Miller-Valentine weathers half century of changes

Top executives of the Miller-Valentine Group say if you want to build 80 million square feet of commercial space over a half century, you need the right people doing the right things.

It also helps to like what you’re doing, said Chief Executive Bill Krul, who has been with the company since 1969.

“You better be in a business that you like,” Krul said. “The reason we’re in the real estate business is because we like real estate. We just like, I would say, the risks and rewards.”

Like any real estate company that has weathered 50 years in a very cyclical industry, Miller-Valentine Group has an array of interests. The company is in commercial real estate development and construction, apartment construction and management, property management, site selection, consulting and more.

The company was founded as a small-project contractor in 1963 by partners Gerry Miller, Dan Valentine and Jim Walsh. The three saw opportunity in a rapidly expanding nation, growing particularly via the spread of highways.

The company then seized on “tilt-up” construction — a quicker form of raising buildings with concrete elements — and constructing multi-tenant buildings on a speculative basis. Office, retail and residential followed.

Fifteen years ago, redevelopment of housing in urban areas caught the eye of company leadership. The idea ended up in the company’s “creative backlog” before becoming part of the business.

Miller-Valentine always looked for that next step, its executives said.

“Adding cutting-edge, evolving with cutting-edge services and products, constantly thinking ahead on the trends of the industry,” said Dave Dickerson, who joined the company in the summer of 2012 and is partner and president of Miller-Valentine Gem Real Estate. “There’s nothing you can do about economic downturns and market changes. But if you could plan ahead, you can be adapting to what’s coming down the road.”

The merger of Gem Real Estate and Miller-Valentine brought GEM’s brokerage, leasing, advisory and property management functions to the company.

While the company’s biggest revenue driver has been construction contracting, maybe its most visible side is its diversity of markets. The company started in Dayton, added the Cincinnati market, brought in Fort Wayne, Ind., then Toledo, Columbus, the Carolinas and Houston.

You can find the company’s work all over, from a major condominium renovation in downtown Cincinnati, to the remaking of the former Cooper Tire building off Interstate 75 for beverage distributor Heidelberg, to new University of Dayton student housing off Brown and Caldwell, to the Thirty-one Gifts building in Springfield and a Subaru distribution center outside Indianapolis.

“A lot of people don’t know of all those pieces that we bring to the table,” Krul said.

Overall, the focus on real estate has been a fruitful one. With a laugh, Krul recalled the age-old adage: “Equipment depreciates. Real estate appreciates.”

“We’re pretty darn good at evaluating market needs,” he said.

The company also prides itself on its partnership structure. Partners shoulder risks and share in profits. Krul said the structure establishes trust.

“I look at it as something like a family business,” Dickerson said.

So, what’s ahead? Ed Blake — CEO of the company’s commercial division and chief financial officer of the overall Miller-Valentine Group — said the company is “prospecting hard,” ever mindful of an overall economy that hasn’t quite earned anyone’s trust.

“We have a lot things we’re looking at in the pipeline, particularly urban and mixed-use related,” Blake said. “If you look around the country — and things tend to come a little later — they (new types of developments) originate on the coasts.”

The “urban live-work-play lifestyle” is a trend that can’t be ignored, company leaders believe. Mixed-use developments can be large or small. The company points to developments like its work on the northeast corner of Brown and Stewart streets, just off the UD campus, where student housing and retail live literally one above the other

The company is not missing the trends, such as an increasing distaste for long commutes and the growing popularity of living in or near urban centers.

“It has staying power,” Blake said of mixed-use developments.

Miller-Valentine itself has been pulled downtown. Last year, it began moving more than 20 employees to its Barclay Building offices on North Main Street. The company sold its Moraine offices to Dallas-based real estate software developer Tyler Technologies, although Miller-Valentine still maintains a small presence in that building.

“I think our commitment to all of that in the Dayton market was the moving of our office to downtown Dayton,” Krul said. “I think that was our statement to ourselves that we are a Dayton-based company, and we need and want to develop in this community.”

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