With a focus on quality living among nature, Republic Property Group’s co-CEO Tony Ruggeri also knows that technology and innovation are of utmost importance. For Ruggeri, that balance hangs between forming a telecom company that delivers the fastest internet to Walsh, a residential community in Fort Worth, Texas, to learning how to build and operate a makerspace and considering the natural topography of the land the firm chooses to develop.
Ruggeri will be speaking during the Innovating for the Future + Connectivity for Tomorrow panel at Future Place from Builder and parent company Zonda, Oct. 3 and 4, in Dallas. BUILDER caught up with Ruggeri who is on the front line of shaping tomorrow’s communities.
BUILDER: What is a hybrid community?
Ruggeri: When Dr. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” came to speak with us in the early days of concepting for the Walsh community in Fort Worth, he told us of a conversation he had with a trainer for cruise ship pilots. The trainer told him there were two types of people: the salty, life-on-the-water type who struggled to understand all the computerized controls, and the young video game type who grasped technology instantly but had no idea when they were about to run into the dock. His point was that the most successful people in the future will be those who have one foot in each world—a hybrid of tech and nature.
At Walsh, we set out to build a community and foster a neighborhood culture that would provide opportunities for both. We want residents to enjoy a walk through nature on the many miles of trails. To give kids the opportunities to walk down the street to a community park. Maybe stop off at the beach or a nature playground while on the way to the makerspace where they can learn coding and 3D printing. It’s that kind of combination that we think is building for the future.
BUILDER: How does Republic Property Group find balance in technology and nature for its communities?
Ruggeri: We believe that creating a lasting place for people to build families and call home requires balance. Each time we approach a land plan in developing a community, we think about the heritage of the land or the topography of the natural landscape and how those play into a long-term vision for a neighborhood. At the same time, we’re looking to bring an appropriate touch of modernity, community by community—whether that translates through amenities we develop, architectural styles and elevations, or even infrastructure like our Walsh community in Fort Worth that featured internet fiber run at the same time as other utilities.
BUILDER: How is Light Farms in Celina, Texas, shaping up as it’s in its final phase?
Ruggeri: Master plans take time. They are very similar to children. During the early years, we have a lot to do with shaping the community and its future path. We were very fortunate and proud to have started developing Light Farms as one of the first master-planned communities in Celina/Prosper, which we’ve seen now grow into one of the fastest-growing areas in the country in terms of population growth. When a development reaches its "teenage years," the community begins to take over, and the culture is cemented by the residents who choose to call Light Farms home. I would say Light Farms is now entering early adulthood, almost completely developed and with its own well-formed identity. From a construction standpoint, we’re close to delivering the final lots in the master plan to builders. It has been incredible getting to be a part of such an amazing community.
BUILDER: What has Republic Property Group done differently in terms of innovation at its master plans?
Ruggeri: Our purpose as a company is to create places for people to live exceptionally. This leads us to focus much more on the residents and cultivating a strong sense of community than simply readying land and putting homes into a market. We often find ourselves on interesting paths that the community raises a hand for in terms of need. A few examples that embody that ability to try something different that we think makes Republic Property Group who it is includes building and operating a restaurant in Light Farms before any third-party restaurateur was willing; creating a telecom company to deliver the fastest internet in the country for a residential community at Walsh in Fort Worth; learning how to build, operate, and staff a makerspace; and developing a telehealth platform all of our residents can enjoy.
BUILDER: Tell us about Record Street Residential.
Ruggeri: Record Street Residential is a sub-brand from Republic Property Group we launched as a specific response to a real affordability issue we are seeing in the for-sale market. We’ll be focusing on development of quality, single-family rental communities throughout Texas under the Record Street Residential name. For context, when we opened Light Farms to the public in 2013, we had a big sign out front that read “From the 240s.” Today, there are a few homes in the $390s, but most everything is over $400,000. The step between apartment living and home ownership has grown too high too fast for many people. With Record Street, we are delivering an intermediate step. A high-quality, Class A single-family home with a garage and yard—for lease. We see the build-to-rent (BTR) space as an opportunity for young people and budding families as well as empty nesters looking to live in a home without all the hassle.
BUILDER: What makes Record Street Residential different from other BTR companies?
Ruggeri: We are community builders no matter which product type we are developing. Our approach to BTR reflects the care and attention we pay to the layout of the homes in the community, the inclusion of green space and community meeting points, and the amenities we can bring to BTR neighborhoods. Home plans are optimized in pocket neighborhood configurations to stimulate a strong sense of community. Truly, we’re putting our 40-plus years building master-planned communities and that accumulation of knowledge to infuse a sense of community into the BTR space.
BUILDER: What’s your thoughts and outlook on the overall BTR industry?
Ruggeri: The macro challenge of affordability that BTR solves is not going away. We see BTR continuing to grow throughout the country in the years to come.
BUILDER: Is there anything you want to make sure readers know about Record Street Residential?
Ruggeri: Due to the newness of BTR, it is being discussed as one homogenous category. Not all BTR is created equal. It is important to zoom in. The layout of the land plan, the parking, the streets, the community amenities, and the finish out of the homes really matter.