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June 2008
Drawing on the past to create the communities of today
By Casey Jacobus

     Meeting Street occupies a distinctive niche in the Charlotte housing market. The company has been building quality homes—with a focus on town homes and themed communities—in the Charlotte area since 1996 and in the Charleston area since 2003.   During that time Meeting Street has become a leader in creating communities where people can live and work in affordable homes with architectural detail normally found in only the finest custom homes.

     You need only to walk down our streets to feel the difference and the inspiration of who we are and the homes we build,” says Joe Roy, Meeting Street’s president and founder.

     From its initial developments, including the Courance neighborhood in Pellyn Wood and the Park Laurel town homes in Eastover, Meeting Street has been praised for its innovation. Meeting Street owner Joe Roy studied the classic homes in the old neighborhoods of New Orleans, Charleston, Washington, D.C., and Boston and found inspiration for designing his own neighborhood plans.

     The interesting streetscapes of the old cities with their varied old brick town homes and diversified neighborhood centers influence the materials Meeting Street chooses to use—tumbled brick and fiber cement siding rather than vinyl—as well as the layout of its new communities. The company also adopts architectural details from the fine old homes of the past and works them into the plans for their new homes.

     Many of the innovations Meeting Street incorporates into its communities are similar to those being proposed by adherents of Smart Growth, the anti-sprawl movement, which promotes town-centered pedestrian-friendly development. It is not surprising, therefore ,that the town of Cornelius, which had already drawn up a Traditional Neighborhood Design for the site, selected Meeting Street to develop 130 acres directly east of its present downtown. Named Antiquity, this mixed use project will include 1,1000 residential units plus 250,000 square feet of office and retail space, a station for the proposed rail line to Charlotte, an amphitheater, a church and other civic buildings.

     “It will be spectacular,” says Roy. “It’s the one development that’s got everything. There aren’t many opportunities to build the other half of a downtown”

     With the first residential homes just coming on the market, Antiquity is part of the reason Meeting Street is well positioned to ride out the current slump in the housing market. Meeting Street’s town home product is selling well, particularly among young professionals who don’t have to sell a house in order to enter the housing market.

     “We have twice the number of communities open as this time last year,” says Roy. “Our products cater to the more discriminating, more educated buyer. That buyer is still out there in this market. We haven’t seen a great fall off in total number of sales.”

     Still, Meeting Street is paying attention to the economy. For the first time ever, Roy says they are discounting some homes. “We are all learning to be deal makers,” adds Scott Dirkschneider, general manager of the home builder division. Fortunately, during the market growth, Roy maintained a small office and lean work force. So with the current downturn, the conservative choices over the past few years have kept staffing impacts to a minimum.

     However, the best recession-proof insurance is Meeting Street’s approach to production. It is one Roy has utilized successfully from the very beginning. Roy adopted many of the practices and principles he learned working on large manufacturing facilities for Dupont and Westinghouse at the beginning of his career—notably tight management systems and prototyping the product. This approach allows Meeting Street to achieve optimum production cost, timing and quality and results in more affordable pricing to the public while ensuring the company superior pricing margins.

     In addition, Meeting Street has been innovative in making use of the latest in technology. The entire company is fully integrated, from prospect tracking to purchasing to customer service after the sale. Meeting Street is nearly paperless, utilizing purchase orders rather than invoices and scanning record files rather than generating paper files in cabinets. All of these technology enhancements keeps Meeting Street lean, efficient and most importantly, cost effective.

 

Laying the Groundwork

     Joseph (Joe) T. Roy IV was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a B.S. in construction management in 1987. Many of the principles and ideas that have shaped his company are the ones he absorbed from his family and early upbringing.

     His mother instilled his faith in God and today Roy is an active member of Bethel Presbyterian Church in Cornelius. From his father, he learned to respect the men and women who work hard at physical labor, making a fair living and raising great families. While his father set him an example of hard work, he also taught him “to never get stuck working for someone else.” But it was Roy’s grandfather (for whom he was named) who taught him the importance of taking care of his own good name.

     Roy played sports growing up, but he was most successful in motorcycle racing. Through participating in motocross, he gained self-confidence in his own abilities. Roy worked at construction jobs before and all through college. His first job after graduating was in estimating and cost accounting for a large design/build firm for the Department of Defense.

