From the NBA to Opportunity Zones, with Josh Childress

Josh Childress

How is a former NBA player leveraging Opportunity Zones to create impactful change?

Josh Childress is CEO of LandSpire Group and a member of the RevOZ Capital Social Impact Council. RevOZ Capital earlier this year launched a new social impact initiative with a commitment to invest $1 billion in Opportunity Zone projects over the next three years.

Click the play button below to listen to my conversation with Josh.

Episode Highlights

  • How Josh transitioned from professional basketball player to business owner.
  • LandSpire Group’s investment thesis, goals, and why it’s important to do good deals with good people.
  • How Opportunity Zone investing ties into LandSpire Group’s mission and the social impact initiative at RevOZ Capital.
  • The importance of engaging Opportunity Zone community residents as stakeholders in any OZ development deal.
  • The impact that sports had on Josh from a young age.
  • How creating impactful change in the areas that need it most can uplift the country as a whole.

Featured on This Episode

RevOZ Capital

Industry Spotlight: LandSpire Group

LandSpire Group

LandSpire Group is a Los Angeles-based real estate investment fund that revitalizes communities of color that were once defined by small businesses, livable-wage jobs, and a thriving middle class. LSG’s investment strategy prioritizes urban revitalization, with an emphasis on increasing workforce and affordable housing and repurposing underutilized industrial centers.

Learn more:

About the Opportunity Zones Podcast

Hosted by OpportunityDb.com founder Jimmy Atkinson, the Opportunity Zones Podcast features guest interviews from fund managers, advisors, policymakers, tax professionals, and other foremost experts in opportunity zones.

Show Transcript

Jimmy: Welcome to the “Opportunity Zones Podcast.” I’m your host, Jimmy Atkinson. My guest on the show today is Josh Childress. Josh is CEO of Landspire Group and a member of the RevOZ Capital Social Impact Council.

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And for hoops fans listening, who are thinking to themselves, Hey, Josh Childress, that name sounds familiar. Josh was a standout college basketball player at Stanford and played for several years in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, and New Orleans Pelicans. Josh joins us today from Irvine, California. Josh, thanks for taking the time to join me today. Really appreciate it and welcome to the show.

Josh: Hey, Jimmy. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Jimmy: Absolutely, Josh. Great to have you here. Great to dive in today. So you had a successful professional basketball career, but I’d like now if you could tell me the story about how you transitioned from professional basketball into business and what led you to found the Landspire Group.

Josh: Yeah. So growing up, you know, always really envisioned myself as a business owner, even at a young age, and, you know, having the opportunity to go to Stanford really allowed me to see, you know, business at a high level in Silicon Valley. And many of our alumni and scholarship donors were successful business owners and that just was something that stuck with me over the years.

And, you know, as I was transitioning my last couple of years of playing, I really wanted to step into a role that not only could create longevity for me professionally, you know, but also could impact my family in a positive manner. And I wanted to have something tangible that I can pass down to my children, and creating businesses, investing in real estate, things of that sort are those types of assets.

And so, that was my mentality and my focus there and I’ve always just really enjoyed watching people, you know, build a building or build a business from the ground up and just see the growth that they can create and the scale that they can create in doing so. So it was intriguing to me from a young age and I continue to be even more intrigued as I got older.

Jimmy: Very good. And tell us a little bit more about Landspire Group. What does the firm do and what are your big picture goals?

Josh: Yeah, so Landspire Group was founded by my partner, Justin Davis, and I. Justin was my teammate and roommate at Stanford, and so we have a long-standing history together. He actually, you know, took me around on a recruiting visit there. So I’ve known him since I was 17 years old.

And, you know, we saw the Opportunity Zone legislation and the impact that it would have in communities like the ones we grew up in, I’m from Compton originally, and Justin’s from the Oakland area. And, you know, it was our intent to be a part of these redevelopment opportunities to make sure that the social community and the stakeholders at large would also benefit from some of the upswing in the investment dollars that were pouring into these areas.

So, you know, it was our intent to create Landspire Group, which is, you know, to inspire change to land development. It’s kind of the term. But it was our intent to be a part of those opportunities to make sure that there’s an impact and a responsibility component to all the dollars invested in these areas.

