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"The whole world is property," he says. "Everywhere I go I look at real estate. If I go on vacation, I'm looking for sites. I've developed a very good ability to pick a site and see what can be done to make it a better, more interesting property than it is today."
Fuqua is unassuming at first glance. Soft-spoken and seemingly reserved, his boyish cheeks belie the shark in a well-tailored suit. He often wears black-rimmed glasses, but takes them off, slowly twirling them between his fingers, when he's giving someone his undivided attention.
He was born in Salida, Colo., a 5,300-person ranching town near Monarch Pass' base near the Continental Divide. He moved to the Denver suburbs at an early age and later studied geology at the University of Colorado in hopes of becoming an oil man. But as Colorado's oil industry declined in the early '80s, he was tempted by another career.
In a college real estate class, a condo developer for ski resort towns gave a compelling presentation. The lecture offered Fuqua a glimpse into development's high-stakes and creativity. He transferred schools and enrolled in the University of Denver's Real Estate and Construction Management program.
"It's the wild wild West in this business," Fuqua says. "If you can put [a project] together, make it work, finance it, and create a valuable asset, you've done something good. You eat what you kill, and if you do it well, there's no limit to what you can do."
After briefly working for an acquisitions firm, Florida-based the Sembler Company recruited Fuqua in 1988. When Publix, one of the company's biggest clients, began expanding to Atlanta, he followed and opened Sembler's first regional office.
Fuqua remembers the exact day he arrived in Atlanta. It was December 16, 1992. He moved to Virginia-Highland, where he still resides, and attempted to make his mark as a developer. He faced steep competition in a local industry predominantly controlled by several affluent, influential, and established families.
"When I first came up here, a well-known figure said, 'Son, you're not going to make it in this business,'" Fuqua says. "'The property and business deals are really controlled by eight or 10 families. You're just not connected enough to do that.' I took that to heart."
Fuqua managed to break through in a cutthroat real estate market following an early '90s recession that hit metro Atlanta hard. The 1996 Olympics brought a construction boom and the heirs to many of the long-standing development empires opted out of their family businesses.
Sembler first built two Publix shopping centers in Clayton County and then eight more complexes in Cobb County. He struck his first intown deal when he purchased the Rio Shopping Center at North and Piedmont avenues. Once a kitschy open-air mall with a rectangular pool lined with more than 300 gold frogs, the property was converted into a Publix-anchored strip mall and a 351-unit apartment site in 2000.
His market research in the mid-'90s revealed that Buckhead lacked large, dense retail sites — something few Atlanta developers had considered. In 1999, Fuqua opened Lenox Marketplace, what he considers his first contribution to high-density development in Atlanta's city limits. He says the development, which was four-to-five times denser than his past suburban projects, was risky and difficult. The site's Target was only the chain's second multi-level store in the country.
Lenox Marketplace was also among Fuqua's earliest developments to face community opposition. At a Neighborhood Planning Unit presentation in Buckhead, Fuqua remembers one board member who, he says, hacked up the company's project and cost Sembler millions of dollars. He was particularly bothered by her lack of design, real estate, or financial experience.
"We had to design and build around her particular ideas at that moment to get [the board's] support," he says. "I thought to myself, 'Wow, is that the way it's supposed to work?' ... I still see what those comments did to the project and was surprised at how an unelected official can affect your project that badly. I learned then that's the way the business is going to be."
It's hard to imagine Buckhead without its sleek skyscrapers, boutique shopping, and massive strip malls. Commercialism is one of the neighborhood's defining characteristics. The area also exemplifies the car culture for which Atlanta is so well known. Fuqua played a role in shaping the neighborhood as we know it today.
The veteran developer's projects often include large, national chain stores fronted by sprawling parking lots. Critics argue that his developments diminish the neighborhood feeling, and bring the less desirable elements of suburbia to urban Atlanta.
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