Salisbury Rising Q&A: Brad Gillis, Joey Gilkerson

Joey Gilkerson, left, and Brad Gillis principal’s of DEVRECO stand on the mezzanine level of the former Labinol building they purchased for future development as part of their company DEVRECO.

Bradley Gillis and Joey Gilkerson are the sons of Salisbury’s most-prominent developers, Palmer Gillis and Tony Gilkerson of business mainstay Gillis Gilkerson.

While their dads garnered a great deal of attention over the past 30 years, the spotlight has shifted to Joey, 29, and Brad, 35.

Their ambitious redevelopment projects are changing Salisbury, while promoting commerce and gaining attention.

Members of Salisbury’s business power elite are watching and learning from these entrepreneurs.

This new Gillis and Gilkerson team is channeling the spirit of capitalism with the promise of economic change.

They also bring a youthful perspective to issues — and there’s no doubt they are helping to make progress possible.

Q. How is business?

Joey: Great! There is a lot happnin’ here on the Shore. This is the strongest real estate market I have ever been in, and it is exciting that I have been able to say that every year thus far in my career.

Brad: Success looks a lot like hard work — and we have been working really hard. Over the past six months, we have been involved in over $30 million worth of real estate deals all over the Peninsula.

We continue to build and reinforce relationships through providing comprehensive real estate solutions to our clients.

Q. How strong is the region’s business community, especially the small businesses?

Joey: Very strong. There is nearly a unanimous voice that things have gotten much better from recent years past.

The landscape is ever-evolving. The way we live, work, and consume never stops changing, and businesses are always adapting.

The percentage of the population primarily shopping via e-commerce continues to increase. The opportunities are endless, but businesses have to adapt.
Brad: Business is strong out there. On the Eastern Shore we are innovative and driven to succeed; simply by being a part of a vibrant community that is results driven.

Q. Is Downtown still on a roll?

Brad: Yes, it’s stronger than ever. Simply look at the public and private investments being made in our communities.
Joey: Yes! Vacancy is low, it continues to have the attention of the younger generation and college students, and starting to see the progress with the revamped streets.

Q. Do you all realize how stagnant Downtown would be without your risk-taking and business efforts?

Joey: No! Why don’t you tell me! I’m kidding, but there really are plenty of others stepping up.

Unsung heroes like my brother, Chris — there are three of us, but he is too humble to be interviewed — and business owners that are absolutely doing their part to revitalize: Jeremy Norton at Roadie Joe’s, Alex Scott at The Brick Room and Melissa Malone at the Olde Towne Deli, just to name a few.

Brad: I am sure someone would do it … right?

Q. You sold a prime waterfront tract this year, 500 Riverside Drive.

Brad: We thought for sometime about that decision to sell. We saw the opportunity to get out of the way for a very capable end-user and truly develop the parcel. Selling was the best for the community and the buyer.

Joey: This was not an easy decision. But us selling is a statement to ourselves and the public that we will not let our pride get in the way of progress.

We really really wanted to be the ones to redevelop that parcel. To drive by every day and be able to know that I had a hand in it … . We have handed off to a very capable user, and I am looking forward to this new Cactus Taverna concept as much as anyone — it is one of my favorite restaurants in town.

Joey Gilkerson, left, and Brad Gillis talk about their plans for the former Labinal building.

Q. What is your thinking in purchasing the Labinal building on Glen Avenue? How does that fit in with what you do?

Brad: It is the cleanest industry building we have ever seen. 600 Glen Avenue is arguably Wicomico County’s greatest economic development opportunity right now, all the infrastructure is available for multiple businesses to prosper.

It is 160,000 square feet and 12 acres of great commercial land and building. It will be a wonderful home to an expanding or new corporate or institutional use.

We are currently going through the approval process to create additional parking and facades along Glen Avenue.

Labinal has infrastructure for a 1,000-employee business.

Q. How does that fit in with what you do?

Brad: We have re-developed, re-imaged and re-proposed many buildings over 30 years in age. 600 Glen Avenue is a perfect project for our development team.

Joey: This is our core competency.

Although it is not in Downtown, it is still center-city infill redevelopment. It’s all about J&E, man. J&E (jobs and economic development).

Q. What is your prediction on the long-term uses there?

Brad: We see the Glen Avenue-Beaglin Park corridor as our community’s new commercial hub, similar to how Route 50 East has become the medical office corridor and Route 13 has become our retail corridor.

Q. You have Lot 1 in the works. Where does that stand?

Brad: Lot 1 (the Downtown hourly parking lot) will be the site of the Salisbury Town Center.

It is complex. For decades, there has been plan after plan imagined in the parking lot. There are hundreds of ways to develop the parcel and our community has struggled with picking a plan.

We are currently in concept planning stage for Phase 1 in the eastern portion of the lot. A multi-year project, Phase 1 may incorporate up to 60,000 square feet of commercial space, envision retail on the first floor, professional office on the upper floors.

We have a few prospects that we are working with and believe we will be able to move forward in 2018.

Q. I know you were disappointed this year with the Headquarters Live situation.

Joey: Yeah, I’m glad you asked. The majority of the population is not excited about the change, but that is because Headquarters Live was something to do, people would say “Oh, I want to check that out, I want to go there.”

With it being redeveloped, however, it is not likely to be a building that the general public will care to visit regularly.

It can be argued that the economic impact is greater having a stable employment base in the building much more frequently. These are the people who eat lunch at Market Street and Mayabella’s a few times a week, and who will get gifts at Angello’s while grabbing lunch at Acorn Market.

Brad: HQL was a great experiment. The community asked for a performing art center, a music venue, the community spoke and we listened.

We learned through experience that Salisbury is not a music venue market. We live in such a great area with many options for live music and events. The former firehouse will now be active daily and contributing toward our community’s Downtown in many more ways.

Q. What are your long-term ideals for that property? Do you think it’s destined to remain office space?

Joey: We will listen to the market. We listened to the market when we opened Headquarters. Even in its current state there is a large open meeting room that opens to the courtyard and public events can be hosted.

I don’t think it is destined to be office forever, but in my humble opinion, anything is better than vacancy.

Q. On the residential side, Brad you mentioned once that the majority of Salisbury’s housing stock is over 50 years old and does not have any historical significance. We will have a real housing problem on our hands at some point — true?

Brad: Specifically the areas around Bennett High School, these homes were built for veterans coming back from wars and as starter homes over 70 years ago.

Since the initial owners have passed, the houses have become rentals with no or limited improvements, which has led to a lower pride in ownership and an area of need.

This is a typical issue cities deal with … over the years people who could leave, left. Now, as we deal with in-fill housing as a growing trend, the area is more desirable to live, but the housing stock is not there to support the demand.

Q. What’s going on with the venerable Hess Building in Downtown?
Joey: It is fully occupied. There are seven different office suites in that one building on the first and second floors.

The third floor is wide open, brick walls, large windows … a photographers/videographers dream! But that space is not quite ready to be occupied yet.

Q. You have your developer-dads as business partners. How does that work out?

Brad: We are flat-out-grateful!

Joey: My dad (Tony Gilkerson) actually retired when I graduated high school, so I have never had the opportunity to work side by side with him. However, he is my greatest resource and only a phone call away.

I have had the opportunity to work directly with Palmer (Gillis) quite a bit though. He has such a positive energy, and an ability to see right through a problem to a solution. It’s incredible really.

Most of all, he always has what we like to call a “Gillis-ism” to really make something stick.

Not long ago, I was complaining to him about some folks I was interacting with: They were constantly late, missing deadline after deadline, and were overpromising and underperforming. Palmer’s response: “It’s your fault for expecting too much. It will save you a lot of gray hair.”

In other words, they are people too, who are depending on people for their deadlines, and getting upset is only going to make it worse for everyone.

But the way he said it really made it stick. Instead of just talking me off of the ledge, he gave me a whole new outlook.

Q. You two — and others — are often cited as the new echelon of young leaders who have a unique vision for the area. Why are you so encouraged by Salisbury’s prospects?

Joey: I see a ton of opportunity. The majority of the opportunity to me revolves around Salisbury University and the Internet. If Salisbury can be a place that people want to live — with a focus on millennials and whatever the next generation is going to be called — the connectivity of the Internet allows you to chose where you want to live while working for virtually any company.

We are farming talent and shipping it out. If we are able to retain just a small percentage of that talent, our economy will grow leaps and bounds. From homebuilders to restaurateurs, the rise in the tide will bring up all ships.

Brad: We are the “Capital Of The Eastern Shore,” and the center for education, health and culture. For years as a community Salisbury said: “We can’t” or “That will not work.”

Those words are no longer in our vocabulary. We find a way. We are a generation of do-ers!

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