Inside Track: A self-described dreamer lands her dream job in an urban setting
2001 GVSU grad helps create community links.
She readily admits that she is a lifelong dreamer and a learner who wants to be as fully involved as possible with those around her.
As director of community development for 616 Development, Monica Clark devotedly serves as the bridge between the firm’s urban development arm and its property management brand, 616 Lofts — where she oversees all operations and communications with its residents and the larger downtown community.
Clark officially joined 616 two years ago after spending the previous year working with the company’s founder, Derek Coppess, on various projects while she was employed at a local property management firm that specialized in residential real estate. She considers joining 616 as the biggest break in her interesting career, and not just in a professional sense.
“I really feel I was given an opportunity with the group I’m with now to not only learn, understand and operate out of my strengths, but to also grow and develop them into what I do and to develop myself. Having that being incorporated into a job is unbelievable. I think it’s really helped me fulfill a dream of having a career and building my confidence to be able to grow into a role of leadership, which I’ve been able to do. It’s been unbelievable for me,” she said.
“The bigger piece is that, in my opinion, it has developed into more of a personal breakthrough, where I came to understand that I’m not defined by my job or my family life or my spiritual life. But it’s all in one and it’s my lifestyle and who I am. It’s been a really great experience for me.”
Clark graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2001 with a degree in hospitality and tourism management. “I love hotels. I love people and the customer service,” she said. So right out of college she went to work as a sales manager for Residences by Marriott. “Even to this day, I do feel my roots are in hospitality, compared to what I do.”
After she checked out of Marriott, Clark joined a local firm where she managed properties, got involved in leasing transactions, and earned her broker’s license. Clark then spent time working with an Ottawa County developer, a position that provided her with valuable insights into acquiring property and the development process that follows a purchase. “I really developed a passion for how everything in the real estate world gets put together,” she said.
Then she and her husband, Matthew, moved to Florida for a few years to become part of a family business. But they both missed the area and came back here. When Clark returned she joined that residential property management firm, which just happened to be located downtown.
It also happened to be the job that became instrumental to Clark’s current position. It placed her in an urban setting, allowed her to use her hospitality skills in relating to residents, and kept her real-estate flame burning brightly. “I loved how it all came together,” she said.
“Also at that point, I started noticing how fast people were moving to downtown, specifically young professionals and how excited they were to be a part of something. And I developed some great relationships with residents moving downtown and started asking them questions about why they wanted to be here and what they were looking for,” she added.
“And incidentally, one of those individuals happened to be Derek Coppess.”
Coppess and Clark continued to talk, with much of the discussion centering on urban living and how downtowns can be made into communities of their own by connecting residents to each other and letting them build the foundations. She worked with Coppess on a part-time basis in 2010 and a year later Clark joined 616 to direct the firm’s community development.
Monica and Matthew have been married for nearly a decade. He has been a Kent County Sheriff’s deputy for the past 11 years and currently works in the correctional facility’s re-entry program. The Clarks met while both were working out at a local gym and they dated for two years before they got married.
They live in Grand Rapids and have three children. Zachary is the oldest at 7. Eli is 4 and Zoey is the youngest at 2 years old. “This is our first year where we started in the world of sports for the kids. So we’ve done our share of packing the kids in the car and going to baseball games because Zachary is playing baseball with Grand Rapids Parks and Rec,” she said.
“It’s been a blast and he has had a fun time doing that. The younger kids love to go and watch and wander around.”
When Clark isn’t working, or writing a blog for grbj.com, she reads. But it’s reading done with a definite purpose, one that allows her to learn more about herself and what she does.
“I’m a dreamer, 100 percent. So whatever that means, at whatever point I’ve been in my life, I’m always thinking about something,” she said. “I love to learn more about focusing on urbanization and growth and connecting. So a lot of my reading has to do with that; maybe finding out how we can do that in our company and with what we’re doing.”
Clark noted that being a member of the 616 tribe has let her be who she wants to be; that constant dreamer and learner. “When I said that I’ve been allowed to operate out of my strengths, one of my strengths is futuristic. The way that I’ve learned to understand that strength and what that means to me is that I love to have a vision of things to come and what can be, and really focus on how we can get there,” she said.
“So I think that allows me to use my futuristic strength and to be and to dream, and not just sit at a desk and do the same thing from Day One to the next day. I’m always thinking how do we become better, how do we connect, how do we offer this amazing level of customer service, how do we connect our residents with community and make them understand what Grand Rapids is?
“There are no limits in creating this and that is just a blast in having that ability,” she said.
The kids and all of 616’s developments have kept Clark busy this past year so she hasn’t found the time yet to get more involved in community activities, but she plans to do just that in the near future. In fact, she told the Business Journal that she was “anxious” to get going on that over the next year.
“I am really looking forward to getting more involved in some of the great organizations downtown Grand Rapids has. So I have been spending a lot of time connecting with different groups learning what their goals are and just trying to align myself to add value where I can, to really be a part of the community,” she said.
“I love connecting, networking and meeting people because, ultimately, that is what community is, which is what we’re all about. So my main focus for the upcoming year is to become more involved with community organizations.”