Architect, developer David Hovey hands the reins to his kids
by Dennis Rodkin
February 23, 2017
Crain's Chicago Business
David Hovey, a rare triple-threat architect, developer and builder who's behind thousands of residential units in Chicago and the suburbs, is passing the torch to two of his kids after 40 years in the business.
"I'm stepping aside, but I'm not stepping out of the company," said Hovey, the 72-year-old CEO of Optima, the Glencoe-based firm he and wife Eileen launched in 1977 with a six-unit townhouse project in Hyde Park. He was the architect, developer and builder; she handled sales. In the decades since, they've built nearly 3,400 condos, apartments and townhouses in Evanston, Wilmette, Oak Park and other suburbs, as well as in Streeterville, plus another 2,500 units in Arizona.
The couple's daughter Tara is taking the title of chief operating officer and will run the privately held company. Their son, also an architect and also named David, is president of Optima Holdings and will collaborate with his father on architectural design work.
"This is a process that we started talking about in 2012," said Tara Hovey, 34. She has an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and has worked in several roles at her parents' firm, as well as in the real estate finance industry in New York. She will take the reins of the firm's projects, including the 56-story rental tower at 220 E. Illinois St. that is nearly complete, and a pair of buildings—one condos, the other apartments—under construction in Phoenix.
Optima also brought on former Habitat CEO Mark Segal last year as senior vice president, a move David Hovey describes as "part of the family's vision for the transition of the company."
Eileen Hovey stepped back from sales and marketing when Optima turned toward developing rentals this decade, Tara Hovey said, but David Hovey will remain the CEO and lead architect.
"My father's an architect," she said. "They're like musicians: They don't retire as long as there's still music in them."
Hovey's buildings are modern and glassy, exemplified by Optima Old Orchard Woods, a trio of interlocking 20-story towers next to the Edens Expressway in Skokie, capped with the company name in tall red letters. There's little ornamentation on the outside other than bold dashes of color like the orange balconies on Optima Views, a 28-story condo building he designed and built in downtown Evanston, or the giant panels of black and red glass on two buildings he's done on Ontario Street, one completed in 2013 and the other wrapping up this spring.
"He does modernism extremely well," said Tom Kerwin, principal of BKL Architecture, a Chicago-based firm whose own modernist residential projects include the new 41-story Mila apartment tower at Lake Street and Michigan Avenue, and the 47-story Coast in Lakeshore East.
Kerwin said Hovey's intertwining of the three usually separate components of getting a new building up—architecture, development and construction—may be a key to his success over the years. "He's in the mold of the master architect who controls his own destiny by designing, developing and building his own projects," Kerwin said. "That's very rare."
Hovey says his business model emulates British architects of the 18th century who "built some of the most beautiful housing in the world," including the Royal Crescent in Bath, England.
In the more conventional model, with three jobs handled by separate entities, "usually the architect has to be the one who compromises most," Kerwin said, "but he doesn't have to compromise." As a result, Hovey "has put up some significant buildings that sell" and rent.
Two projects Kerwin singled out for praise are among Hovey's least known: Michigan Place, 120 condos and townhouses built in 2001 at 31st Street and Michigan Avenue, near the Illinois Institute of Technology campus; and the 1618 Sheridan Road condos, ten stories of glass and granite on Wilmette's lakefront.
Tara Hovey said she is fond of her father's designs for their "bold vision of the built environment as modern and colorful." She's had a lifetime to get to know it. Not only does she recall toddling around on some of her parents' earliest job sites, but she grew up in a house designed by her father, a glass box brightened by perforated yellow steel beams and red staircases.
"I've always admired his use of color," she said. "I think it's very uplifting."
While no projects under the new corporate structure have yet been announced, Tara Hovey said two additional buildings in the Phoenix project will roll forward as the market allows, and others in Chicago may follow. As to whether they'll still have the signature David Hovey look, she said not only will her father play a key role, but that at different times, "my brother and my father both studied under the same man at IIT, Arthur Takeuchi."
Takeuchi has taught at the renowned architecture program since 1965.