Most people in the commercial real estate industry have a strictly business background, but Jeff Berta, the senior director of real estate development at Structured Development, began on the creative side.
From a young age, Berta knew he wanted to be an architect. In high school, he took courses focused on the subject and received a bachelors and masters degree in architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I loved to build things. Creating something that had permanence was appealing to me and I wanted to be a part of that process. I had an opportunity to study in Versailles, France and seeing all that history in the buildings, it solidified my interest,” Berta told RE Journals.
Berta now lives in Naperville with his wife Christine who is a vet tech and together they have two kids Tom, who is a junior at Iowa State, and Kate, who is a senior at Naperville Central High School. They also have a dog named Kane, after Patrick Kane, and never miss a Blackhawks game.
Berta enjoys projects that involve adaptive reuse, and points to the company’s own office at 211 N. Clinton St. in Chicago as an example. Structured redeveloped the landmark Northwestern Railroad Powerhouse building into three interior level office and retail spaces. The building once housed the coal-fired boilers and generators that provided electricity for Chicago’s railroad terminal. Berta values these types of projects because “it’s a great piece of history that ties back to the Chicago fire and to take part in history, even a little, is pretty amazing.”
After college, he landed a job at Valerio Dewalt Train and was largely influenced and mentored by Jack Train. Train, who passed away in 2014, headed firms that designed buildings for Abbott Laboratories, renovated the Railway Exchange Building and rehabbed Merchandise Mart. He also authored a book detailing the business side of architecture titled, The Unsung Essentials of Architecture.
At that job, Berta learned to value high quality work and how work with clients to understand what they want. Train led by example and showed Berta how to be a good listener and exercise patience with clients. During that time, Berta also realized that as an architect you are working for the client, not yourself, which was frustrating.
“Maybe what people don’t know is that an architect is working for the owner. It’s really the owner who drives the process and is the one who is responsible for creating and bringing in what the community needs,” Berta said.
Before joining Structured Development in 2005, Berta worked in development and management positions at US Robotics, 3Com and Harris Bank. What attracted Berta to the company was Structured Development’s conscientious approach.
“The company focuses on complex transactions, sometimes projects that others might not take. We pride ourselves on having the wherewithal to work through those issues and make a community better. We’re always thinking about doing the right thing—not just slapping something up and leaving,” said Berta.
Berta joined the team shortly after they began working on the NEW CITY project, a development that took nearly 10 years to complete. At one point during the financial crisis, the company lost the land after it’s partner dropped out of the deal. But they got back on track and completed the 1-million-square-foot project in 2015.
What’s special about NEW CITY for Berta is that Jack Train’s firm had a hand in designing the YMCA that was originally on the site. The original building was known for it’s brightly-colored glazed bricks—yellow, blue, green and red—in different shades on the exterior. Berta made a point to salvage some of the bricks from the demolition to create an art installation at the NEW CITY development.
“On one side the panels of bricks are arranged by color and on the other side they’re scattered and mixed together. The way they’re configured represents bringing all cultures and different people together, in a way it retains the history of that site and what the YMCA did for 30 years,” Berta said.
Berta’s vision and connection to his work goes far beyond himself. Developing structures that influence a community’s experience is not a job he takes lightly. The business of building takes time, Berta said, and it’s always complicated. “Patience with the world of politics and business is of paramount importance and you must stick with something if you believe it,” he added.