The wonderful changes noted in Portland’s skyline are the result of Tim O’Brien’s ability to foster professional and equitable collaborations with the city’s finest landowners, developers, architects and designers.

-Michael Knapp

“Burn the ships,” ordered Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador, to his crew in 1859. That’s good advice for entrepreneurs today, as national real estate coach Travis Carson has pointed out. When you’re starting a company, you must be fully engaged in your future, pouring your heart and soul into building your dream. Almost 20 years ago, I became involved with helping commercial real estate clients realize their dreams. After spending time at a national brokerage company for a few years, I became a founding partner in HFO Investment Real Estate, which grew into one of the most successful brokerage firms in the Portland market over the 15 years in which I was involved. But I wanted to find a way of better serving multi-family owners and investors. So in 2013, I took a big entrepreneurial step. Relinquishing my role and shares in HFO, I formed Urban Asset Advisors (UAA). We acquire and develop urban properties that benefit our community, the environment, and our financial partners. And I’ve never looked back.UAA 003 small

As someone who was born and raised here, it’s exciting for me to watch and to now be involved as Portland’s urban core comes into its own. This is a pivotal time in our emergence as a city with 24-hour amenities. The transformation is drawing people to high-energy neighborhoods that offer nice restaurants and high-quality groceries. My passion for real estate for the better part of 20 years has led to working with metro area owners of both existing apartments as well as owners of prime real estate land — mostly within a two-mile radius of downtown and The Pearl. It is the relationship with these people and either helping them develop a project on land that has been in their family for generations or just purchasing their land and transforming it into something that they and the community can be proud of.

It’s a gift to me, having the chance to contribute some authenticity, creativity and design to this amazing city’s fabric of growth.

20150813_ARA_Lower_Burnside_194924I’ll be the first to admit my job is a challenge — one that I enjoy waking up to meet every day. I’m like the conductor of an orchestra, making sure our great subcontractors and vendors are moving a project in the right direction. Usability studies, project costs and inflation can be such moving targets, and they contribute to what we half-jokingly call the “planning fallacy.” That’s why our company motto is “Under-Promise and Over-Deliver.” We’re probably more collaborative with our clients, because a good percentage of UAA’s projects come from introductions to a current landowner who chooses to contribute the land and stay in the project. A lot of these properties are super well located, most all are under-utilized, and many have been in families for generations. Our clients truly have a personal stake in Portland’s growth. It’s not just about making the biggest profit off their land; it’s about being a catalyst for the community’s growth.


On our Pearl District project, for instance, the owners are actively involved; the architect is one of the landowners. They show up at the construction and predevelopment meetings. They have a voice, and they care, which is pretty rare. I’m proud that UAA can provide a sense of collaboration, transparency and easiness of working together. My dream was to make the urban development process fun, rewarding and meaningful. “Burn your ships!” is the best advice I ever got.

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