Every morning when Tom Veje gets ready for work, he has a choice to make. Among the rest of his attire are eight sets of cufflinks, all gifts from Caruso CEO and real estate mogul Rick Caruso, highlighting the successful completion of some of the company’s most high-profile construction projects.
Veje has overseen construction for properties that don’t just occupy their spaces; they are extensions of neighborhoods and become intertwined with the communities they serve. The Grove and Americana At Brand, for example, are two of the country’s most beloved and visited shopping centers in the country. According to Green Street Advisors, Caruso properties consistently outperform traditional shopping destinations based on productivity and sales per square foot. Its flagship property, The Grove, was ranked second on Fortune’s list of the top 10 highest sales-generating shopping centers in the country.
Each set of cufflinks Veje earned is styled with a brand logo of its respective project, serving as a memento of Caruso’s relentless commitment to be the last word in luxury construction. Veje makes a decision and gets on with his day.
For 10 of the past 18 years at Caruso, the EVP of construction has helmed construction projects for one of the largest privately held real estate companies in the US. “We always have projects in the pipeline, but we get to be selective about them to really focus on the desired outcome,” Veje says. “I’m not sure that working at any other development company could afford me the level of creativity and autonomy I have here because everything we do is so unique.”
Part of Veje’s expertise comes by way of having not dug so deep that he misses the forest for the trees. “I’m glad I never became a specialist, because I’ve developed a broad skill set and base of resources that allow me to be successful whether we are building high-rises or residential properties,” the EVP explains. “That’s especially important here because every project we do is a blank slate, a clean sheet of paper. We don’t assume the project we’ve done before informs what we do in the future.”
The one constant, Veje says, is maintaining the relationships that are imperative to the EVP having never missed a schedule in his building career. “Everything from our contractors and architects to our subcontractors are vital because so much of the work we do requires a high level of craftsmanship that not many companies have. This ability to define our projects through the lens of design is what differentiates Caruso from so many and makes us capable of delivering true value,” Veje explains. “I have such enormous gratitude for our partners, who ensure that we deliver on the three pillars that ground our business: fiscal responsibility, delivering the highest quality, and staying on schedule.” Caruso’s most recently completed projects appear to be the pinnacle of these finely tuned partnerships.
His partners agree. Travis Roy, vice president of business development for Taft Electric, speaks highly of his longtime work with Veje. “Taft’s experiences with Tom extend back 20 years; the Caruso design concepts foster unimaginable ability to create an unparalleled retail experience, which Tom is instrumental in executing,” Roy says. “To say each project is unique and challenging would be an understatement, but the end result speaks for itself. We are honored to work with Tom and the entire Caruso team, and we look forward to the next 20 years.”
Likewise, Tutor Perini’s former EVP Craig Shaw, who retired in 2019 and now works there as a consultant, is proud of some of the most captivating projects that the general contracting group has partnered with Caruso on to bring to life. “Tutor Perini Corporation collaborated with Tom Veje on the Palisades Village and Miramar Beach Resort projects,” Shaw explains. “He was a pleasure to work with and a consummate professional. His business style and attention to detail were instrumental in the success of both projects, despite extremely aggressive schedules and complex construction challenges.”
Despite those hurtles, Caruso and its vendors were able to offer the communities who enjoy these two spaces an unparalleled experience.
Measuring only three acres, Caruso’s Palisades Village is a bespoke walkable village home to more than 40 uniquely curated boutiques, entertainment, and fresh food experiences. Since its opening in fall 2018, the property has brought to Pacific Palisades a collection of specialty retailers ranging from brick-and-mortar ventures that are unique to the community to sought-after fashion labels, as well as tenants who have found a home for their first West Coast outpost.
Shaped over the past several years in close dialogue with the residents of the community, the 125,000-square-foot development was uniquely designed to seamlessly blend into the surrounding neighborhood, giving the look of a local town center that grew organically and matured over time. True to Caruso’s commitment to offering unparalleled guest experiences, Palisades Village is home to an extensive selection of dining venues—including the highly anticipated restoration of the historic Bay Theater—a specialty grocer, concierge service, a community room, and a beautifully landscaped green space.
A park, an underground valet parking garage, a bike-share program, and space for 42 businesses comprise what Veje says was Rick Caruso’s vision for a “coastal beachside environment that you might find on the East Coast.” The construction head says varied and unique architectural styles were employed by the in-house design team so as to make the shopping center that appeared over months look as if it had been gradually added to over decades.
The choice of tenants was also given intense scrutiny. “Over the last 30 years, little downtown districts have been destroyed by the big box stores, which in turn have been crushed by online retailers,” Veje says. “We decided to approach online retailers and partner with them for first or second versions of brick-and-mortar stores that almost function like showrooms. You can go there, try out or on a product, buy it then and there, or go home and order it.”
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As for the dining choices, Veje says local restaurateurs were given priority over national chains, ensuring the local community, who had significant and continued input into the shopping center development, felt more connected to the entire experience.
Since opening in 2018, there has been very little tenant turnover and the apartments that sit atop the shopping center command the highest rent in Pacific Palisades, a community already well known for its affluence. Palisades Village sits across from homes whose starting prices are somewhere around $3 million.
Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito
Caruso’s first hotel endeavor has set a standard that will be hard to top. The 161-suite and bungalow beach resort lies 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles on 16 acres of beachfront property. The main building of the hotel feels like a manor house that one of the great railroad titans of the 1800s may have built as a retreat from the world, and that feeling has been maintained and embellished. The entryway leads to a foyer and a minimal reception area, with a living room bar just steps away. A grand ballroom, spa, and main restaurant also sit on the main floor, with luxury suites on the second.
The bungalows and cottages on the estate are modeled after those that may have been built over time as the owner’s family and friends circle grew, and Veje says those cottages at Miramar have now been rented out for weeks, months, or the entire summer by families looking for an optimal summer getaway.
“Everything about this place just feels right and comfortable,” Veje says, “to the extent that the community around it is probably its biggest customer. The locals come for drinks or food over and over again and treat it like their traditional neighborhood district.”
Miramar is truly one of those locations where the pictures say it all. Nothing needs to be left to the imagination, because anything a guest could want in an experience has been accounted for.
There is a contentment and excitement in Veje’s voice as he explains these projects as well as the team to which he credits such a long tenure at Caruso. “I’ve got the sickness, and I’ve had it in my blood for as long as I can remember,” the EVP jokes. “I just love everything about the development, design, and construction process. Our team has a culture of trust and openness that allows us to tackle problems head-on when they arise. The critical factor is our team’s ability to come together to overcome any problems.”
And lastly, over 18 years, Veje says the privilege of getting to build such high-profile properties lies first and foremost with his CEO. “Rick has given me the chance to have this career,” Veje says frankly. “I’ve gotten to do things that, at the heart of it, nobody else in this business gets the opportunity to do.”