HRI Properties names Tom Leonhard CEO; founder Pres Kabacoff becomes chairman

( – Pres Kabacoff, a high-profile New Orleans real estate developer and co-founder of HRI Properties, is stepping aside as CEO of his company and will be replaced by his president, Tom Leonhard, the company said Tuesday (Feb. 16).

Kabacoff will continue as chairman of the board and focus on identifying development opportunities in the 25 largest cities in the country, the company said.

Company officials said the change in titles is intended to clearly define HRI’s leadership roles as the company pushes to expand its national reach and attract investment. The company has set a goal of doubling the assets under its management to $2 billion by 2018.

Leonhard, a 48-year-old New Orleans native who has worked at HRI Properties since he was a student at University of New Orleans in 1988, will continue as president and also take on the CEO title. Leonhard worked his way into company leadership in development and financing and was named president in 2011.

“I look back at all the great things the company has done and really I think what I’m most proud of is the people I’ve been able to work with and continue to work with,” Leonhard said. “To be able to be a CEO of such a great company and one that I really helped grow, it’s a tremendous honor and opportunity. I’m very excited about it.”

In 2014, New York-based Almanac Realty Investors gave HRI Properties an $150 million injection of growth capital, when the company set a goal of growing to $1 billion in assets within five to seven years. Two years later, the company has already reached that mark and now intends to grow to $2 billion in the next two years, Leonhard said.

The company focuses on renovations of historic buildings in urban areas into large, mixed-use developments and manages hotels and apartments. Leonhard said the vision is to continue that work nationally and maintain a presence in New Orleans development. “That will always be a big part of who we are as a firm,” he said.

Kabacoff founded HRI Properties — then known as Historic Restoration Inc. — in 1982 with Edward Boettner, who died in 2000. Their first project was renovating the Federal Fiber Mills building in the Warehouse District into apartments, later converted to condominiums. In the three decades since, the company has grown to 2,000 employees with management of 23 hotels and 43 apartment buildings in 16 states. Kabacoff remains the largest individual shareholder in the company.

Locally, the company is a key player in the ongoing redevelopment of the former Iberville public housing complex into a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood on the edge of downtown.

“Today, HRI is poised to become a key player in the national real estate market,” Kabacoff said in a written statement. “Our growth and rapid expansion stresses the importance of clarifying roles so that our leadership team allocates duties and responsibilities that maximize our respective areas of strength.”

“Tom Leonhard has earned national respect for his executive ability in building a disciplined organization, attracting top managerial talent, providing financial acumen and inspiring a tremendous esprit within HRI,” he said.

The company said it has seven projects totaling $438 million in development across the country with 870 hotel rooms and 84 apartments, including projects in Nashville, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Dallas.

HRI Properties recently made a pitch to transform vacant Charity Hospital, although the state has put selection of a developer for the property on hold. HRI bid on the city’s redevelopment of the vacant former World Trade Center tower on the riverfront. City leaders ultimately picked a Four Seasons hotel development team to lease the building.

Leonhard, a Jesuit High School graduate, earned a bachelor of science in finance and an MBA with a focus on real estate form the University of New Orleans, where he later taught as a professor from 2003 through 2005.

HRI Properties is headquartered in the Hibernia Bank tower downtown, which the company renovated into mixed-income apartments.

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