by Paula C. Squires
Brett Womack, Senior vice president, Divaris Real Estate Inc., Richmond
After 25 years in commercial real estate, Brett Womack has come full circle. She’s taken advantage of detours along the way, but the interest that fueled Womack’s passion for real estate remains the same: urban renewal.
Womack, 58, learned in the 1980s how exciting adaptive reuse could be. A broker in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom and Tobacco Row districts, she got in on the ground floor of their development while working for Alex Alexander at ALX Corp. and later starting a firm, Associates in Real Estate Inc.
Womack crafted small leases for creative retailers. Their vision turned dilapidated warehouses into innovative establishments. “Bird in Hand, Havana 59, Glass Reunions,” she recalls, listing some former clients. “You get to see people’s creative juices come alive.”
By 1994, Womack had sold her business and joined Divaris Real Estate Inc. when the Virginia Beach-based company opened its first Richmond office. Two years later, Divaris opened a Charlotte, N.C., office and wanted Womack to work with its principal. By then, she says, “Both of my children were gone. It was a good career move.”
In Charlotte, Womack worked in suburban markets representing national retailers. She also made contact with Charlotte-based Crosland, a developer she now works with on the renovation of the former Cloverleaf Mall in Chesterfield County.
Womack returned to Richmond in 2000 as Divaris’ principal broker. “For me it was a promotion and a challenge,” she says. “I was the first female principal broker for Divaris.” A leader in professional groups, Womack recalls that this is when her networking paid off. She hired some top brokers and assembled a team that reversed the Richmond office’s sagging fortunes.
In 2005, Womack stepped down from managing the office and returned to brokerage. Since then, she has negotiated some of her biggest deals. A 10-year lease for the headquarters of the LeClairRyan law firm in downtown Richmond’s Riverfront Towers is valued at more than $17 million. Womack also handled an $11.5 million leasing deal for the law firm Hirschler Fleisher when it moved into the Edgeworth Building in Tobacco Row.
Hirschler Fleischer leased 68,000 square feet in the converted art deco warehouse. Womack’s professionalism, while representing project developer Forest City Enterprises, impressed Mike Terry, the law firm’s executive vice president. “She made herself part of the team instead of making herself part of an adversarial process. She stayed involved, even after the lease was negotiated, to see that things were implemented as discussed.”
That Tobacco Row remains a vibrant, growing area shows Womack that her passion isn’t misplaced. “It’s exciting to see people come downtown where they can see buildings with creative flair and history.”
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