An Interview with Joe Kolb: Enhancing Real Estate Projects with a Technology-Enabled Approach

Joe shares insights about the evolving Southeast Real Estate market over a 22-year career at VHB.

May 08, 2024

Joe Kolb smiling at the camera

VHB’s Southeast Real Estate practice is booming, spurred by the region’s growing population and commensurate need for sustainable, affordable, and transit-accessible living space. Joe Kolb, PE, VHB Regional Real Estate Services Director, spearheads game-changing projects for clients ranging from local municipalities to international corporations, helping guide them through the complex development and permitting procedures to successful project completion.

We spoke with Joe to find out more about the evolving Southeast Real Estate market at VHB and the innovative technologies and technical excellence we bring to projects to meet critical timelines.

VHB: You’ve been with VHB for 22 years. What are the significant ways in which you have seen the real estate market change and VHB adapt?

Joe: When we think about changes in real estate, we are usually talking about market cycles, since the fundamentals of real estate—asset acquisition, financials, and delivery—don’t really change. There are times when submarket classes like residential, retail, industrial, and office are stronger than others. I have seen significant changes in the regulatory environment, from the shift from state-level Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) to more locally controlled Planned Developments (PDs), and of course more asset repositioning and redevelopment as desirable greenfields become harder to find.

In our Orlando office, Erika Hughes, Permitting and Entitlement Manager, keeps us ahead of the curve on new planning regulations. Clients know that VHB understands the complexities of urban redevelopment in the Southeast. On the commercial side, there is a lot of velocity in the mixed-use and town center retail, industrial, and health and wellness care asset classes. We are working on some wonderful new communities in Florida with national homebuilder and mixed-use multi-family teams such as Wellness Way and The Grow agrihood, and Lake Wire in Lakeland. And we’ve embraced technology in a big way to reshape how we deliver projects and better address client needs. 

VHB: Looking out over the next decade, what would you say are the most significant emerging trends in real estate service delivery?

Joe: Our clients are trying to do more with less, meaning they have smaller, focused development teams. I think this trend will continue as the industry gets more competitive. VHB is viewed as an extension to our client teams now and, with advances in technology like model-based design (MBD), they expect real-time solutions that are data-informed and optimized. Our integrated approach serves us well in this environment since clients increasingly rely on our ability to deliver most of the required development services without continual input on their end.

VHB: You’ve mentioned how technologies like MBD are transforming the way VHB delivers services. Can you highlight a recent project in which we leveraged technology to deliver a particularly optimal solution?

I really enjoy showing clients, and project partners such as architects, technology-enabled design solutions using MBD. For many, this is the first time they are seeing it in use in real estate projects, and they get very excited. For the Camp Lake Commerce industrial project, we used Site Ops, a smart CAD program with a grading optimization tool, to more than double the proposed building square footage on the site at a fraction of the earthwork construction cost compared to conventional methods.

The best part is that the program’s 3-D visualization tool allowed the team to virtually “fly” around the site and experience how we achieved the results. Once the client approved the design, the model was exported to a CAD file, allowing the site contactor to have biddable quantities.

This is a game-changer for the analysis phase of a project.

a color rendering of an industrial building
MBD elevated project delivery via conceptual design and modeling and landscape architecture at the 16.38-acre Minneola Hills community

VHB: VHB’s Southeast Real Estate practice comprises Georgia and Florida, and many submarkets including retail, biomedical research, mixed-use, and industrial. Where are you seeing growth, and can you elaborate on additional projects in those areas? 

Joe: There’s growth in residential, healthcare, and asset repositioning. In 2023 we provided integrated services for a $140 million expansion of The Mayflower Retirement Center in Winter Park, Florida. The campus is beautiful, and VHB was recognized for our ability to improve the poor soil conditions on the site, as well as for the design of a Memory Garden, led by Shawn Tofte, Landscape Architect. Our Transportation and Land Development teams collaborated to win a significant road improvement to County Road 545 for a real estate client.

In response to client needs, we expanded our service area in 2023, taking on a new master planning project at the 1,300-acre East River Ranch in Manatee County, and a new retail development called Coral Grove Town Center in Cape Coral, Florida.

Exterior of Water Street Tampa development on a downtown street
VHB helped transform a portion of more than 50 acres of downtown Tampa with Water Street Tampa mixed-use neighborhood.

Our team in the Gulf Coast, led by Managing Director Kathleen Keen, PE, is well established. We are part of some of the area’s highest-profile projects like Water Street Tampa and the Gas Worx in downtown Tampa. The metro has one of the fastest growth rates in the country, and we are poised to grow with it. In Atlanta, we are growing our Land Development and Planning & Design teams so we can serve existing clients that are anxious to get us involved in their plans there.

VHB: What factors are unique to the Southeast real-estate market, and what lessons does the Southeast have to offer on a national or even global scale?

Joe: Due to the Southeast’s rapid growth fueled by new residents, we must respond to challenges like housing affordability, sprawl, and water supply with speed, agility, and efficiency.  VHB leads in protecting the environment through close partnerships with Florida’s five water management districts, and since we have the most coastline in the U.S., we have abundant opportunities to help with coastal resiliency solutions that can be a blueprint for other companies and communities.

An arial view of a large retirement village
VHB performed civil design and permitting for Brystol Landing at The Mayflower, Winter Park, Florida.

VHB: You really have a legacy of VHB projects to be proud of. What do you find most motivational in your work?

Joe: Simply being part of finding solutions that exceed client expectation and enhances the community.

Learn more about VHB Real Estate services by emailing Joe and connecting on LinkedIn.