Bradford B. Sauer began leading his family's Sauer Properties real estate division in 1985.
The small unit within the C.F. Sauer Co., the Richmond-based company global food manufacturer, was tasked with overseeing the company's undeveloped real estate holdings and developing those properties while also acquiring new ones.
Since then, the division has amassed hundreds of acres of land - 1.9 million square feet of property - in the Richmond region including nearly 500 acres south of Richmond International Airport in eastern Henrico County. It developed or bought shopping centers such as Libbie Place, Willow Place, Stein Mart Festival Shopping Center and Cary Court Park & Shop.
The business also is working on The Sauer Center urban mixed-use development on West Broad Street near Hermitage Road where Whole Foods Market will be an anchor retail tenant. Automotive retailer CarMax Inc. has signed a lease for 80,000 square feet for offices in the first phase of what eventually will be a 35.7-acre development.
Now Sauer, 69, is retiring, turning over the reins of Sauer Properties Inc. to Ashley H. Peace as the company’s president. She began her role in late October.
"I've been doing this since 1985 and my day has come to pass the baton," Sauer said. "Projects take a long time. I am 100 percent thrilled that we have bunch of bright, energetic young people that see what I consider the excitement and opportunity here."
Sauer becomes chairman of Sauer Properties, which is now an independent private company since the family sold its food manufacturing business in late July to Charlotte, N.C.-based private equity firm Falfurrias Capital Partners. The food business, founded in 1887, is best known for its condiments, spices, seasonings and extracts and brands such as Duke’s Mayonnaise.
The family held onto its vast real estate holdings, he said.
"When we sold the food business, we looked at what we had," he said. "The food business is a mature business. A sale at this point made a lot of sense because it wasn't like we were going to double or triple that business" in terms of revenue.
"But our real estate business was not mature," Sauer said. "It had a whole lot of undeveloped sites that we very slowly had assembled over decades and we decided to do two things - to keep the real estate that the food business would operate out of and continue developing our undeveloped real estate and managing our developed real estate because we believe we have a very very big opportunity to continue to grow our real estate business."
Doing so required a new structure, executives and finance people to run a standalone business, he said.
That's where Peace comes in to lead the business. Four others have been hired.
Peace has more than a decade in various roles in the real estate industry.
She most recently was director of real estate development for HHHunt Properties Development division where she worked on large scale apartment and senior living developments.
Before that, she was director of real estate for German grocery operator Lidl's entry into the U.S. where the chain has opened dozens of stores - including six in the Richmond region. She was responsible for Lidl's real estate acquisitions, land use development and construction.
Peace also worked as a senior planner in the City of Richmond. She earned a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Virginia Commonwealth University
"The projects are so extraordinary," Peace said about the properties that the company owns. "We have so many cool things to do. I am honored to be a steward of Brad’s visionary legacy."
Peace said her new role is a wonderful opportunity but she realizes she has been given a tremendous responsibility to develop these assets.
"Ashley has been very perceptive in immediately grasping the opportunities of the potential of what Sauer Properties has," Sauer said.
One of Peace's key focuses now is The Sauer Center development off West Broad Street near the Fan District. The company owns a 35.7 acres - from the former Sears building at North Allen Avenue and Broad Street to the Putney building just east of the main offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The first phase is 14.8 acres - on the west side of Hermitage Road.
That includes the 40,700-square-foot Whole Foods store, which is expected to open sometime in the first quarter. Whole Foods hasn't given an opening date.
It also includes the redevelopment of the Putney Building at 2220 W. Broad St., where CarMax plans to put offices. Those offices should be ready sometime in 2021 after the renovations are completed.
Plans also call for renovating the three-story building that is attached to the rear of the Putney Building. Behind that a five-story parking deck for 800 vehicles would be built along with a four-story office building.
Two other buildings north of the Whole Food store also are being renovated for office space.
Information technology firm SingleStone has signed a lease to take 14,100 square feet on the second floor of the two-story building at West Marshall Street and Hermitage Road. SingleStone is moving its offices from the Innsbrook Corporate Center.
Sauer Properties is close to signing on a tenant to take 17,000 square feet in the other building, Sauer said, declining to name the potential tenant.
The next phase of The Sauer Center would involve about 20.9 acres to the east of Hermitage Road as well as the current C.F. Sauer headquarters and manufacturing plant complex at 2000 W. Broad St. under the iconic neon sign for its vanilla extract.
The new owners of the food business are leasing the property under a three-year lease with renewable options for a maximum term of 11 years, Sauer said.
"That would be the outside date. It could be sooner," Sauer said about the maximum of 11-year lease. "They wanted options. They didn’t want to be tied to a long-term lease. They may be able to get a building somewhere else. They are paying us a substantial rent."
The new owners also lease the former Sears building at West Broad Street and North Allen Avenue, which the Sauer family acquired in 1980 after the 173,250-square-foot store closed. It is used for manufacturing. A 44,500-square-foot finished goods warehouse, also owned by Sauer Properties, is behind the Sears building.
Once the food manufacturing business vacates that complex and the former Sears buildings, Sauer Properties will look at redeveloping. What it will become is part of what Peace will start exploring.
"The façade and the office space [in the headquarters building] is extraordinary that someone would want to lease that for Class A office," Peace said. The former Sears building "is just a prominent corner on Broad Street that it will be a transformational project."
Another big focus for Peace in 2020 will be developing nearly 500 acres in eastern Henrico south of the airport.
The land is essentially between 7 Hills Boulevard on the north and Pocahontas Parkway (also called state Route 895) on the south and along Airport Drive. The property has some frontage on South Laburnum Avenue.
"It is land at the airport that we have been assembling for a long time," Sauer said.
The property could be a prime location for distribution center, he said. The land along Laburnum Avenue could be some mixed uses.
Sauer Properties plans to seek rezoning and a master plan for the site next year, Peace said.
"We have to get busy. We have to get all of [these properties as] income producing. That is our goal," Peace said.