      After six months, he quit and became a commercial real estate broker, his first attempt at becoming an entrepreneur. He failed miserably. Not only was he not the greatest salesperson in the world, but he learned how difficult it was for him to represent an inferior product. Before long, he was back in design/build project management, where he saw an opportunity to utilize cost saving measures, such as performance incentives, but his ideas were never seriously considered. He began to understand what his father meant about working for other people.

     In 1996, Roy took the leap from manufacturing to residential development, partnering with David Simonini, starting the real estate development company that has become Meeting Street. In the fall of 2002, Roy bought out his partner and was able to implement his own business plan. By streamlining the manufacturing process, Roy was able to focus on bringing classical architectural details, normally found only in the most expensive custom homes, to those in the $110,000 to mid $500,000 price range.

     “We really pay attention to detail,” says Robert Swaringen, land manager for Meeting Street. “We want to build a community that has lasting value. Build memorable communities and they’re your business card.”

     Meeting Street has adopted the slogan, “Where the best of yesterday meets the best of today.” A visit to any of the company’s communities illustrates the branding. Chipping Camden, for instance, is reminiscent of an English Village in the Cotswolds.

     Located in the heart of Eastover, Chipping Camden includes 15 luxury cottage-style town homes which are divided into five large English manor homes overlooking an ornate English Garden. The exterior architectural features include intricate stone walls, gas lanterns, wrought iron window boxes, carriage-style oak wood garage doors and slate roofs.

     Drive into Heron Bay at Eastfield Village off Eastfield Road and you get an entirely different impression. Inspired by the timeless architecture and character of a traditional Main Street, the exteriors of these Meeting Street Live/Work homes boast an urban feel, with elements reminiscent of historic Georgetown.

     Stroll under the steel archway entrance and the array of lights strung from building to building of the Meeting Street Market at Ayrsley in the Lake Wylie corridor and you feel as if you have stepped into a European arcade. Stucco, old-looking brick and clapboard siding exteriors are complimented by elements nostalgic of a line of town homes in historic Charleston. Building elevations with flat rooflines and parapet accents, stone lintels and awnings provide a finished and classic look to each unit, half of which include an outdoor patio on the second floor.

     “Our communities are reflective of our team and what we are about as a company”, Roy says. “We work as a team throughout every aspect of Meeting Street and are committed to creating quality homes and inspirational communities.”

     Roy has had his share of battles with city and county officials along the way. His determination to create a wooden covered bridge as the entrance to Antiquity is just one example of the things people said couldn’t be done that Roy has made happen.

 

Building on Teamwork

     While Joe Roy once drove motorcycles aggressively, he now runs a conservative business. Meeting Street Homes has “exceeded all his expectations.” Today Roy’s role is more running the business than developing the land or building the houses. He has put together a great team of employees and divided the company into two divisions.

     Dirkschneider, who has worked with Meeting Street for seven years, was promoted to general manager of the home building division four years ago. He has more than doubled the overall business while he has had full profit and loss responsibility. His background had been in the home building industry since graduating in construction management and architecture from the University of Nebraska. He shares Roy’s desire for quality production processes and has led all planning and implementation of Meeting Street’s integrated systems and construction practices and policies.

     “To Scott’s credit Meeting Street has been his able to keep its small builder agility while implementing big industry processes and systems”, comments Roy.

     Swaringen, is responsible for finding and developing properties for Meeting Street as well as working with other developers for purchased lots. A registered professional engineer and graduate from North Carolina State University, he has been in this position for two years. He worked with Roy at DuPont 14 years ago, and shares Roy’s attention to details, robust project controls and relationship building.

     “I couldn’t believe it when he said he wanted to come work for me,” laughs Roy. “He was always Mr. Superstar and bound to be successful, while I was Mr. Rebel, always bucking the system. Someone like that, he doesn’t work for me; we work together.”

     The respect is mutual.

     “Joe is excellent at motivating and empowering others,” affirms Swaringen.

 

The Future

     Meeting Street has many directions in which to grow. It could explore new markets, perhaps moving into the old cities it emulates with its new products. It is already building communities in the Charleston area. Swaringen believes it could also diversify its products, adding to the success of its town homes.

     Although for the moment, the company is busy working through the downturn in the industry, Meeting Street will continue to focus on its core products of high quality yet affordable town homes, live/works and single family homes.

     Meeting Street communities will continue to be walkable and beautiful villages consistent with the Smart Growth principles. Their communities will have distinguishing marks of quality, blending modern advances with classic styles in superior locations giving their customers a sense of belonging, pride and easy access to the active lifestyles they lead. With this focus, Meeting Street’s communities will most assuredly become a “place of history.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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