Jimmy: Can you tell me a little bit more about your investment thesis, your investment strategy? What types of projects or types of properties are you investing in typically?

Josh: Yeah, so we are a young company and, you know, we have invested really alongside great institutional partners to date. I would say that two of our three investments are not Opportunity-Zone-type investments, but it’s really about us gaining the experience and the track record to continue to build our business.

And, you know, we have a 300-unit multifamily deal we’re doing in Las Vegas, we invested in a distressed hotel asset here in Newport Beach, and then in the process of going through entitlements on developing a 75-unit affordable housing project in Compton, California. And we’ll look to expand that platform with more affordable housing, acquisitions, and developments over the next few years.

But from an investment perspective, our investment thesis really is, you know, first and foremost, do good deals with good people. But I think to dive a bit deeper, you know, really target under-resourced communities and, you know, impact change in land development.

And, you know, our biggest goal in our company is to, you know, change the landscape of what commercial real estate investments look like and, you know, bring the next wave of real estate investors into the fold who aren’t necessarily exposed to the commercial real estate world but need that exposure because it’s a powerful business. And, you know, having more individuals just get access to and exposure to the power of commercial real estate is a big goal of ours.

Jimmy: Yeah, that’s an excellent goal, an audacious goal. And I love that advice, doing good deals with good people. Very sound. You mentioned Opportunity Zones briefly a minute ago, you mentioned that your partner Justin is from Oakland and you yourself, Josh, you were brought up in Compton. No shortage of Opportunity Zones in those two locations. So can you tell me about how do Opportunity Zones fit into what Landspire is doing and your greater mission there and what attracted you to Opportunity Zones in the first place?

Josh: Yeah, so what Opportunity Zones do as it relates to our mission is, you know, most of these zones, most of these qualified Opportunity Zone tracks are in under-resourced areas that, you know, weren’t necessarily a part of the growth about 10 or 12 years ago on a national scale.

And, you know, so for us, you know, we are representative of the people in most of these communities, by and large, and we have to an extent, probably experienced many of the things that these people experienced in our youth at the very least.

And so, you know, it’s important for us to make sure that, at the local level, you get a better understanding of what the community needs are from a programming perspective and just in general, and, you know, making sure that you provide opportunities for those community people to participate in development in some capacity, whether that’s through equity, whether that’s through jobs, whether that’s through job creation via bringing businesses there, but having a boots-on-the-ground presence where we feel comfortable and confident to proceed on a development.

And, you know, our first deal that we actually ever tried to take on as a company was really ambitious, no question. There was a 100-acre redevelopment site here in Orange County and Justin and I spent hours and hours creating a site plan for it. It was a golf course redevelopment. And, you know, we met with the city, we did all these things and did them in what we thought was the right way. And that the city came out with their RP, and it was five projects of similar size and a $50 million balance sheet.

Well, we didn’t have either of those. And so, you know, there was a high barrier to entry into many of these deals, but that’s where, you know, we leverage our relationships and we’re able to partner with other groups. But, you know, where we really provided value in that deal was, you know, having a deep understanding of the community needs and really addressing those in the development. So that’s where we have a competitive advantage, and where we will continue to focus efforts on some of the redevelopment opportunities.

Jimmy: Yeah, I think that’s so crucial with Opportunity Zone development. A lot of the criticism surrounding the program involves stories of developers coming in and, you know, building up huge luxury hotels or luxury condominiums and maybe something that the local community residents don’t really need.

So having that deep understanding of the community needs, having boots on the ground, getting in there, and especially with you and Justin as you mentioned having lived a lot of the experience that these Opportunities Zones residents are going through right now when you were in your youth, it’s very important to make sure that those local community residents don’t get left behind and that you really bring them in as stakeholders in what you’re working on.

And it’s interesting that you noted that that can actually give you a competitive advantage as well when you’re coming in and performing some of these developments.

Josh: Absolutely. And to that point, I mean, that deal didn’t end up going our way, but it was a sports-focused deal where we had a sports and events center at the heart of the development. And, you know, obviously, we both have backgrounds in sports but also, you know, see the impact that sports had on our lives.

