Solid Foundations

Real estate development company finds success in urban projects

It took vision and preplanning to open the doors of Metroventures/USA Inc., a real estate development firm in Columbia, Maryland. Nigerian- born Olusola O. Seriki, who holds a bachelor’s of architecture from Howard University, started Metroventures as a home-based business in February 1992. His challenge was attracting million-dollar projects like the ones he once oversaw as a real estate development director at the Rouse Co.

Starting his company with $150,000 from savings and family contributions, Seriki drew on his experience managing major retail office and specialty projects, including the $65 million Riverwalk Shopping Center in New Orleans. This experience gave him the impetus to start his venture. As he notes: “The transition from a large corporation- -with an infrastructure which gave me credibility–to entrepreneurship was clearly my biggest challenge.”

Metroventures’ projected 1996 revenues of over $500,000 was achieved, in large part, through aggressive networking and bidding tactics. Seriki solicited contracts and referrals by promoting Metroventures’ services through direct mail. Networking through industry organizations like the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Urban Land Institute landed the firm its first major contract: a $25,000 job for the redevelopment of a 12,000-sq.-ft. office building for Harriston Square Partnership in Atlanta.

In 1993, Seriki established a six-member advisory board and joined a business incubator, where he shared office space. He pulled in a contract for over $100,000 from the African Energy Co. of New Orleans to develop a 200-unit staff housing scheme in Cameroon, West Africa. Metroventures managed the predevelopment stage, which included outlining its feasibility, while the clients directed the actual construction.

By 1994, Metroventures had carved out a niche in urban redevelopment projects. A major inner-city project for the firm was Sandtown- Winchester 600, a comprehensive neighborhood transformation program in Baltimore, where Metroventures received a $400,000 contract spanned over three years.

Seriki was not a typical developer in this case. His company assisted in creating and guiding the Neighborhood Development Center Inc. (NDC), which became the central engine behind the redevelopment of Sandtown- Winchester. “Metroventures had to undertake all its [NDC's] duties, while building its capacity to maintain the project and undertake others as it got stronger,” recalls Edward N. Kane Jr., president of NDC’s board of directors.

Due to its success on the project, Metroventures was recently retained by the Avenue Market Corp. in Baltimore as development manager for its $4 million revitalization of the city’s historically black shopping district. Metroventures directs all aspects of project development–from hiring contractors to leasing and operations planning–and is also responsible for implementing a merchant development program to provide support to community-based entrepreneurs interested in establishing businesses in the mart.

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