Matt Meier: Seeing Beyond the Tunnel

photo by Eric Tadsen

“If you can get a project going now, it’s probably the best project you’ll ever do,” said Matt Meier, senior development project manager at the Alexander Company in Madison. “That’s because today’s projects are being conservatively underwritten, interest rates are low, construction costs are down and government incentives are out there.” In fact, he explained, someone with the means and ability to start a project right now will do well for themselves down the road. “We may never see a better time to build than right now,” he said, optimistically.

After over 20 years at the Alexander Company, Meier has seen many a project come and go, and many an economy ebb and flow. Though this ebb is lasting longer than most would have anticipated, Meier sees a light at the end of tunnel. “A year ago, if you called 100 lenders, maybe 90 would tell you they’re not lending at all. The other 10 would say, ‘we’ve done business together before, so we’ll see what we can do,’ and nine of those would say no. The one guy that would agree would tell you that he could do it if you provided a letter of credit to back the entire loan.”

Things are different now, he insists. Lenders are making loans for the right deals, and those that raise corporate money for investments are starting to capitalize their funds. “It’s still different than it used to be,” Meier admitted, explaining that the old way was to go out and find a transaction, then find capital resources for that transaction. “Now,” he said, “people are finding the capital sources first, then asking what kinds of transactions they want to make and where they want to make them.”

The economy’s twists and turns actually have had a positive effect on the industry, he explained. “You see a lot of networking now,” he said. “People who used to think they were competitors are finding ways to work together, enhancing each other’s businesses. It’s brought people together.”

Meier, a Madison native, graduated in 1991 from the UW-Madison business school in finance, investment, and banking, with a major in real estate and urban land economics. He learned how to work with tools and fix buildings early in his life, thanks to his dad, who retired from the State and last worked for the Railroad Commission. With the help of his parents (his mother was a UW nurse), Meier was always somewhat of an entrepreneur. While attending UW, he started his own painting company, then ended up chucking it for a $6 an hour job at the Alexander Company.

“I saw potential there, even then,” he said. He was particularly attracted to the renovation work the company was doing, and the ability to transform often historic, blighted properties into positive elements in a neighborhood.

He’s done a lot of that since, first working on renovating historic papermill apartments in Appleton, Wis., to working on the rail corridor redevelopment project on West Washington Avenue, to the creation of the Novation Campus in Madison. He’s also overseeing a $40 million renovation of a Kansas City courthouse into 172 loft apartments. It’s a building that once housed an office for Harry Truman, and courtrooms that bore witness to a number of high profile cases, including some tried by Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ability to preserve historic structures is what he finds so intriguing. “I like the art of the deal. Every project has new challenges and new problems to solve.”

So which project is his favorite? “The next one,” he smiled.

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