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Busch Properties Inc. keeps real estate in the family

In 1969, The Anheuser-Busch Cos., St Louis, Mo., formed Busch Properties Inc. (BPI), a wholly owned real estate development and management subsidiary, to develop the property around the Anheuser-Busch manufacturing facilities. Now, BPI handles all aspects of the corporate and residential real estate services for the company. Today, BPI'S four main functions include business park development, resort and residential development, corporate real estate and employee residential relocation.

Bill Brown is vice president of BPI in its Columbus, Ohio, office. He handles the company's business park development and the construction, leasing and management of commercial, office and industrial buildings in Ohio, Virginia and California.

What's Anheuser-busch doing in real estate? That's a question Brown says he is asked a lot.

"Well, we're in real estate because we build plants around the country, and it's an issue that no one could ignore. You're in it when you own facilities and the more you grow and expand. We're in it as a defensive strategy to protect ourselves. ... That's why we're doing it, and my question is, why aren't a lot of other people in it, because it's for their own self-protection more than anything else."

NREI: How long have. you worked with Busch Properties, and how did you get into this?

Brown: I came to Busch in 1977 - that's almost 20 years - and prior to that, my background was city planning, and I was a country planning director before coming to Busch. I kind of got in through the economic development door. Many of our staff came from the public side, parks and recreation, more so from planning and other municipal positions than from other private developers.

Anheuser-Busch is a very strong corporation and one that has very definite views on how they want their property developed. The company has a strong reputation for quality, and that's how they want to see the property around their plants developed. They're an interesting group to work for.

NREI: What are some specific big projects you're working on right now?

Brown: I'm currently running five business parks - three of them are in Virginia, one is here in Ohio and one is in California. Each is with one of our breweries. We only develop land around our plants, so consequently, the locations chosen may be great brewery sites, but may not necessarily have much commercial or office or industrial. They chose the location because of its manufacturing applications. In Virginia, we have one park two-thirds developed, one park 25% developed and one just about to get going. We work very actively with the counties, with the regional agency and with the state. Our residential resort project, Kingsmill on the James (outside of Williamsburg, Va.) is undergoing some very major changes. We are doing some new residential areas. We are also in the process of expanding. So there's a lot of things going on within our residential projects.

NREI: How do you think the corporate real estate executive fits into the plans of The Anheuser-busch Cost.? Do you have a lot of input?

Brown: I think our views are taken into consideration. We're viewed as a staff function, just as engineering and legal and financial, and we have input to make. And we're often asked whether this is going to be a good site or how the land values will hold up. Is there an exit strategy? What if we get into this and decide we don't want do it, can we get out of it? And so the asset values become important. So our views are considered along with operations and the beer company people and everyone else. It's a very multitalented group.

NREI: What about new technology? Are you applying a lot of it in your job?

Brown: Yes, we are. Beginning in 1990, here in Columbus ahead of the rest of our corporation, we got heavily involved in total quality management (TQM) and began doing a lot of things to modernize our product, to modernize how we do business, to modernize our services and, as a result, we wrapped technology into new applications in everything that we do - particularly the computer and computer-aided analysis, spread sheet analysis. We're doing things today because of the computer capabilities. Because of the capabilities, we're doing things very, very differently than we would have done them even three years ago.

We manage 10 buildings for Allstate Insurance; we're hooked up by computer online with them 24 hours a day doing all our accounting and document processing. It's as if they were next door to us. The same thing is about to happen with Anheuser-Busch. They're going to a brand new nationwide accounting system. We will be online inputting a lot of things where papers used to go back to St. Louis. We'll basically be doing all of that here. All of the technology gives so much better analytical capabilities - and so much quicker. It's really quite amazing.

NREI: Does Busch Properties handle everything or are particular tasks outsourced to others?

Brown: We don't outsource very much. We do most of our stuff in-house. I mean, we outsource specific skills: engineering, architecture and that kind of thing. We make major use of brokers and real estate appraisers, engineers, architects and those skilled as consultants in certain communities where we don't have much representation. But we're a pretty tightly controlled corporation so all the decision making is certainly done in-house.

NREI: Are you involved in any strategic alliances with other companies?

Brown: Ten of the buildings that we built, we sold to Allstate, and we continue to lease and manage those buildings for them. So we've had a long-term alliance with them in that regard and the fact that we're their property manager on these buildings. The buildings have been very successful for them. Again as part of our TQM program we try to network with a lot of companies. I think that we have an advantage over other property managers, because we have an inherent big corporation view of things, and we kind of know instinctively how larger corporations and larger tenants and institutional owners would want to do things. So, I think it's given us the ability to converse with institutional owners where small property management firms wouldn't necessarily know how to.

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