David R. Nelson


David Robert Nelson is the president and chief executive officer of The Nelson Companies Incorporated, a real estate development firm he founded in 1970.  Initially the company built and sold single family houses, but within six months after the company was founded they started developing real estate and also started a general contracting business.  From 1970 through 2000 they developed real estate for themselves and others as well as operated as general contractors, developers, managers and brokers through a series of affiliated companies.  For third parties they built apartment communities, an enclosed mall, open shopping centers, movie theaters, office buildings, warehouses, churches, temples and schools as well as a number of facilities for the State of Michigan.  During this same period of time they also developed rental apartments, attached condominium townhouses, single family lots and single family houses for sale as well as specialty, community and mixed-use retail developments for their own account.  Over the years the company has built, developed, owned, leased and sold or managed well over $500 million in real state developments in Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Hawaii.

In 2000, the company decided to only develop real estate and manage developments for its own account.  This slowed the pace of development, but during that period they still managed to develop new and exciting projects including shopping centers, a hotel, business park and industrial buildings in Michigan and Hawaii.


Besides his business interests, Mr. Nelson is also involved in philanthropy.  He is a Director Emeritus of the Board of Directors of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and a member of its Finance Committee.  He is also Director Emeritus and a former member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors as well as co-chairman of the Public Policy Committee and co-chairman of the Development Committee of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion (MRDI).  He is a past board member of MRDI’s predecessor organization the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).  In addition, he is a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Urban Land Institute’s Michigan Council.

Mr. Nelson has served on other non-profit boards over the past 45 years.  He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees as well as well as the chairman of the Real Estate Committee of the Cheshire Academy, a private school he attended in Cheshire, Connecticut and a board member of the Troy Foundation.

Lecturing and Writing

From the mid-seventies through the early part of this century Mr. Nelson wrote numerous articles as well as chapters of books on real estate development.  He also lectured at several universities and at national and international ULI conferences.

The David Robert and Sylvia Jean Nelson Foundation for Arts and Letters

In 2005 Mr. Nelson and his wife endowed the David Robert and Sylvia Jean Nelson Foundation for Arts and Letters. The foundation’s primary mission is to provide talented students financial assistance so they may continue their studies at the university level in visual, performing and literary arts.  The “Nelson Scholarships” have been provided to students at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, the College for Creative Studies and the Detroit Public Schools’ Detroit School of Arts as well as funded the Artist in Residence program at Children’s Hospital, supplied art supplies for the COTS program and funded educational programs at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Membership in Industry Organizations

Mr. Nelson has been a member of ICSC for nearly 30 years and the Washington D.C. based Urban Land Institute – ULI for 40 years.  While a member of the ULI he chaired one of the Retail/Commercial Product Councils for 3 years and in 2004, he became a governor of the Washington D.C. based ULI Foundation – an international group of developers, architects, planners, financiers and other real estate professionals. He is also a past member of the National Home Builders Association and the Michigan Home Builders Association which after being a member for 42 years he retired from the organization in 2012.


Mr. