A Devoted Developer

Mark Irvin, commercial real estate developer and
Rio Nuevo Board member, also is well-known for
his community involvement. Photo by James Patrick.

Mark Irvin never planned to carve out a career in Tucson...
The Dallas-raised commercial real estate developer initially landed in the Old Pueblo on a temporary basis. Over the course of visits to his mother, who retired here in the 1980s, he got involved in a handful of commercial real estate development projects — but it wasn’t until 1986 that he decided to permanently relocate. “Despite all of my friends telling me I was crazy,” he adds with a laugh.  

Irvin’s Tucson real estate career almost ended as soon as it began, however. Just as he made the shift from part-time to a full-time resident, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 passed — a Reagan-era piece of legislation with devastating effects on Tucson’s commercial real estate development industry. “It was at that point that I had to make a decision: what was I going to do?” Irvin reflects. “Was I going to stay in Tucson and try to figure out the next chapter of my life, given it probably wasn’t going to be in real estate development, or was I going to run back to Dallas?” Ultimately, he couldn’t bring himself to leave. “I came out here for a reason. I fell in love with Tucson.”

In the late 1980s, Irvin was a cofounder and partner with Properties for Industry (now known as PICOR); eight years later, he left PICOR in order to found his own company, Mark Irvin Commercial Real Estate Services. “This allowed me to focus on what we did best: office, medical and investment real estate.”

Today, this boutique firm is the only real estate development company in Tucson to focus solely on office, medical and investment properties. Irvin, in fact, is the lone office and medical specialist in town to hold dual designations as both a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) and Office Specialist with the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR). His expertise, combined with his commitment to providing full-service attention to his clients and his keen eye for development opportunities, has led his company to establish a reputation as one of Tucson’s most successful commercial real estate brokerage firms. A further key to Irvin’s success: the work of his wife and business partner, Janine Irvin. “She’s an amazing real estate broker in her own right. Whenever she steps in and works with a client of mine, I quickly become old whats-his-name,” he admits.

But anyone familiar with Mark Irvin knows that his tireless work in the Tucson community doesn’t end with Mark Irvin Commercial Real Estate Services. “I have to continuously remind people that I actually do have a real estate practice,” he says when asked about his various side projects. Take, for example, his work with Rio Nuevo, a special tax district that works in conjunction with the city to revitalize downtown and foster citywide economic development. Irvin has been on the board for eight years — he is the longest tenured board member — and serves as an advisor for myriad construction projects on the horizon, which include a potential 300-foot-tall office building downtown and numerous hotels. “I have a tendency to look at a site and ask: what is that site allowed to do?” he says. “If we can go 300 feet, let’s go 300 feet.”

Irvin notes that his work with Rio Nuevo and the continuing transformation of downtown have also shifted his perspective on the strength and tenacity of the Tucson community. “I think the single biggest change that’s occurred since I’ve been here is that in the last five years, we’ve turned the corner — we’re now a community that really does work well together,” he says. And teamwork is critical to the projects he chooses to undertake, too. “I always grab a friend. Because I can do a lot better working in a group than I can trying to do something by myself.”

A devotion to facilitating such collaboration, in fact, seems to be Irvin’s approach to all that he does. In addition to his role as Vice Chair/Secretary on the Rio Nuevo board, he is an established presence on a list of philanthropic organizations so long that one would be forgiven for wondering if he has any time left to sleep. Irvin has been on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson since 1991; he is currently an emeritus board member. Throughout his decades of involvement, he has helped to oversee the construction and/or renovation of all six clubhouses, and he even served a brief stint as interim C.E.O. In 2016, he was awarded the National Service to Youth Award for his 25 years with the organization.  

Additionally, he has served on the board of the Pima Community College Foundation, the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross and the Rotary Club of Tucson. He’s also an Emeritus Honorary Commander for the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as well as one of the co-founders of the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl — all while serving on the board of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce! In 2011, he was even recognized by President Barak Obama with a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service.

Irvin’s commitment to community service, much like his professional history, seems to be the result of a singular mixture of diligence, teamwork, and an openness to every opportunity that comes his way. “I never really knew that I had a choice,” he explains. He adds that growing up, he had a grandmother who urged him: “‘Go out and write your own obituary. And then go live it.’ To me, this means: try to find a way to be impactful.”