2020: A Year in Review

As 2020 comes to a close, we’re taking this moment to reflect and look back on all that’s happened through this unexpected, unprecedented year. From our team, to our projects to Optima as a whole, we’ve learned, grown and thrived. Here are just a few of the highlights:

7180 Optima Kierland, winner of the Outstanding Property Award London for Winner in Architectural Design, surpassed its 85% sold milestone.
7180 Optima Kierland, winner of the Outstanding Property Award London for Winner in Architectural Design, surpassed its 85% sold milestone.

Projects and Properties

This was a big year of growth for us with many exciting projects. In Arizona, we launched the lease-up of the new 7140 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments, the second apartment tower within the Optima Kierland development. Also within Optima Kierland, 7180 Optima Kierland surpassed its 85% sold milestone.

And in Chicago, our portfolio expanded with the groundbreaking of Optima Lakeview and the approval of Optima Wilmette, two projects we look forward to making future strides with in the coming year. 


We were honored to win thirteen awards this year. Our architecture and design were acknowledged with the AIA Chicago Design Excellence Awards for Distinguished Building (Whale Bay House) and the Outstanding Property Award London for Winner in Architectural Design four times over (Whale Bay House, Arizona Courtyard House, 7180 Optima Kierland and Optima Sonoran Village).

Our property management team was recognized with the Best Community & Management Team Tribute Award by the Arizona Multihousing Association.

Meanwhile, our corporate culture was acknowledged with the award for Crain’s Chicago Business Best Places to Work 2020, and AZCentral Top Companies 2020.

To see the full 2020 lineup, visit our awards page.  


Throughout the year, we rallied to keep our culture thriving and to ensure our team stayed more connected than ever. We launched our Be Well | Work Well initiative, made up of the Be Well | Work Well Newsletter and new Wellness page within our company intranet , focused on keeping our team well: mentally, emotionally, socially and physically.

Two kids pose with their jack-o-lanterns

We created a new normal and found ways to have fun together, even while apart, through virtual trivia, virtual happy hours supplying cocktail kits and our dueling pianos virtual holiday party. We brought families into the fun, too, with our innovative “Optima Community Garden,” sending seed packages for team members to plant in their home gardens, and with our pumpkin carving contests, sending supplies and holding voting to determine a winner. 

We can’t thank our leadership, team members and communities enough for rising to the occasion and making this year special. Going into 2021, we’re excited to continue innovating, growing and achieving together.

Team Member Spotlight: Heather Williams

The first time Heather Williams saw an Optima building, she was awestruck. A lifelong Arizona resident, Heather was fascinated by the hanging plants and Modernist architecture that was so different from anything else in the desert and was immediately intrigued. After doing some research, she found that the promises and values at Optima were something she wanted to be a part of. Heather joined our team in 2017 with the opening of the first tower at Optima Kierland Center. Fast-forward to 2020, Heather is now the General Manager at Optima Kierland Apartments and runs the entire property, orchestrating details both large and small (including providing a five-star resident experience and hosting some spectacular Super Bowl parties). We sat down with Heather to talk about her journey and how her experience at Optima has evolved since she first saw our buildings. 

Tell us a bit about your background and the role you play at Optima.

I’ve had a really varied background ranging from marketing to insurance to credit card processing, but they all encompassed high levels of customer service and creating a positive experience for the client. In my role as General Manager, I’ve had to become fluent in all parts of our business operations, so it’s been beneficial to pull from my experience in different industries. The role I’m in now at Optima gives me the opportunity to collaborate with different departments within our organization, so I’m constantly able to learn from some of the brightest minds and best problem solvers I’ve ever encountered. 

What drew you to Optima initially, and what’s kept you working there?

Everything about Optima speaks “exceptional”. I strive to give my best in everything I do and I’m so fulfilled at Optima because I know that all of my colleagues also give their best. When you get the opportunity to work with people who are solution-oriented, genuine and collaborative, a lot of barriers start to come down and you can achieve some pretty incredible things. We have a wealth of resources and communications tools at Optima, so it’s always easy to know what the company’s goals are and what we are trying to accomplish and it’s really inspiring to know you are a part of something bigger than yourself. 

How do you view the concept of community at Optima? How might it differ from other properties/buildings?

The attention to detail in Optima buildings is unparalleled. Everything about the way they are designed lends to creating an experience of living well and that has a huge impact on the way people interact with one another. When people choose Optima, they are choosing a lifestyle and we see a lot of connections with people formed as a result. The wealth of amenities in Optima communities inspire our residents to get out and use these spaces as an extension of their homes and they really get to know their neighbors as a result. We’ve seen so many friendships formed and even a wedding from the relationships people are able to make with one another here! 

Optima Kierland Apartments where Heather Williams is General Manager
Optima Kierland Apartments where Heather Williams is General Manager

Optima has a distinct set of values that really differentiates it from other companies. Which values really speak to the work you’ve done at Optima?

When making decisions, I always have one particular core value in mind – do the right thing even when it’s hard. In our industry, a lot of decisions are bottom-lined and based on budgets. We’re owner managed, so our decisions are not always financially-driven. Everyone at Optima just wants to do right by people. I know without a doubt that our goal on our Property Management team is to create the best possible experience for those who visit and live in our communities, so I try to always view the perspective of the person I’m working with and make the decision to do the right thing, even if that means it creates more work or is more challenging. 

I’m also really inspired by the concept that “we all create” and I feel that every day. I’ve seen ideas at Optima come from all corners and be implemented in record time. It’s a really empowering feeling to know I don’t just work for a company, I’m an active part of it and I can impact how we grow and move forward. 

Our Beliefs: Passion for Creating

Our beliefs are the principles that unite us, that inspire us each and every day to work toward a shared vision. One of those beliefs passion for creating directly addresses the drive that propels us forward each day. We do what we do because we love great design, and believe in the power of great design to inspire awe and wonder. 

What does passion for creating look like? At Optima, we all create. Our culture is marked by openness and inclusiveness; we value collaboration and partnerships. More than just all creating, we create together.

One of our construction team members put it best when stating: “We all pitch in and help one another. If one of us has a problem, we all have a problem and will work together to find an answer.” Collaboration is inherent in creation, and it’s what pushes the boundaries of what we do and how we discover new ways of innovating. 

Recognizing that we achieve more together drives our desire to be part of a common purpose, to share knowledge and to achieve collectively. Everyone has a voice; ideas can come from anywhere and can be shared across teams in real time. We are able to look at every angle, own every detail and relish contribution from everyone. 

Our Beliefs: Freedom to Innovate

At Optima, all aspects of our work are deeply saturated by the passion and values instilled in Our Beliefs. Our team unifies around these beliefs, enabling us to create more collaboratively, to communicate more effectively and to be collectively inspired by a shared vision. One belief — freedom to innovate — speaks to the degrees of freedom that we enjoy, allowing us to continually instill our work with inventive thinking and approaches.

As a vertically-integrated business, we serve as the owner, the architect, the general contractor, the developer, and property manager, allowing us to keep our hands on all parts of the process. With a full-throttle, approach to every aspect of building, from inception to execution, inherently we hold unique degrees of freedom and adaptability.

7160 Optima Kierland
7160 Optima Kierland

Take when we were building 7160 Optima Kierland, the first tower of Optima Kierland Apartments, for example: we were able to shift on a dime and seize opportunity when it was presented. At the time of construction, we identified a rapid increase in market demand for three-bedroom units and quickly adapted mid-build, creating three-bedroom units, even after concrete had been poured.

As project architect, we modified plans and ensured no adverse cost impact resulted, coordinating with our design team maintaining bathrooms and shafts in their original location. As general contractor for the project, we engaged quick responses from partners without affecting project delivery. 

Each and every day we make our decisions based on what we believe is right, without compromising our vision. The freedom to innovate is at the core of this decision making process — driving our work each and every day to be better, more efficient and more inventive.

Our Beliefs: Lasting Impact

As part of our culture at Optima, our team is aligned around a set of beliefs that provides unity, clarity and meaning to the work we do everyday. One belief — committed to lasting impact — addresses our dedication to design solutions that raise the bar, withstanding the aesthetic test of time to leave a positive, lasting impact on people and the built environment that surrounds them.

From our earliest days, we have approached our work with this mindset. Our first project was in 1978 — a condominium complex at South Kenwood Avenue and East 54th Street in Hyde Park. We acquired the in-fill property at auction, and built six townhouses using Chicago common brick (they are still standing and occupied today). This project established a throughline that stays with us to this day, as we continue to pursue each project with the same intention, inspired by the people who live in and around them. 

Interior of South Kenwood and East 54th Street
Interior of South Kenwood and East 54th Street

As a natural outgrowth of our focus on people and the places they inhabit, we pay particular attention to how interior space is designed and experienced. Whether it’s our multi-family residences or single family homes, each is outfitted with a multitude of amenities, outdoor spaces and thoughtful design. We also deliberately curate the commercial spaces within our multi-family properties to benefit our residents, tailoring the selection of retailers to include restaurants & juice bars, schools, veterinary services or health & wellness spaces that align with the mix of residents and their needs. 

Our passion for buildings that last also translates into how our projects impact our earth. From LEED and IgCC certifications to conscious materials, we design with eco friendly functionality in mind. In building Relic Rock, we utilized design and materials to reduce the need for electricity and heat, lowering the building’s environmental burden. As we continue to grow in our practices, we will continue to implement more conscious design to ensure that our buildings work harmoniously with the surrounding nature.

Courtyard Fountain “Cooling Tower” at Relic Rock.
Courtyard Fountain “Cooling Tower” at Relic Rock.

Through each project and with each detail large or small, we strive to improve our communities and the lives of our residents for years to come. Stay tuned for more features on our beliefs as we dive deeper on what makes Optima function and thrive.

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Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL

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