ULI Atlanta Member Spotlight: Kyle Reis, Principal, Director of Planning at Cooper Carry
From planning communities to planning soccer drills, we spoke with Reis about his passion for design, involvement in ULI and giving back to the next generation.
by: The Wilbert Group
When it comes to Kyle Reis’ career success, there’s no separating nature versus nurture. Considering he has a twin brother who works as a real estate attorney, Reis’ passion for urban land may be in his genes. Either way, his eagerness to learn about construction and design dates back as far as he can remember as a kid in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio.
“When I was about 11 or 12, my parents were putting an addition on our house and I would get a lawn chair, sit out and watch the construction. I was fascinated,” he said.
His childlike sense of wonder led him to earn a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame, meet his wife and architect, Colleen O’Keeffe, and land his role as a principal and director in the Urban Design & Planning Studio at Cooper Carry.
Today, Reis not only nurtures his own career, but also continues to foster strong relationships with colleagues, clients and the diverse communities he serves through his lifeblood passion for good design.
Rooted in Community
Following his college graduation in 2006, Reis accepted his first job with Cooper Carry and relocated South. “My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and I wanted to go to the same city but not work at the same firm,” he said. “It was a good time to enter the field, and Cooper Carry was one of the seven or eight firms from the Atlanta area that came to our college’s career fair.”
Although Atlanta wasn’t a place he previously considered calling “home,” Reis was drawn to Cooper Carry’s diverse design services and the breadth of the firm’s portfolio. “I was really interested in planning and urban design work, and Cooper Carry offered me the opportunity and flexibility to do both planning and architecture,” he said.
The decision was made even easier when Reis visited Atlanta for a job interview and received a warm welcome — literally. He flew out of Chicago where the weather was 30 degrees and sleeting and arrived in the City in the Forest during the same weekend as the annual Masters Tournament. “It was 75 degrees, and all the dogwoods were in bloom,” he recalled. “That resonated with us.”
The Midwest transplants have established deep roots in Atlanta. In the 13 years, Reis has been with Cooper Carry, his wife has worked for the architectural and planning firm, Historical Concepts. Meanwhile, Reis was named an Associate in 2012, an Associate Principal in 2015 and a Principal in 2019. Throughout these roles, Reis has enjoyed an inclusive design process in which the best ideas rise to the top, public spaces are made meaningful, and pedestrian and bicycle connectivity are top priorities.
Reis describes the Urban Design & Planning Studio as the “tip of the spear” of the firm’s capabilities. “We are very collaborative in the way we work across disciplines and work across studios,” he said. “We’re at the front end of projects, meeting new clients and expanding what the firm can do. We’ve been really successful in prioritizing client service and doing creative, realistic work both retain clients at Cooper Carry and grow our base.”
Some of Reis’ noteworthy recent projects include Capitol View, a 32-acre, mixed-use urban district in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee connected to the Nashville Greenway; and Eastern Wharf, a walkable, 56-acre gathering place with abundant green space, modern residential, office, retail, restaurants and a luxury hotel coming to the riverfront in Savannah, Georgia.
“The range of projects, from scale and intensity, is pretty drastic. We’ll do a quick density-feasibility study for an acre site, and then work on planning projects that are 2,000 acres,” he said. “I really enjoy the variety and seeing an initial vision realized.”
While Reis’ work has taken him across the country, some of his favorite projects are the ones in his own backyard.
“During the Recession, there weren’t a lot of projects happening in the Atlanta metro area. Yet, there were a lot of things to fix and improve from a planning-and-urban-design perspective,” he said. “That’s one thing I like about Atlanta — there’s a lot of opportunity. Now, I’m amazed at how many more fun, unique projects I’ve personally worked on in the metro area. To me, it’s a good sign Atlanta is progressing in the right direction from an urbanism standpoint.”
The Atlanta BeltLine comes to mind. Along the Eastside Trail, Reis has been involved with the planning and entitlements process for 725 Ponce, a 360,000-square-foot office tower located above an urban-prototype Kroger and across the BeltLine from Ponce City Market.
“The property had the worst-performing Kroger in the city across from the best-performing Whole Foods in the city,” he said. The solution? “We pulled the new store up to the BeltLine level, so the trail became the front door. To see this project come to fruition has been really cool.”
Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kroger was the grocery store Reis remembers shopping at as a child — and still shops at today. “Grocers are really being pushed to rethink food services,” he said. “Until we started this project, Kroger didn’t really have a playbook for an urban, atypical store. Through this process, we’ve helped Kroger develop a more urban approach to some store prototypes nationally — a new playbook that will extend beyond this specific project.”
Across town, Reis was also instrumental in the initial visioning and master planning for Emory Point, a mixed-use development with 750 apartment homes situated above nearly 125,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space — all within one mile from Emory University, Emory University Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More recently, Reis has led the master planning process to reimagine a 77-acre site and former campus of the United Methodist Children’s Home for the City of Decatur. The property is now called Legacy Park.
“I really enjoy this project because I live in Decatur,” Reis said. “I get to wear the consultant-planner hat and also the resident hat.”
In December 2018, the master plan was approved by the Decatur City Commission and Cooper Carry has been retained for additional services focusing on affordable housing. “This is a great example of how public engagement and transparency lead our design process,” Reis said. “We had over 1,000 people participate and over 9,000 unique comments from the public.”
There’s good momentum with several buildings being used by nonprofits and a lot of recreation happening, he added. In fact, Reis swaps hats again on weekends to coach his son’s soccer team. “We play on the fields there every Saturday morning,” he said.
Leading by Example
The Decatur dad has three young children, ages 2, 4 and 7.
“We spend a lot of time playing outdoors, riding bikes and going to soccer games and ballet,” Reis said. “Every Sunday night, my wife and I pull out our calendars,” Reis said. After all, planning is what he does best — and Reis certainly know how to make the most of his time.
“I’m constantly learning and figuring out how the development process works and how politics, people and public engagement works,” he said. “The way I’ve overcome challenges is to learn a lot, persevere and figure out how to play a role in the overall design process that benefits the whole.”
In addition to ULI, Reis has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association, the Georgia Planning Association and the Congress for the New Urbanism and is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP).
“I was going to a lot of different events and professional organizations, and realized I had to pare down my time commitments outside of work,” he said. “ULI makes the most sense from a value proposition of time and investment. I’ve gotten much more out of it than I’ve given.”
Reis has been actively involved with ULI for more than a decade, beginning with the Young Leaders Group (YLG) and ULI Mentor Program. “I was a mentee for a few years then ended up co-chairing and chairing the program,” he said.
In 2016, Reis was selected to join Center for Leadership (CFL). “I really love that program and think it’s one of the best things ULI does,” he said.
After completing his own CFL class, he served as a day chair for the Community Building Day in 2017, which included a visit to Park Center, State Farm’s new headquarters in Dunwoody. Located adjacent to Perimeter Mall and the Dunwoody MARTA station, Cooper Carry is providing full design services for the project, with phase one completed and construction for phase two underway.
Last year, Reis continued his involvement with CFL as co-chair as well as serving as chair of the 2019 class, which celebrated their graduation earlier this month.
“The program and structure are pretty similar, but it’s different content, different people and different places to see every year,” Reis said. “I feel fortunate to have gone through the class three and a half times, rather than just once. It’s a pretty rigorous application to be selected, so there are really qualified people involved. CFL has given me the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with people across the industry in a unique setting.”
Last year, Reis also joined ULI’s Travel Experience and Trends Council, one of the new national product councils. “We meet at ULI’s Spring and Fall meetings,” he said. “It’s been fun to attend and get a behind-the-scenes peek at projects in other cities.”
When he’s not with family, at work or at ULI events, Reis is most likely to be found volunteering for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), where he has served as a Conference, District, and Council president and remains an active board member of the Atlanta Council for the global Catholic lay organization.
“When I started at the parish level, there were only a handful of volunteers at my church, and we built it up to about 130 people within the first year,” he said. The human services organization at the State level provides hope and help to those in need so they may find stability and move toward self-sufficiency, through the great work of over 5,000 volunteers.
Reis has also leveraged his role in the real estate industry to help the nonprofit coordinate a capital campaign to buy and renovate a building on Chamblee Tucker Road near the Chamblee MARTA station. The 50,000-square-foot, one-story industrial brick building serves as one of SVdP’s four Family Support Centers in Georgia and provides a variety of invaluable services to people in need, including a food pantry and educational resources. Cooper Carry is overseeing all the exterior and interior design for the renovations at a reduced-profit basis.
Maybe good design is in his nature, after all.