And so, providing more children with opportunities to immerse themselves, you know, in sports whether it be basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, whatever it may be, you know, it number one, keeps kids off the street, you know, and out of trouble but also, you know, there’s so many different positives from a personality and work ethic perspective that translate from Sports into real-world life.

And so, it was a very strategic play on our part, not only because of our backgrounds but also because of what we felt like, you know, the impact could be on the kids and the adults in the community as well.

Jimmy: Can I ask you more about your background, Josh? What was it like growing up in Compton and, you know, how did you stay off the street when you were growing up? Was sports really important to you growing up?

Josh: Absolutely. I mean, had I not had a gym near my house, I don’t know what I would have done. I was in the gym every day. That was my treat after I came home from school and got my schoolwork done was to be able to go to the gym and play. And so, you know, that took a kid like myself, you know, from having a bunch of other distractions to having one thing that I really enjoyed doing.

And, you know, I don’t want to say that I couldn’t have, but I most likely don’t go to Stanford if I don’t have that gym there. And you know, that gym has now provided me a life where I can provide for myself and my family quite well, and it’s the roots of, you know, having an outlet that is so crucial to many kids across this country.

Compton has quiet areas, it that has really, really rough areas. And that park was the safe haven for the kids on both sides of that, you know, to just come somewhere, have a meeting place, and just go live and enjoy themselves for a couple of hours out of the day outside of everything else that was happening around us.

Jimmy: Yeah, that’s great. It’s amazing how impactful sports can be especially for young kids. I want to shift gears now and talk about RevOZ Capital. It’s one of the more prominent Opportunity Zone funds based in California. You recently joined their Social Impact Council, what motivated you to join the council and what do you hope to achieve through your membership there?

Josh: Yeah, so it goes back to something I said earlier. It’s not deal-specific, but it’s do good things with good people. I’ve known Alex Bhathal for quite some time and, you know, getting to know him and what he’s about was the motivating factor behind joining the Social Impact Council.

I understand that they are trying to do this the right way and as a firm and as an investment vehicle, that’s all this you can ask for. And creating an inclusive and an equitable and an urban-focused strategy, you know, is something that we’re trying to replicate at Landspire, and so there was just a great synergy there.

I think that, you know, having this council and having individuals who can provide real input, you know, is crucial to being, you know, a great investor. And, you know, they’ve been great to work with so far, I’ve really enjoyed my time with them and, you know, look to continue to build on this platform to make sure that the dollars are flowing into the community the right way, and that developments and redevelopments are happening in a responsible manner where the community at large is also benefiting from, you know, the economic investment that’s happening there.

Jimmy: Very good. You mentioned Alex Bhathal. For our listeners who may not know Alex, he’s the co-owner of the Sacramento Kings and managing partner at RevOZ Capital. Josh, turning back to you now, how does your work with Landspire and RevOZ, those two firms, how does that connect to the broader portfolio of projects that you’re working on?

Josh: We’re synergistic in the sense that we both want to see, you know, development in under-resourced areas, and we want to both, you know, create equitable change in these areas that allow the community stakeholders to benefit, you know, from the developments.

And I think, you know, there’s probably sometime in the near future where we come together and partner on a deal to make sure that there is complete alignment. And I would thoroughly enjoy that because I do enjoy, you know, working with Alex and Lisa and the team over there.

But, you know, there’s so much synergy in what we’re both doing, you know, for communities at large and I think there’s a great opportunity for us to just create that change that’s needed. You know, the legislation was brought about to impact change and create some economic mobility in some of these areas that really need it. And, you know, if done the right way, it’s an incredibly powerful vehicle. You just have to make sure it’s done the right way.

And, you know, RevOZ is committed to that, Landspire is committed to that, so, by and large, the two groups and our synergies and our overall outlook on this program create, I think, some great opportunities to invest in drive in areas that really need it.

