The story of the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, who were aviation pioneers because of their successful aircraft design, is similar to that of the Hovey father-and-son duo that has carved out a name for themselves because of their remarkable art of design in buildings.
David Hovey Sr. and David Hovey Jr. are unmistakably recognized for their Optima projects around the Valley and Chicago metro. Sure, others took the risk of trying it first, but the Wrights and the Hoveys have earned the title of being the best at their craft. Even more like the brothers, the team takes the pilot’s seat when it comes to handling the controls as the architect who is also the developer and the general contractor.
By now everyone in the Valley can spot an Optima project before even reading its sign. And every next Optima model has some type of improvement or innovation over the last. It’s pretty impossible not to drive past the Optima Kierland project at Scottsdale Road and Kierland Boulevard and not stare out the window wondering about what extravagant luxury condos are about to come. Well, Commercial Executive Magazine got the exclusive interview with both David Hovey Sr. and David Hovey Jr. about the project, so you’ll know alI the details.
Optima: Architect Gone Developer
Closing in on 40 years of designing and building signature properties with a distinct look and feel, internationally acclaimed architect David Hovey Sr., founder and CEO of Optima, has built a legacy portfolio of inspiring architectural residences in the Greater Phoenix and Chicago areas.
With the firm’s latest offering, Optima Kierland (in the north Scottsdale area), Hovey Sr. is continuing that legacy – not only through the continuation of innovative architecture – but by fostering an environment of collaboration and engagement with greater reliance on his son , David Hovey Jr. and daughter, Tara Hovey, in the family-owned business.
With completed multifamily projects totaling 4,000+ units, the Optima name stands not only for aesthetic beauty and exceptional architectural design, but for functionality. The company’s award-winning Greater Phoenix projects include: Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Camelview Village and Optima Biltmore Towers; signature projects in the Chicago area include Optima Chicago Center and Optima Old Orchard Woods in Illinois.
Optima Kierland continues the company’s tradition of excellence; only this time, Hovey Jr.’s ideas and approach are front and center. “Kierland is the first project that I have had the lead working with my father in terms of architecture and design,” Hovey Jr. says. “I started learning from him when I was a young boy and now I feel that we are really connecting with all aspects of design, development and construction.”
The origins of Optima actually began not in Chicago, but in a small New Zealand city near the capital of Wellington, where Hovey Sr.’s father was stationed as a Marine in the 2nd Division shortly after WWII, and where Hovey Sr. was born.
The architect in Hovey Sr. came out early, while still in New Zealand, and for him there was no looking back. “The headmaster of the school I attended told my parents at a PTO meeting that I should be an architect, because I was good at math and art,” Hovey Sr. recalls. “That was it. I never entertained any other possibility. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
He continued his architectural journey at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Architecture. He first honed his craft at a large-scale, 458-staffed Chicago firm (now called JAHN) at the age of 28, working on major projects across the country.
“I left at 32 as a vice president, because I remembered a professor of mine at IIT who mentioned an idea where the architect was also a developer. They controlled the whole process from land purchase to design, and there was no one else doing it,” he says. “So in 1978, my wife Eileen and I refinanced our two-bedroom condo to come up with the cash and bought some urban renewal land on the south side of Chicago and built six townhomes.”
Rise of Optima
That first move into residential development and design began with a straightforward premise. “I would design and build the projects and Eileen (who is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Optima) would sell them,” he says.
The concept of the company was that each project would get a bit bigger. They would learn from the small projects to hancile the big projects. And the concept worked, as over the years, the developments multiplied rapidly from a second project of 16 townhomes to 24, then 63 condos and apartments, and eventually reaching 900 units.
“We have experienced recessions and depressions in the real estate industry ,” Hovey Sr. says. “It is unusual for a developer to stay in business for 38 years.”
His vision for Optima grew out of a belief that traditional models of real estate development did not capture synergies, were inefficient and created a desultory environment. “The structure of the company is vertically integrated,” Hovey Sr. says. “We buy the land, create the design, act as the general contractor, and handle the marketing and sales and property management. The process is more efficient and has tremendous advantages.”
While the Optima framework provides the business roadmap, Hovey Sr’s passion for architecture and imbuing that energy into designs has driven the brand and invigorated Eileen, Hovey Jr., and daughters, Tara and Lauren.
“We do projects that are architecturally significant,” Hovey Sr. says. “I never was interested in ordinary, and always wanted to work on really grand projects.”
Hovey Jr’s involvement at Optima began early on, when he’d pitch in on job sites during the summer. After graduating from Cornell University in 2001 with a B.S. in City and Regional Planning, Hovey
Jr. decided against pursuing a professional hockey career because of a serious spine injury, and returned to Optima as a construction superintendent and project manager.
“After I was finished with hockey I became very interested in the efficiency of the construction process I was seeing on our job sites, as well as our design,” he says. In 2004, following in his father’s footsteps, he graduated from IIT with a Master’s in Architecture. Hovey Sr., who also taught at the school as an associate professor, is pleased with the direction his son pursued. “What was good about what David did was he not only had the academic qualifications, but he started at lower levels in various architecture design and construction areas,” the father says. “He was involved in all aspects of the business and worked his way up, learning from the ground-up.”
Today, his son is President of Optima and Optima DCHGlobal, Inc., a subsidiary firm, which is aimed at providing sustainable housing for any location, climate or terrain by utilizing a set of standardized components that can be efficiently assembled. Relic Rock, a home in Scottsdale, is a prototype showcasing the building system. “This system is much more efficient than traditional construction and much more advanced,” Hovey Jr. says. “From a sustainability standpoint, it is far superior.”
And, he’s not the only member of the family to get in on the action. Hovey Jr.’s sister, Tara Hovey, is Co-President of Optima, based in the company’s Chicago office, specializing in the financing operations of the company, and is a graduate of Boston College and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Other sister, Lauren Hovey, who owns her own strength and conditioning company, also provides value for Optima. “Lauren has begun guiding the inclusion of strength and conditioning , fitness and nutrition amenities in our projects, and she’s doing a fantastic job,” he says. Ill In Hovey Sr.’s estimation, Eileen Hovey, the sales and marketing guru, perhaps has played the most important role of all. “She has always encouraged me to do what I think is right, not what is the easiest or most conventional,” Hovey Sr. says. “She is willing to stick her neck out as much as I am to try to achieve something great.”