Hal Barry, developer who shaped Atlanta skyline and other developers, dies at 82

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Hal Barry once went to Ireland to buy a horse, former protégé Ben Raney recalled. “He couldn’t stand it,” Raney said. It wasn’t that Ireland was so bad. Barry hated being away from work.

“I never saw the man leave the office for more than week,” he said. “He hated vacations.”

Raney, now president and CEO of Raney Real Estate Companies, is among a host of former employees, colleagues and mentees remembering the late charismatic developer and commercial real estate broker. Barry died May 31 of an undisclosed cause at Piedmont Hospital in Newnan. He was 82.

Those interviewed described Barry as driven, optimistic and inspiring, a “Rambo of real estate,” one said. He never gave up on a deal and pushed those who worked for him to excel. Along the way, Barry created a legacy of high-profile developments across metro Atlanta and the Southeast.

“He may not have been in the top echelon of (John) Portman, (Tom) Cousins, Selig or Ben Massell, but Hal definitely had a huge impact on the landscape of Atlanta,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “I think he represented an era in Atlanta real estate that covered the gamut of all sub-markets and all different kinds of real estate. The buildings are there and they are a testament to all his hard work and effort.”

Barry, as a broker, underwriter and developer, left his mark on landmarks across metro Atlanta. Among them: Peachtree Plaza, Monarch Plaza, Merchandise Mart and Cumberland Mall. He assembled land for the development of Georgia-Pacific Corporation’s downtown headquarters. Barry arranged the financing for multiple high-rise hotels, including the Westin Peachtree Plaza; and, decades ago sold Portman, his one-time partner, and until then an exclusively urban-focused commercial developer, on developing the suburban NorthPark Town Center complex at Perimeter Center.

In the first decade of the millennium, Barry reshaped the downtown Atlanta skyline with Allen Plaza, though the 2008 market crash and Great Recession dealt a blow to his longer term ambitions for the project.

The multi-building project was in a once moribund stretch of northern downtown Atlanta where I-75/85 enters the city. It was a $2 billion dream of creating a 24-hour city complete with offices and hotels, anchored by a 45-story tower that would draw people to live and work downtown.

The 2008 market crash and foreclosure rendered the dream halfway finished, but Barry, ever the optimist, insisted his vision would one day be made real.

“At some point and time, what we proposed will be done,” he said. “More offices, housing and maybe another hotel. It’ll be done and hopefully we’ll be doing it,” Barry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011. “I’m bent but not broken. I’m not going away.”

“There was no quit in Hal. He was always firing on all cylinders,” Raney recalled.

That drive was instilled by his parents, Barry would say.

“I had to find out and prove to myself that if I want to do something, by darn it, I’m going to make it happen. Well, you know what happened. I found out I could do it. I developed that confidence,” he said at a 2008 award presentation. “If there is something worthwhile doing, you go after it and make it happen.”

Barry, the second of six children in a Catholic family, grew up 900 miles and light years culturally away from Atlanta on a farm in Fairbank, Iowa, a town of fewer than 1,500 people.

He attended Iowa State University where he met his future wife Linda, who survives him, along with three children, seven grandchildren and two sisters.

The Barrys moved to Atlanta in the late 1960s. From 1967 to 1981 he worked for Adams-Cates handling real estate investment and financing transactions. Barry then partnered with renowned Atlanta developer John Portman, forming Portman Barry Investments, before pursuing his own venture with Barry Real Estate Cos.

Former associates and employees said Barry instilled that never-give-up attitude in those who worked for him.

“It’s the absolute truth that many people who came to work for him at Portman Barry went on to do fantastic things with their careers,” said John Heagy, who created the Rambo moniker for Barry. Heagy is senior managing director for marketing in the southeast region for Hines.

Raney agreed. When asked to name Barry’s greatest contribution to Atlanta, Raney said his impact was on the professionals who worked for him.

“He taught them a work ethic. He taught them how to succeed,” Raney said. “It’s not about the buildings, it’s about the people.”

A memorial service will be held Monday, June 20, at 11:00 a.m. at Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, 3 Village Road, Newnan, Georgia. Following the service there will be a reception for close friends and family at Bear Creek Farm, 1539 Bear Creek Road, Moreland, Georgia. In lieu of flowers, the family suggest donations to Bear Creek Hounds, 855 Bear Creek Road. Moreland, Georgia, 30259; or Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. www.smmcatholic.org.