Praise for ‘Mr. Downtown’
Kit Tyler is a longtime leader in Richmond’s commercial real estate industry
Catlin E. “Kit” Tyler Jr. is known in commercial real estate circles as a deal maker— hard working, energetic and focused. He’s also a mentor, whether it’s helping people in the industry or others in need of an uplifting Christian message.
“He is an inspiration to all who have worked with him over the years, especially the younger pros who were looking for broker best practices on how to conduct themselves and be successful in the business,” said Scott White, a broker with Pollard & Bagby Inc., a residential and commercial brokerage in Richmond.
White, who has known Tyler for 36plus years, worked with him at Harrison & Bates, a commercial real estate brokerage founded in Richmond in 1910.
After 49 years with the same firm, Tyler joined Commonwealth Commercial Partners in Henrico County last year as a senior vice president — after Harrison & Bates was shuttered following its affiliation loss with Colliers International Group Inc.
Tyler said he considered retiring at age 75. But now that he’s 74, he’s looking at 80.
“Not right now,” he said. “I enjoy good health.” Besides, he has— as always— a few deals in the works.
“At one time, he was called Mr. Downtown because of his command of so many sales and leasing agreements in the Central Business District of Richmond,” White said.
His ability to go after opportunities with landlord, tenant representation or auction sales are too numerous to count, White said.
Tyler has been the leasing agent for landlords of buildings such as Richmond Plaza, the Federal Reserve Bank, One James River Plaza, United Virginia Bank headquarters (now the SunTrust Bank building) and WestRock (now also home to CoStar Group’s global research).
His major building sales include
Richmond Plaza (which he sold twice), 900 E. Main St., One Capital Square, 629 E. Main St. and 10 E. Franklin St. (which he’s selling for the third time.)
Tenants and buyers include Verizon, Northwestern Mutual, Dominion Energy, Media General Inc., Apple Hospitality REIT Inc., Capital Square Acquisitions and Covington Travel.
“Kit has worked with thousands of clients, cooperated with hundreds of other brokers and contributed his talent to numerous business and civic organizations — making him one of the most recognizable people in our industry,” said David M. Williams, also a senior vice president at Commonwealth Commercial.
Williams and Tyler were among eight associates — mostly brokers — who made the jump to Commonwealth Commercial last year when Harrison & Bates folded.
At that time, Williams was president and CEO of Harrison & Bates. Tyler was vice chairman.
“It has been a smooth and welcome transition,” Williams said.
Paul Denton, managing director of brokerage operations at Commonwealth Commercial, recalls how in 2002 he had only been in the business a few months when Tyler showed up at a listing with a prospective tenant.
“I knew Kit was among a select group of top office agents in Richmond and frankly I was a little intimidated about making a mistake,” Denton said.
Tyler, who worked for a competing firm, pulled him aside: “You did great. Keep it up and remember you gotta play the long game in this business. Stay honest and success will come.”
The message stuck, Denton said.
“He still beat me up on the deal negotiations. He taught me that you can be a good person but still be tough as nails when representing your client,” Denton said. “Kit had a great reputation of making young agents feel welcome to the business and that continues today with the mentoring he does at Commonwealth Commercial.”
Tyler joined Harrison & Bates in June 1970, after graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 1968 and working for two years as an assistant manager in food services.
He started in property management, moved into leasing and sales in 1972. His first big deal was Richmond Plaza, a former cigarette manufacturing facility that was converted into office space and leased by users including Medical Data Services, Virginia Power, Commonwealth of Virginia and the Department of Information Technology. Dominion Energy eventually bought it and tore it down to make way for its 20-story 600 Canal Place office tower.
“That set me off as an expert in large property leasing,” Tyler said about the Richmond Plaza building.
Tyler, also the leasing agent for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s building for years, was promoted to director of Harrison & Bates office brokerage in 1984. Asmany as 10 peo
ple worked in that group.
He compiled data on office buildings — occupancy, vacancy and rental rates — for the Harrison & Bates Market Review for 17 years, underscoring his expertise.
“Kit is battle-tested and respected,” Denton said. “It’s virtually impossible to look at an office property in our market where Kit didn’t do a deal. Understanding market trends is one thing but understanding the individuals that make the market move is entirely different.”
In his 50 years in the business, Tyler has survived economic cycles, including a downturn in the 1980s when office buildings were selling at 30 to 35 cents on the dollar. He was in leasing then, so it didn’t hit him hard.
The one economic downturn that hurt was the financial collapse in 2008, when people sat on real estate and nothing was sold.
He’s not sure what to think of the present coronavirus-related effects on office space with vast numbers of people working from home.
“Working from home gets old and there’s not a lot of synergy,” Tyler said. “People are getting Zoomed out,” he said referring to the social media meeting platform.
With social distancing mandates, companies may need to cut the number of people working in any one space, he said. “Yes, it will affect us, but to the degree, I don’t know.”
While serving as amentor to many, Tyler’s heroes in real estate were the late John “Jack” Bates Jr., patriarch of Harrison & Bates from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s, and the late Robert E. “Bob” Barton, a leader in the real estate appraisal business in Virginia for more than 50 years.
Tyler carried the briefcase (figuratively) for Bates. “It was my pleasure to work with him on many real estate projects to follow through on his concept of developing downtown Richmond from Main [Street] to the James [River].”
Barton was an accomplished real estate professional, Tyler said, with the utmost integ
rity and a devoted fellow leader in Crestwood Presbyterian Church— words often echoed by others to describe Tyler.
Brent Graves, principal of Conquest Moncure & Dunn Inc., a construction firm in Richmond, said he knew Tyler by reputation for 30 years and met him in person 20 years ago as part of a business roundtable.
“The first thing that comes to mind is he’s a spiritual person who is involved in his church, very honest and trustworthy with a tremendous amount of integrity,” said Graves, who has worked with Tyler in leasing, sales and purchases.
“He’s very client-driven and a straight shooter,” Graves said. “When you have a great reputation, people listen to you.”
Tyler lives by a few mottoes— some original, some borrowed:
♦ People do business with people: “You can do a lot of things but ultimately you are dealing with an individual. You don’t always have loyal clients but you try to nurture them,” Tyler said.
♦ Time kills deals: “A broker is the conductor of the orchestra and must keep it all together. If you drop the ball, everything falls apart. You have to keep everyone motivated.”
That said, real estate deals can take years. Tyler cautions young brokers that the challenge they face is they don’t get paid until the deal is done. He recently sold a medical office building that took 18 months. He once had a listing that took 18 years to sell.
♦ The man who rolls up his sleeves seldom loses his shirt: “If you’re willing to work hard, dig in and keep the ball in the air, you will have success as opposed to failure.”
Tyler is a spiritual leader as well as a business leader, Graves said.
A former deacon and elder,
Tyler went on five “life-changing” mission trips to Haiti through his church, Crestwood Presbyterian Church, from 1993 through 2007.
He volunteers as a mentor for Faith Based Re-Entry, a prison ministry helping people achieve success through spiritual healing when they re-enter society.
“The guys who run the program are saints. I’m on the mentor side,” Tyler said. “Just about zero [participants] go astray.”
Tyler, his friends and associates say, is generous with his sage advice — way beyond his business dealings.