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NAI Emory Hill celebrates 40 years of deals

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NEW CASTLE — In 1981, developer Clay Emory called Bob Hill and asked him to be a construction partner on his new venture. That call charted not only a new course for Hill’s career, but also corporate and commercial real estate in New Castle County for the next four decades.

NAI Emory Hill is celebrating 40 years in business this July. In the years since, the firm has grown in size, changed partners and welcomed financial partnerships, weathered multiple economic downturns and developed, opened and leased out thousands of square feet of space.

“I absolutely think Emory Hill will be here another 40 years,” said Carmen Facciolo Jr., who became a partner in 1983. “We have low leverage on all our properties, so that will provide the income to keep the firm growing.”

NAI Emory Hill partners Carmen Facciolo, Jr., left, and Bob Hill look back on the firm’s 40 years of success and are working on a succession plan to sustain that success. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

“We also have a lot of talent in the company. With 71 employees, we have 27 that have been here seven years or longer,” Hill added. “That’s a strong base within the organization, as well as a base of properties in the portfolio.”

Emory Hill first started as a conversation between two men in the construction trade in Delaware. With the recession slowing development down, Hill took a job with W. L. Gore, but promised Emory he was interested in forming a company in the future. 

Come 1981, Emory made the call and told Hill: “I think it’s time. Things are starting to reopen again, let’s start off and see what happens.”

What happened was that Emory Hill, fueled by the Financial Center Development Act signed by Gov. Pete DuPont that same year, took off and handled commercial and residential projects created by the scores of people flocking to Delaware’s financial sector.

The firm’s first big project was 70 acres off Route 273 and developed it into White Clay Center. Today, JPMorgan Chase anchors a corporate office there. Other successes include Christiana Meadows, a 650-unit complex off Route 7, and the Little Falls Center that backs onto the former Hercules golf course.

As Emory Hill grew, so did the opportunities outside of Delaware. The firm also landed a project for Becton Dickinson in New Jersey, shopping centers in Lancaster, Pa.; warehouses in Allentown, Pa.; and other deals with defense contractors along the Baltimore-D.C. corridor.

In 1997, NAI Global, a worldwide firm of real estate providers, struck a deal with Emory Hill to bring in the brokerage services division. Under the NAI name, Emory Hill was able to expand its reach with projects as far away as Asia.

“When development slowed down, we had the opportunity to do more third-party work outside our portfolio,” Hill said.

In the last seven years, the firm has also found success in buying investment properties and turning them around as well as managing receiverships from banks.

The years were not without challenges, the biggest one perhaps the 1992 recession. Emory Hill had exponentially grown through buying land and leasing buildings as fast as they could build them and suddenly the economy ground to a halt.

“We were stuck, and we had to get out of trouble there. It was a few years in renegotiating loans at that point, and that went on for a couple of years,” Facciolo said.

But it was a lesson well-learned for the next recession in the early and mid-2000s and when the coronavirus pandemic left the economy in a lurch. NAI Emory Hill endured the last year with the help of suburban office and industrial space.

“That office space was a blessing, because with two to three stories, people can walk up instead of sharing an elevator like in downtown Wilmington,” Facciolo said. “Our industrial space is 110% occupied and people are standing in line.”

In the last seven years, the firm has also found success in buying investment properties and turning them around as well as managing receiverships from banks.

NAI Emory Hill is now managed by two partners, as Emory retired and two other partners have moved on. But looking to the future, the plan is to keep the firm’s properties and start developing a succession plan.

Both Hill and Facciolo said NAI Emory Hill was built on a foundation of transparency and investing in internal relationships. The hope is that it continues into the firm’s next chapters.

“The philosophy really came from Clay, and it started with including employees in project ownership with a small percentage. It was to show that we had their best interests and they had ours,” Hill said. “That openness has followed us today with subcontractors and other agencies.”

“You’ve got to tell the truth or go home,” Facciolo added. “It could cost you, but they’ll never come back and find out that you weren’t straightforward.”

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