Josh: Yeah, understood. It seems like those two firms, RevOZ Capital and Landspire Group, mesh very well together, a lot of overlap in terms of your missions. You mentioned equitable change, you mentioned creating economic mobility in these Opportunity Zone communities. And, you know, the whole thesis surrounding the Opportunity Zone policy in the first place is that, well, while our nation as a whole recovered from the great recession of more than a decade ago now, the country’s poorest neighborhoods, or a lot of the country’s poorest neighborhoods at least, really got left behind in that recovery that ensued in the last decade.

In particular, a disproportionate number of communities with black and brown residents did not enjoy the same level of economic recovery as the rest of the United States, and the OZ policy is really meant to catalyze private investment into these very communities. Josh, how should we think about these issues, not just within the Opportunities Zones landscape, but with investing in real estate more broadly?

Josh: Yeah, I think, you know, when you think about these communities and them being left behind, you know, after the last recession, I take this back to sports, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. And as a country, you know, if we aren’t uplifting and creating change in these areas and providing opportunities for more and more individuals to, you know, buy a home, get a good job and live, you know, above the poverty line, you know, that impacts us all in a positive manner.

And so, you know, having the mentality to do so is, you know, a large part of the battle. And I don’t know if many of our individuals in leadership truly understand that, you know, but there are a lot of people out there that are struggling, and you saw this accelerated, you know, through COVID.

A lot of people in a lot of families are living check to check and, you know, below that poverty line. And so, what can we do, as a country to, you know, help people help themselves? And I think, you know, this program, is that. If we can create better living conditions, create more job opportunities, allow for participation in some of the growth in these areas, then you start to see real change happening where, you know, everybody isn’t in need of the $600 stimulus.

It’s really been, obviously, a big touchpoint in the country, but creating more opportunities for people to provide for themselves and provide in a sustainable way, is, you know, what, I think is truly important and what is needed in this country. And the Opportunity Zone legislation and the program, you know, can help with that. Obviously, it’s not the end all be all, you know, it’s not the cure, but it can help in creating some transformation to allow more and more people to be in a better position financially.

Jimmy: Absolutely, Josh. I couldn’t agree more. As you said, it’s not the end all be all. It’s not a perfect tool, it’s not gonna solve all of our nation’s problem but it’s a great tool Opportunity Zones are. And I really feel like this tool can really help impact the change we need in these communities all around the country.

Well, Josh, it was great meeting you today and speaking with you today. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you joining us today. Before we go, where can our listeners go to learn more about you and Landspire Group?

Josh: Yeah, so you can learn more about me and Landspire Group at www.landspiregroup.com or on my social media handles. If you search for Josh Childress, you’ll find me there with some glasses smiling away. But my immediate social media handle is @jchillingeton, J-C-H-I-L-L-I-N-G-E-T-O-N on Instagram.

And I’m always pretty responsive and try to get back to people as best I can. But I always love to, you know, meet good people, do deals with people and do good deals with good people. So always interested in meeting quality people and learning from individuals and finding ways to create, you know, impact in any way I can.

Jimmy: Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Josh. I just pulled up your Instagram. Handle @jchiltingeton. Good looking smile. Josh, love the glasses. So go check out Josh on social media.

And for our listeners out there today, I will have show notes as always on the Opportunity Zones database website. You can find those show notes at opportunitydb.com/podcast. And there you’ll find links to all of the resources that Josh and I discussed on today’s show. I’ll be sure to link to landspiregroup.com and all of Josh’s social media handles, and I’ll try to get a picture of Josh on there as well like I always do. All right.

Well, hey, Josh, really appreciate your time today. Thank you.

Josh: Thanks so much, Jimmy. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. And, you know, everyone, just make sure that you continue to follow the work that Landspire Group is doing in addition to the work that RevOZ Capital is doing. It’s important work and you know, we hope to really continue to drive change.

Jimmy: Fantastic. Thanks, Josh.

Jimmy Atkinson

Jimmy Atkinson

Hi, I'm Jimmy Atkinson... I founded OpportunityDb in August 2018. I'm a veteran Internet entrepreneur with a background in economics and Web marketing. I previously founded ETFdb.com. These days, I am passionate about impact investing and tax-advantaged investment opportunities. At the crossroads of these two ideals is the opportunity zones program, a place-based tax policy intended to economically transform some of the poorest areas of the United States with new real estate and business development.

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