Environment and Real Estate & Retail

Longtime developer undergoes changes: Shopping centers prove fruitful for Zinkan & Barker

April 24, 2006

Stephen Zinkan is one persistent fellow.

The veteran real estate developer began knocking on the door of Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co. in the early 1990s, in an attempt to build his firm's portfolio. He and Kelly Flynn had founded Flynn & Zinkan Realty Co. in the early 1980s and carved a niche developing groceryanchored shopping centers.

Amid the rejections, Zinkan, 56, implored Kroger to give him its toughest assignment. The corporation relented and handed him property at 71st Street and Georgetown Road, where numerous obstacles had prevented development.

In short, he persuaded 11 property owners to sell their homes, got the property rezoned from residential to commercial, and diverted a nearby subdivision's drainage system into a new retention pond on the Kroger property, providing relief from irritating flooding issues.

Kroger opened a supermarket there in 1996 and brought Flynn & Zinkan into its stable of developers. The relationship continues today, except for one change. The local developer, headquartered near 54th Street and Keystone Avenue, now is known as Zinkan & Barker Development Co.

Flynn, a member of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, left the firm at the end of 2004. The name change, however, was adopted only a few months ago. Taking Flynn's place as a partner and owner is Robert Barker, 46, a former Simon Property Group Inc. executive who joined the developer three years ago.

"Kelly and I had been best friends since high school, but he decided he wanted to retire and go into politics," Zinkan said. "I met Bob in the mid-1980s and we struck up an instant friendship that we maintained."

Development by accident

Flynn and Zinkan pretty much fell into the development sector by accident. The two owned a liquor store in Fishers and were tenants in a building in which they were spending thousands of dollars on the heating and air-conditioning unit due to a negligent landlord.

When the sidewalk in front of their store buckled so much that they had to take the door off to let customers inside, they began searching for their own property.

They purchased land in Fishers too large for just a liquor store, so they began courting tenants. Then they developed property for a Toys R Us store on East Washington Street, leading them to sell their shop to pursue careers in development.

Their next project, Northeast Commerce Park, was a 106-acre business park on Interstate 69 north of 116th Street.

"Had things been a perfect situation, we never would have thought about the development business," Flynn said. "But once we got that first building built, we thought this is what we really want to do."

Last year, the firm completed, or had under construction, nearly 550,000 square feet of space, ranking it 18th on IBJ's list of largest area commercial real estate developers. It is also one of the city's largest real estate brokerages.

A few of its more recent projects include Springmill Commons at 161st Street and Spring Mill Road in Westfield, Oak Manor North at State Road 32 and Carey Road in Westfield and a Walgreens at 116th Street.

Business can be brutal

Getting zoning approval sometimes can be a long and contentious procedure, especially when a big-box retailer is involved.

Zinkan and Barker encountered fierce opposition on the Springmill Commons project, anchored by a Kroger grocery. They filed a lawsuit to pursue their plans after Westfield Town Council members voted to withdraw previous approval by reversing a rezoning ordinance they had passed to allow it.

Township residents angry about the development had invited the city of Carmel to consider annexing 7-1/2 square miles of unincorporated territory. But a Hamilton County Court judge gave the town 30 days to comply with its original rezoning ordinance, prompting the Town Council to reluctantly restore it.

"We are not litigious people," Zinkan said. "But when we believe we've been wronged, we will stand up for what is right."

The firm has developed other Kroger stores at 116th Street and Olio Road, State Road 267 and Rockville Road in Avon and U.S. 41 in Terre Haute. It also has the distinction of developing the last O'Malia Food Markets store, at 136th and Meridian streets in Carmel, in 1990.

Nick Alm, manager of Kroger's real estate division in the central marketing area, said the corporation has enjoyed a beneficial relationship with Zinkan & Barker and appreciates the high ethical standards the firm brings to the table.

Partner fills Flynn's role

Barker's career at Simon, the world's largest shopping mall owner, spanned 20 years. In a 10-year period, before the company's public offering in 1995, he orchestrated $5 billion in debt financing for mall developments.

Following Simon's change to publiccompany status, Barker moved to the company's development side and traveled often. A family man, he eventually shunned the flight schedules in 2003 in favor of joining his pal, Zinkan. The two had been discussing potential business relationships since 1999.

"I was very, very excited when Bob came on board," Flynn said. "He had an incredible reputation as a development executive. He enabled me to step out of an active role, and at the same time, he and Steve work the same way as we did."

Zinkan and Barker met in the mid-1980s at City Market through a mutual friend. They hit it off so well they chatted for more than an hour, even after the other fellow returned to his office.

Besides its work with Kroger, Zinkan & Barker has developed Walgreens stores at 79th Street and Sunnyside Road, Southport Road and Madison Avenue, and 52nd Street and Keystone Avenue.

Jim Peck, co-owner of locally based Civil Designs LLP, a civil engineering firm, came to know Zinkan and Barker during the 79th Street project, while Peck was at Schneider Corp. The relationship continues today.

"It is a very competitive, changing environment," Peck said of retail development. "What we've really excelled at with them is to change and be flexible, and look out for their best interest. They're definitely my best client."

The firm moved to its current location at 5332 N. Temple Ave. seven years ago after spending 20 years downtown.
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