Vaughn D. Irons may have entered real estate accidentally, but he’s taken over the field in Atlanta. Irons is the CEO of APD Solutions, a national community economic development firm providing Advisory, Program Management and Development Services.
And the awards have been rolling in. Under his leadership, APDS has been acknowledged with a Pacesetter Award by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2012 for Top and the company has been more than successful. Irons has grown APDS by 1193 percent in his first three years. Personally, Irons has also been awarded the 2014 CEO of the Year by the Georgia Business Council in conjunction with the Atlanta Business Journal.
Prior to APD Solutions, Irons served for nearly 12 years at Freddie Mac most recently as National Director of Housing & Community Investment.
Besides building his career, Irons is aso very community minded. He serves as Chairman of the Economic Development Authority of DeKalb County, Georgia. Irons is also on the Board of the National Association of Home Builders, Leadership DeKalb, Women’s Resource Center Against Domestic Violence, the DeKalb Chamber, the Rockstone Foundation and YMCA of South DeKalb. Previous volunteer and board appointments include multiple terms as President of Atlanta-Fulton-DeKalb Housing Partnership, Vice-chairman for the Fulton County Housing Community Development Corporation, Board of Directors of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Mercy Housing Southeast,and the Neighborhood Development Foundation of New Orleans.
The master developer behind the Atlanta Sports City/Stonecrest Resorts, Irons, tells TNJ.com about how he made it to the top.
TNJ.com: What first attracted you to the industry?
Vaughn D. Irons: I ended up in real estate accidentally. Early in my career, I worked for a nonprofit housing agency. Through that experience, I realized the impact of helping families purchase homes or save their homes. That was my foundation in real estate and my desire to help improve the lives of people through real estate development grew from there.
TNJ.com: How did you get involved in the Atlanta Sports City project?
Vaughn D. Irons: I have been developing residential property and mixed use in metro Atlanta for some time. I also served for a number of years as the chairman of the county’s Development Authority. So I recognized that Southeast DeKalb was missing a unique tourism attraction that could compliment Stone Mountain. I met a group who was seeking to develop a sports complex but they needed real estate expertise. I married the sports concept with my own vision of creating a tourism mega-site and voila! Atlanta Sports City was birthed!
TNJ.com: What is the update on that project?
Vaughn D. Irons: The project is about to initiate it’s first phase of construction this summer. We have spent the last several months developing the entertainment, hospitality and amenity aspects. We have been successful in attracting the likes of SeaQuest Aquarium, MMA Bar & Grill, Top Golf Swing Suites and adding a Food Hall. Soon we will be sharing the broader vision that includes these and other features such as our new sporting goods store and additional hotels under the parent company which is now Stonecrest Resorts.
This will be the future of shopping centers – bringing two different industries together and creating a unique experience and environment for the entire family. The facilities are designed for the future with a unique blend of sports, food, entertainment, fashion and excitement. This will be one of the few Sports Entertainment destinations that is designed for people to spend days (not merely hours) and can cater to all age groups and backgrounds. You’ll score the winning goal, see the new Avengers movie, go bowling or sing karaoke and buy the latest fashion trends – all in one place. We will provide families in Atlanta, in the Southeast and across the country one of the most unique and fun experiences ever.
TNJ.com: Why do you describe your firm as a community and economic firm?
Vaughn D. Irons: We are a community and economic development firm because we focus on improving the community environment and the lives of people, all at the same time. Our projects take into consideration the psychology behind the key decisions of development and placemaking. We are different than other for-profit development firms as we seek to restore communities to their rightful prominence, rebuild the structures that have been neglected and renew the lives of the people who experience our development projects as residents, patrons or visitors.
TNJ.com: What have been your biggest challenges in continuing to grow your business?
Vaughn D. Irons: The biggest challenge is identifying talent and focusing people on the right things. Unfortunately, today the talent pool hasn’t improved. People have simply gotten better at interviewing. So I spend a lot of energy trying to identify entrepreneurial talent and not just employees/collaborators who think they’ve accomplished something by just showing up. I also find that often I see a greater potential in a person than they see in themselves.
From time-to-time, I will turn down opportunities because I cannot find the pool of professionals that would allow me to expand beyond the team we have in place. So working to identify, develop and manage people is my biggest challenge as we grow the business.
TNJ.com: Having been in business for so long, what advice would you give new entrepreneurs?
Vaughn D. Irons: The advice I would share with new entrepreneurs is two-fold. First, I would tell them to work for or with someone who does what you want to do today. An idea is not enough to succeed. You need to continue to work on your craft, build your network, add experience and identify where the resources exist. You can’t do that from your living room. You have to do that by being in the practice of what you are seeking to do. Second, I’d tell them to follow their inner-voice over all others. Every big mistake I’ve made in my career came when I was listening to someone else and not to myself. I’m not saying don’t listen to other people. It is important that you receive input from multiple sources when you’re making decisions. BUT, once you’ve done that and it’s time to move forward, you must allow your inner-voice to be the one that prevails.
TNJ.com: What’s next?
Vaughn D. Irons: The most important thing I’m working on now is moving Atlanta Sports City and the Stonecrest Mall development efforts forward. It’s so important to my team and the community we’re working in that we get the project right. We are expecting our first tournaments before the end of 2018 and there is a lot of work left to be done. Our integration of technology is something I’m looking forward to as well. For this project, we’re not just building a sports complex; we are procuring an experience. Spectators no longer want to watch sports, and shoppers don’t want to just sift through racks. They want to interact and be a part of the action, be a part of something special. They want to have a true experience and create memories. Our efforts to incorporate social media into the fabric of the mall and sports venues will be unique. If a 14-year-old hits their first home run or scores a double-double, those highlights will be displayed, in real time LIVE action throughout the facilities.
Families will be able to download those moments almost immediately and post them for friends and family to see. We think the consumer is looking for experience, the ability to share those moments and to savor the memories. Our project is designed to provide that and so much more!