Karen McShea

About a dozen Lowell girls, ages 12-14, are about to get an education in real estate. They’ll learn about leasing, engineering, construction, branding and marketing – all the fundamentals, from a building’s concept to completion.

With any luck, they’ll catch a spark of passion for the industry, too.

Karen McShea, who is hosting the camp with nonprofit Girls Inc. Lowell, has followed that passion from Massachusetts to development projects in Puerto Rico, Colombia, Latvia and elsewhere.

Now as vice president and director of real estate development at Lupoli Cos., she has taken a leading role in Lowell’s Thorndike Exchange project, a mixed-use development intended to inject new life into the neighborhood. These projects aren’t just bricks and mortar, she said.

The built environment does much more than house people — it changes how the community functions in a fundamental way. McShea added that it’s been hugely rewarding to participate in these types of transformations, particularly where they help renew under-used urban spaces.

“I get to see blank canvases become a living, breathing part of the community,” McShea said.

Between getting her start at real estate services firm Spaulding & Slye and working at Lupoli Cos., she worked on projects such as the Puerto Rico Convention Center District, the revitalization of the San Juan waterfront, and the Fan Pier development in Boston, in addition to international projects. She also took the opportunity in the 1990s to work as an economic attaché with the U.S. embassy in Moscow, shaping policy on the privatization of real estate there.

Those international projects demonstrate just how brilliant a professional McShea is, said her friend and former colleague Polly Bryson, a partner at Terra Nova Partners. Take her work in Puerto Rico: The ability to piece together massive real estate projects required coordinating with local government officials, landholders, prospective investors and other parties. That shows an uncommon level of skill, Bryson said.

“She has this rare talent of being a visionary and a manager who can run really complex projects with precision – it’s rare to find both those qualities in the same person,” she said.

McShea firmly believes in keeping the big picture in mind, as well as including the voices of everyone with a stake in the project. Her time at Spaulding & Slye, a vertically integrated real estate firm, was a great education in weaving together all the aspects of real estate.

Now she’s hoping to pass along some of that education to the girls of Lowell as they meet in the newly opened Thorndike Exchange Experience Center.

“I had great mentors when I got into this business,” she said. “I’d like to carry that forward.”

Karen McShea

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min