Ora Reynolds’ career-altering decision? She made the right choice

by Dan Rafter

Hunt Midwest's Ora Reynolds consults with Robert Rippentrop, president of Media Services, a tenant of Hunt Midwest's SubTropolis commercial development

Hunt Midwest’s Ora Reynolds consults with Robert Rippentrop, president of Media Services, a tenant of Hunt Midwest’s SubTropolis commercial development

Ora Reynolds was only 27 when she faced a career-altering decision: The president of Kansas City’s Hunt Midwest asked Reynolds, who had already worked with the company for two years, whether she wanted to stay with the firm’s commercial group or if she wanted to develop and lead a new residential division.

Reynolds took the risk. In 1993, she launched Hunt Midwest’s residential division.

“I remember asking our president, ‘What do you think I should do?'” Reynolds said. “He told me that he thought I should develop the residential business. And I’m glad I went that way. We took a market in its infancy and in just 15 years we created probably 25,000 new households.”

Reynolds’ decision worked out for everybody. Today, Reynolds is president of Hunt Midwest. And since 1993, Hunt Midwest’s residential devision — which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year — has developed more than 5,000 platted lots in master-planned communities in Kansas City’s Northland, North Kansas City, Platte County, Lee’s Summit and Raymore, Mo.

These communities include Northgate Village, The Fairways, Brighton Woods, Benson Place and The Reserve at Riverstone.

Back in 1993, though, no one was sure what the residential division would become. Two decades ago, Hunt Midwest’s residential division had just 300 acres that Lamar Hunt — the sports pioneer whose family owns Hunt Midwest — had urchased in the 1970s. Led by Reynolds, Hunt Midwest turned these acres into North Brook, one of the first master-planned communities in the Northlands area of Kansas City.

Hunt Midwest officials thought it would take 35 to 40 years to build out the North Brook

development, Reynolds said. But it took just 15 years.

And that was just the start of the division’s success story.

Ora Reynolds, second from left, and the members of the Hunt Midwest residential division, Brenner Holland, general manager; Jenni Mann, manager of residential marketing; and Aaron Schmidt, director of planning and construction.

Ora Reynolds, second from left, and the members of the Hunt Midwest residential division, Brenner Holland, general manager; Jenni Mann, manager of residential marketing; and Aaron Schmidt, director of planning and construction.

“We started with a traditional community with single-family homes at multiple price points,” Reynolds said. “One of the first decisions we made with our residential division was to go heavy on the amenities. We wanted to put those upfront. And we decided only to build in areas with good school districts with easy access to the highway system.”

The division then moved on to golf-course communities and added mixed-use elements to its residential developments. In its heyday in 2006, the division sold 700 lots, Reynolds said, and worked with 25 builders. By 2006, the division boasted five completed communities and 10 communities in which lots were still being sold.

The downturn hit then. And Reynolds had to again make career-altering decisions.

“We wanted to keep our team together, so we did some different kind of work,” Reynolds said.

The Hunt Midwest residential team stayed afloat during the weakest years of the recession by tackling grading and excavation work in the Kansas City area. Reynolds and her team focused on roads and infrastructure. They financed these projects as creatively as possible, paying for the roads they built steadily over time.

One of the homes that Hunt Midwest showcased during the recent fall Parade of Homes.

One of the homes that Hunt Midwest showcased during the recent fall Parade of Homes.

The strategy worked. By 2009 Hunt Midwest’s residential development division had completed about $20 million worth of road projects.

“That allowed me to keep our team together for when residential came back,” Reynolds said.

Today, of course, residential is in recovery mode. And Hunt Midwest, along with Reynolds, are still adapting to keep up with changing real estate trends.

Hunt Midwest has since opened its first assisted-living seniors housing center, a center that it leased up in just four months. Today, it boasts three such facilities that are open and stabilized and one more set to begin construction this year and a second that will enter the building phase in the spring of 2014.

“Our whole goal with the residential division was to create neighborhoods that would stand the test of time,” Reynolds said. “It’s easy to build a high-end community, but it’s harder to do a master-planned community where you are hitting all price points and trying to create the most value for your eventual residents.”

Now that she is president of Hunt Midwest, Reynolds is busier than ever. She does, though, make time for her fiance. This year, in fact, Reynolds and her fiance are celebrating their 12th anniversary of becoming engaged.

And they’re doing this by enjoying the activities that they’ve always enjoyed: They’re traveling, eating out and trying new wines. They play tennis together competitively, competing against players from other tennis clubs throughout the Kansas City area.

Reynolds is also busy promoting her adopted home of Kansas City. Reynolds grew up in Chicago, but has since fallen in love with her new home.

“I’m always trying to bring people to Kansas City,” she said. “I always want to show them what a special place Kansas City is. There’s a great arts community here, a great theater community. There are terrific restaurants. And Kansas City is a truly entrepreneurial city.”

While Hunt Midwest’s residential division is no longer Reynolds’ chief focus, she hasn’t forgotten how important the division has been to both her company and the Kansas City area.

“There’s always something special about housing,” Reynolds said. “When you work on a residential community, you can’t help but think back to where you grew up. You remember the park you hung out at, where you rode your bike. That’s why residential will always be so special.”

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