A century ago, Brooks-Scanlon announced it would set up its sawmill along the Deschutes River. It entered the scene as Bend was in the midst of a population boom—jumping from 536 to 5,415 between 1910 and 1920—and a shift from frontier land to timber country.
Since then, the company has played a pivotal role in Bend's development, moving away from timber as that industry slowed, and focusing instead on real estate as Brooks Resources—specifically master planning large communities like Awbrey Butte and Northwest Crossing. But as Bend recovers from the recession and continues to grow at an accelerated pace, Brooks Resources' role in the community at large is both expanding and adapting.
Heralding that change will be Kirk Schueler, a development and financial professional who recently announced his plans to return to the helm of Brooks Resources—where he previously worked for 17 years—in May 2016.
"Brooks has such an influence on the community and to be part of that," Schueler says over lunch on—go figure—Brooks Street, "is part of the attraction for me."
Schueler started his career with Brooks Resources in 1993 as the company's controller, later going on to become chief financial officer, and then president, working alongside Chairman and CEO Mike Hollern.
"I am delighted that Kirk is willing to accept this challenge as he already has a deep understanding of our company and its culture and values. He has the skills, knowledge and contacts necessary to succeed," Hollern said in a statement. "In addition, Kirk has the respect of our employees, partners and community leaders and I believe we will all be proud of what we accomplish in the future under his leadership."
For Schueler, it's the homecoming he's been waiting for. When he left Brooks in 2010, at the depth of the recession, it was for the good of the company, he explains.
"Mike and I talked and I said, 'Look, there's really no room for a president and a CEO as two different people here," he recalls. "A, there's not really the work, and B, the company doesn't need to be paying both of us."
He had an opportunity to serve as chief administrative officer for St. Charles Health Care System and took it. After that job came to a close, he checked back in with Hollern. But the time still wasn't right. So he branched out, starting a real estate consulting company and serving as an interim CFO for Mosaic Medical. And while he enjoyed the work, it wasn't the same.
"I had a lot of fun doing that. But I think the disappointment of being a consultant is that you're never really there when the project goes up," Schueler explains. "You give all this advice, all these thoughts. But they never really call you at the ribbon cutting."
For Schueler, development isn't just transactional. Rather, it plays a critical role in the community. He points out that developers weren't always called by that name.
"[There was] a developer back in the '20s or '30s that developed Coral Gables, Florida, and they made a statute of him, there was a statue of the developer," Schueler says. "Well, he wasn't called a developer, he was the town founder. And so I love the concept. It's such a much longer vision of what you are than a developer, and so I've always thought Brooks embodied that so well."
He's quick to clarify that he's not claiming founder status for Brooks, but rather that he hopes to have that kind of role in the community, to see the vision for Brooks' work through that lens.
"As long as that perspective is there you're hopefully doing things that have long-lasting value positive impact," Schueler explains.
What that impact looks like, however, is shifting. Even with the pending expansion of the City's urban growth boundary, fewer large plots of land will be available for development in the future. And while Schueler doesn't see Brooks making another industry shift anytime soon, he acknowledges that their specific projects and services will likely change.
"What Brooks honed its skills on are these big master-planned communities and those are hard to do, they're expensive to do, there's a lot of risk in them," he says. "But more importantly for Bend in particular, they're going to be harder to do from a land perspective. Where do you go find an Awbrey Butte, or 480 acres for Northwest Crossing?"
Instead, he says, Brooks may take on more infill and vertical development, and offer more for-fee development services to a broader geographic area. Schueler says Brooks will also continue to assist developers of affordable housing where it makes sense, like by selling land to developers at a discounted rate.
"There's no silver bullet. I wish there was," he says of the current housing crisis. "I sit on the residential technical advisory committee for the UGB so we've had discussions about this and it's such a complicated problem."
While he says he has faith in the potential for the right incentives to motivate increased development of affordable housing, he recognizes that it's not a simple equation and things don't always turn out as anticipated. When Brooks developed Northwest Crossing, it intentionally created some smaller, less expensive lots in the hopes that it would help create a diversity of housing costs. But thanks to the development's popularity, those hopes were quickly dashed.
"Where the rub always comes in is, we live in a free market society," he says. "So when we create a housing opportunity but it's market rate, there's nothing to guarantee it's going to stay low [cost]."
And though Schueler says that Northwest Crossing was developed without incentives—"We just accepted a lower cost because philosophically, we believed that we needed to do it," he explains—he believes that there's an economic answer to the problem.
"I think that if the right incentives are there, you will see product built," he says. "But what does that mean, how does that look? I'm not quite sure what that incentive has to be. Is it density bonuses, is it reduced parking requirements? Is that enough to flip the switch? I just don't know."