Susan Fauver: Preserving the American Dream

The desire for home, land and business ownership has been a defining characteristic of American culture since the inception of our nation. Modern sociologists tell us that residential stability contributes significantly to positive social, economic and civic outcomes in our society. For Susan Fauver, general counsel and senior vice president at Sherman Associates, Inc., preserving family and community values by means of quality housing and commercial property development is her contribution to the American dream.

Fauver grew up in the Wisconsin hamlet of Chippewa Falls (also home to such fictional characters as Jack Dawson of Titanic and Annie Hall), where the fourth generation of her family continues to run a 100-year-old grocery and meat market. As a girl, she loved spending time behind the counter alongside her father where she imagined herself running the family business one day. “I loved my father dearly, and a lot of what I do in life stems from him,” Fauver shared. “When he told me I couldn’t run the store because a girl couldn’t be a butcher, I was angry. I decided I was going to do something girls didn’t do. I decided I was going to go to law school.”

For Fauver, a small town girl whose preceding generations of family had not attended college, going to law school was indeed an ambitious dream. “It’s funny that it ended up happening,” she said. “I did ultimately go to law school, and by the time I got there, half of my classmates were women. At the time, it was just what I was going to do as a profession, and I didn’t realize how much growing up in that community and working in the store would come to influence what I do today.”

All Roads Lead Home

In a sense, Fauver’s path came full circle when she joined family-owned Sherman Associates 13 years ago. Her journey had taken her from law school to a large Chicago firm, and on to a stint on Capitol Hill where she drafted legislation for the United States Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel. She and her husband, also an attorney, decided to relocate to Minnesota when Fauver became pregnant with their son. “My husband interned here as a lawyer and my family was here. We knew what a wonderful community it was, and we felt it would be the best place to raise our son and be near family.”

Upon her arrival in Minnesota, Fauver did some soul-searching about how she would proceed in her new role as an attorney/ working mother. She began interviewing with local firms and discovered her true legal calling in the area of real estate and community development. She joined Leonard Street & Deinard where she began developing her subject matter expertise under the tutelage of attorney Angela Christy (now a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels), a recognized authority in the field of real estate tax credits.

“I really got lucky and found a law firm of great real estate lawyers that included a leader in this field. Once I started I thought: If I’m going to practice law, this is it. What I learned at that stage of my career is particularly critical to what we do here at Sherman Associates. Frankly, a lot of redevelopment involves expensive land – and polluted land – so construction costs are really high. In many instances, the only way you can induce developers to do this kind of work is through incentives. At Sherman, we frequently use tools like historic tax credits; low income housing tax credits; tax increment financing; and tax abatement, which may originate at local, city, state or federal levels. I am still practicing law, but it is the end result – the projects we build here – that mean so much to me.”

Sherman Associates enjoys a 35-year reputation for delivering quality mixed use urban projects that include a variety of housing choices alongside commercial structures. The company is noted for its projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Colorado, with special emphasis on cities in the Midwest.

With nearly 500 employees and projects in various stages of development across the nation, Fauver plays a role in both the management and legal oversight of the company. “We have a very collaborative leadership group with a horizontal management structure, and we hire good people in their subject matter fields. George Sherman started this company and is an amazing person to work with. We’re trying to institutionalize and have longevity in a field where it is not typical to see a company being passed to the next generation.”

At Sherman, Fauver leverages all of her legal skills, drawing on her experience as a congressional staffer, as well as her time in private practice. “I oversee internal corporate issues, and manage relationships with outside counsel and government employees. I can relate to all of those perspectives.”

The Community Store

According to Fauver, her passion for creating urban environments goes back to the community store and her father. “I’ve always had a strong interest in urban redevelopment. It stems from the phase when people were moving out of cities into the suburbs and big shopping centers were decimating small and medium-sized cities and their businesses. It happened in my hometown, and many of my father’s friends lost their businesses. Our store got through it, but it was hard on my dad who loved his community and his friends.”

In the spirit of restoring urban centers as living communities, Sherman’s projects give residents affordable housing options with walkable access to shopping and restaurants in aesthetically pleasing environments. The company leverages incentives to preserve historic buildings, clean up environmentally compromised land, build new infrastructure and encourage local enterprise.

Sherman’s efforts have revitalized many Midwestern downtowns, including Lowertown St. Paul. From 2001 to 2006, Sherman completed the multiphase Wacouta Commons project, which redeveloped an industrial area in downtown St. Paul to include a park, retail space, for sale and rental housing, and senior housing. As a result, Sherman was awarded the 2001 Best in Real Estate by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

In 2014, Sherman completed Rayette Lofts in the Lowertown area, which received awards from the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, Finance & Commerce, and has also been nominated for an award from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. The Rayette project is located across the street from the time-honored St. Paul Farmers’ Market. “Building a residential neighborhood around that market is one of George Sherman’s longstanding goals,” Fauver explained. “We have been working on projects with markets consistently. For example, the his- toric rehabilitation of the huge Midtown Exchange (former Sears building) in South Minneapolis includes office, apartments, condominiums, commercial and a wonderful ‘business incubator’ market called Global Market. Of course the projects that have a farmers market or other market component are some of my favorites. We have a new one we hope to get off the ground in Colorado, as well.”

When Sherman invests in communities, it encourages further investment by other entities. The Saint Paul Saints have recently taken up residence at their new stadium, CHS Field, near Rayette and the farmer’s market. “What has happened in this neighborhood since 2001 when we did our first project (Sibley Park and the Essex) is just incredible!”

The company completed the aloft Hotel and Zenith Condominiums projects in downtown Minneapolis in 2008, garnering further recognition by the Business Journal as well as the 2010 Honor Award for Excellence in Concrete Design and Construction. Sherman continues its commitment to the Mill District/Downtown East community with the groundbreaking of the Encore Apartments across from the Guthrie Theater, and the $120 million Thresher Square renovation that will convert the historic building to a hotel, and energize the district with new apartments, retail and parking.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the company’s varied portfolio of hotels, commercial property, condominiums and apartments, as well as its interest in both property development and property management, helped to sustain it. In this new economy, diversification remains a key component of the company’s ongoing success. “We’re doing a fair amount of market rate apartments and also reinvigorating our hotel portfolio. We’re always looking for new acquisitions, and we’re still doing historic tax credit projects. Our new town centers with multiphase development create a pipeline of individual projects that span years.”

Consumers’ skepticism about the desirability of home ownership still lingers since the recession. “The aging population is downsizing, while younger consumers have come to question whether home ownership is even their main goal. They’re renting longer. I absolutely think we’re following the trend on the market rate housing side right now, because that’s what people are choosing. And people are finding they like the downtown, walkable lifestyle. But there’s nothing more constant than change, so we are always poised to adapt.”

In preserving the American dream, Fauver and the visionary team at Sherman Associates are also helping to redefine it. They are creating communities that safeguard cultural history, honor the natural environment and reflect the values of the people who inhabit them. By responding to the changing needs and ideals of our culture, they are allowing individuals to set the tone for their neighborhoods and lifestyle. And that’s what the American dream is really about.

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