by Elizabeth Cooper
Ask Ann K. Crenshaw about her most challenging real estate case, and she animatedly describes a project that, while still years away from completion, already has revitalized a local university and transformed a surrounding neighborhood.
A partner with Kaufman & Canoles PC in Virginia Beach with an expertise in real estate law, Crenshaw was a natural to represent Old Dominion University’s Real Estate Foundation in developing the 75-acre University Village. The $55 million, mixed-use project includes student housing, a hotel, restaurants, retail establishments, office and research facilities, and recreational venues.
Started in 1999 with the construction of the Ted Constant Convocation Center, University Village also boasts Innovation Research Park, one of the few research parks in the country based on the campus of its research institution. “It’s interesting to watch an area that was truly blighted grow into an area where you’ve got the Constant Center, student housing, stores and the Innovation Research Park,” Crenshaw says. “To be part of watching that go up and seeing what that’s done for the community and the university has really been most fun.”
In her practice, Crenshaw focuses on land use, zoning, real estate development, title insurance and commercial real estate. Complex developments intrigue her, although Crenshaw did not set out to specialize in real estate law. “It was an evolution,” she explains, adding that she honed in on commercial real estate while practicing with McGuire Woods Battle & Boothe in Norfolk during the late 1980s and early 1990s. “The economy dictated it,” she recalls, “and I found that I really liked it.”
There was never any question that the Virginia Beach native would become a lawyer. “From the time I was young, I loved watching Perry Mason. I just knew that’s what I would be.”
She earned her law degree in 1980 from the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law and snagged a coveted clerkship with U.S. District Court Judge Walter E. Hoffman. Crenshaw soon realized that she was in a distinct minority. “You could count on two hands the number of women practicing law in Hampton Roads,” she recalls.
She parlayed her real estate experience into the development of the local CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) chapter, which she co-founded in 2006. “I’ve never been one to run to join women’s groups, but this group is really something else,” she says. “It’s all about networking. I recently picked up a case with a phone call from a lawyer in Kansas who was referred to me by a CREW member in St. Louis.”
This year Crenshaw is immediate past president and serves on an advisory committee of seasoned women who mentor other CREW members. Crenshaw also sits on the board of the Virginia Beach Community Development Corp. a nonprofit group that provides affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. The corporation owns more than 200 properties throughout Virginia Beach.
Corporation Vice President Denise Howard describes Crenshaw as dedicated to ensuring that the nonprofit runs efficiently. “Ann is hands-on and very concerned about the wellness of the organization from all perspectives,” says Howard. “She holds people accountable and doesn’t have a problem questioning decisions made by the staff.”
Crenshaw says she enjoys the opportunity to use her skills to assist those who are less fortunate. “I’m glad I have something to contribute toward the ultimate goal of making these people’s lives better.”