgeoning supermarket chain business. He began working in its new real estate enterprise, Weingarten Markets Realty. Stanford’s job was to find locations for Weingarten grocery stores as well as tenants who would complement their stores.

One of Houston’s first true supermarkets, starting out in the 1930s, Weingartens experienced an explosive growth post World War II. The family, who had initially only built freestanding grocery stores, quickly jumped on the property development bandwagon. They prospered on a stage set against Houston’s growth as a commerce capital.  At that time, the City of Houston budget was $8.2 million, a hefty sum for 1930. (Today’s city budget clocks in at $5.7 billion.) Weingarten grew as Houston grew and the company became a powerhouse in retail centers, dominant in the grocery-anchored segment.

By the 1960s the Weingarten Realty Corp. was operating grocery stores in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, along with the shopping centers housing these stores. The Weingarten family expanded their holdings, and shopping centers into areas in which they seemingly had no interest in opening a grocery store. By the 1970s Weingarten Realty owned various shopping centers throughout the U.S. including a couple of small-scale malls like North Oaks off Cypresswood Parkway in northwest Houston and Promenade Mall in Lewiston, Maine.

One of Mr. Alexander’s strengths was his ability to identify strong retailers before mainstream national developers noticed them. The relationships he built through loyalty to clients served Weingarten Realty well. In 1984, Weingarten Realty restructured as a real estate investment trust and, after going public, quickly became one of the largest equity REITs listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

One of the greatest joys of Stanford’s life was his partnership with his son Drew, who joined him at Weingarten Realty, eventually succeeding him as CEO in 2001.

Drew Alexander shared some favorite memories about what it was like growing up.  “At my Bar Mitzvah, I stood taller than my father but I still always looked up to him,” he said. “I learned by watching how he treated others and the great consideration with which he placed family.” He spoke of the many family vacations when his father spent most of the days visiting retail centers, talking with managers and sharing his vision.

After decades of operation, Weingarten Realty was acquired last year for $4 billion by Kimco Realty of New York. At the time of the sale, Weingarten owned 160 shopping centers (over 30 million SF) in 15 states.

When Stanford Alexander married Joan Greenberg 68 years ago, it was the beginning of an enduring love story and a remarkable partnership in love and life.  Before their first date, a friend asked Joan if she would like to meet a charming, bright Texas boy who was in school at Harvard. Being a New York woman, Joan said she had a few doubts about Texas boys but that quickly changed.  Stanford often took her to Rice football games and to plays, to continue the traditions to which Joan had grown to love in New York.

Stanford personified tikkun olam, a Jewish concept defined by acts to help repair the universe, not just in his personal life, but also as a leader in the community. Stanford set the high bar for corporate responsibility and being a good neighbor. He was active in many civic and health organizations. He advocated for mental illness, Providing the first land for the Houston Food Bank; developing SEARCH House of Tiny Treasures, the first childcare center for homeless children, providing the first location and support for Dress for Success; innovating leading edge programs to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities at Jewish Family Service; championing the State of Israel through vigorous support of AIPAC; and numerous other initiatives which benefit from the work of the foundation he and Joan created. As a testament to his lifelong real estate leadership, he and Joan named the Stanford Alexander Center for Real Estate Excellence at UH Bauer School of Business. His good work was performed quietly and unassumingly, like the man himself.

“He was so kind and always happy and so caring,” says Jenifer Edmonds.  “He was responsible for bringing Trader Joe’s into Houston. He and Joan have always been great philanthropists. Stanford was like the Rock of Gibraltar for Joan.  They just celebrated their 68thanniversary.”

“The passing of Stanford Alexander has left a void in my heart,” says Nancy Levicki, who co-founded Dress for Success Houston 25 years ago and benefitted from Alexander’s support. “With Joan by his side he impacted the Houston community, making our city a better place for all of us.”

Stanford had a lifelong passion for learning about business, history, Judaism and more. “You could not help but to be taken with Stanford Alexander,” said Joan Alexander. “His warmth and genuineness were endearing and infectious.”

In 2009, they provided commercial space as the first location for Celebration Company. When the program outgrew the space, they were the lead underwriters of the Joan and Stanford Alexander Family Building at JFS, which now houses Celebration Company and other services of the agency.  At Seven Acres, the Alexander-Greenberg Build­ing represents a major enhance­ment in the lives of those who live in the community and have incurred Alzheimer’s disease and related demen­tias. The completion of the building, made possible by the generosity of the Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation, truly represents the state-of-the-art environment for the community’s elderly, who require such a specialized building and life-care therapeutic programs. This significant gift was given in honor of the Alexanders’ parents, Anne and Irving Alexander and Esther and Herman Greenberg.

“Stanford Alexander, along with wife Joan, was a champion of many civic organizations. Through JFS Houston, they established Celebration Company, a program for adults with disabilities, as well as the JFS Alexander Institute for Inclusion, an advocacy program for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace, academia, organizations and places of faith. An early advocate for mental health wellness, they enabled access for people of all faiths and backgrounds, without regard to their ability to pay, to high-level Behavioral and Mental Health Services and prevention programs. An astute and honorable businessman, he used his influence to bring others together to build a better Houston,” stated Carl E. Josehart, JFS CEO. “Stanford was beloved by so many, and was always joyfully received on his many visits to give encouragement to the employees of Celebration Company, a program particularly dear to him and Joan.”

Personal relationships formed the foundation of both his professional and private life. He could and would talk to anyone, from politicians to grocery store clerks, from captains of industry to cab drivers. He engaged with them as peers, curious about whom they were as people, asking about what mattered to them. When he spoke with a store manager about the performance of their sales — a crucial part of his business acumen — it was to compliment their efforts in organizing a display or celebrate a new achievement in sales records. He was unassuming and approachable; he would show an intense focus for the smallest of details, and was always quick with a smile and a kind word. His greatest ambitions were not measured in terms of business milestones or charitable giving, but in treasuring the relationships with everyone who had the good fortune to pass through his life. His memory serves as a blessing for those he touched throughout his life.

Senior Rabbi David A. Lyon and Senior Associate Rabbi Adrienne Scott conducted the memorial service on Friday, the 1st of July, in the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood Blvd in Houston.  As she spoke to the full auditorium, Joan shared she was wearing her Sun and the Moon earrings that Stanford bought her many years ago. “I wore them because he was my sun and my moon,” she said. “Our marriage was an incredible partnership. An era has passed but his spirit lives in you.” Among those who came to pay respects were Robert T. Sakowitz and U.S. Ambassador Arthur Schechter.

July 2, 2022.

Realty News Report Copyright 2022

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