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Cory Thompson’s Scariest Career Decision

May 31, 2024

The future seemed set for Cory Thompson, accounting master’s degree in hand, when a Big Four firm recruited him fresh from Vanderbilt in 2013. As drastic as the decision was to pivot to retail real estate just two years later, it wasn’t the hardest career decision he’d make. That had come 10 years earlier.

His resolve to identify publicly as a gay man in 2005 — he “could no longer tolerate the overwhelming shame of living a closeted life,” he said — was fitful. The event felt “completely catastrophic,” he said. “I was sure many doors would be closed to me, and I was a nervous wreck. I never dreamed I’d become a vice president of anything in corporate America, because attitudes towards the LGBT community were so different then.”

But the world was changing, and Thompson’s initial angst slowly was supplanted by acceptance, peer support and, ultimately, the confidence to move forward. In June, Thompson will celebrate Pride Month not only with friends but also with his co-workers at Urban Edge Properties, where he sits on the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “Pride Month to me is a celebration of the courage it took, at a very young age, both to come out and to stand up for LGBTQ rights,” Thompson said. “It’s also a celebration of the personal journeys of so many others when they came out of the closet to live authentic lives. I’ve come to realize that ‘pride’ is a great antonym for the word ‘shame.’”

“I’ve come to realize that ‘pride’ is a great antonym for the word ‘shame.’”

His Second Big Career Decision

In 2013, Thompson’s new post as an audit assistant at Deloitte felt like the first step on a likely fast track in the accounting field. But he soon found himself in a familiar quandary. “I always had an internal struggle between my left-brain math skills and my right-brain creative and artistic side,” he said. “I thought I’d have to choose one over the other for a career.”

Longing for a more imaginative pursuit, he took the leap to Urban Edge Properties in 2015, compelled by the retail REIT’s urban-core focus, which would afford him a chance to use both sets of skills. “What I really liked about Urban Edge is I got to flex both muscles,” said Thompson. “I really got bit by the retail real estate bug there. I found that retail was invariably interesting, which made sense because it is a much more tangible and diverse asset class and would allow me to combine my skills.”

“I never dreamed I’d become a vice president of anything in corporate America because attitudes towards the LGBT community were so different then.”

Thompson served as a senior corporate accountant and project manager, then development and finance director, and he became vice president of development and finance for Urban Edge in March 2022.

Doors continued to open rather than close. An advocate of continuing professional education, Thompson’s nights and weekends of late have been filled with studies for the Master of Science in Real Estate and Infrastructure degree he will earn in May from Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School. His employer encouraged and sponsored the curriculum. “It’s helped me look at real estate from the perspective of investors and understand their motivations,” Thompson said. “I’m always looking for a more well-rounded view of the industry.”

Underscoring Thompson’s underwriting skills are the analytical tools he’s developed to single out opportunities for Urban Edge’s development pipeline. “As a developer, I have a portfolio of assets within the larger Urban Edge portfolio and am constantly looking for positioning and growth opportunities,” he said. Thompson has not only a knack for digging into center financials but also a strong instinct for the strategies that would work to creatively reposition, re-tenant and “de-mall” them once they pass muster. “But it’s always strong financial analytics that come first in guiding our decisionmaking,” he stressed.

Cory Thompson speaking at Urban Edge Properties’ 2023 Investor Day

Among the New Jersey properties Thompson is reshaping is the 1 million-square-foot Bergen Town Center in Paramus, where his firm is adding pad sites, new facades and placemaking elements while enhancing the food-and-beverage offerings. Others are Plaza at Cherry Hill — a 400,000-square-foot power center that Thompson and team are upgrading with new anchors, added small-shop space and renovated facades — the 270,000-square-foot Totowa Commons power center, where national tenants will fill two vacant anchor spaces. Urban Edge owns 76 properties totaling 17.1 million square feet, mostly along the Boston-to-Washington, D.C., corridor.

Thompson, who has come to view ICSC as an invaluable networking tool in his career, recalls his first en masse exposure to the organization and its strong sway at the 2018 ICSC New York Deal Making event. “I remember walking around the Javits Center, which was packed door to door with people from our industry, and realizing that the calendars of everyone there were booked solid,” he said. “I still managed to get in a few meetings, but I made a note to myself to come better prepared next time.”

Representation in CRE

A Nashville native, Thompson earned a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science at North Carolina’s private Greensboro College. He now lives and works in the largely LGBTQ+ friendly New York City area, but he senses that discrimination against queers in occupations like commercial real estate has diminished greatly countrywide. He concedes there’s scant overt gay representation in the field, but, he added, “it’s getting better and better every day for people of color, women and queer people.”

Thompson’s advice for young gay professionals aspiring to commercial real estate? “First, don’t feel intimidated, there’s a place for you here. Secondly, it’s the same advice I give all young professionals, and that’s: Develop your skills. The key is to find opportunities to add value. Do that, and you’ll be rewarded.” Gay mentors, on the other hand, are still in short supply, he said. “So identify your allies, those who have an attachment to you and who have empathy and respect for you as a person, then build support from there.”

Urban Edge’s diversity programs feature a full slate of events annually for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month and others. The company’s DEI Committee offers related book clubs, trivia contests and other activities. “The programs are devised to respect, educate and celebrate all of our cultures,” he said. “It’s really refreshing to see so many employees participate in our events.”

Thompson, who has twin 11-year-old nephews to dote on, lives in Brooklyn with his partner, Cole. They enjoy kicking back with friends in the city’s historic Fort Greene Park and traveling to the world’s best beaches, including Rio de Janeiro. But Thompson’s day-to-day zen place is in his car. “My commute to work is my quiet time before the distractions of the day, when I can listen to music or a podcast. To me, it’s a time for reflection.”

Cory Thompson at Urban Edge Properties’ 2023 holiday party

By Steve McLinden

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today


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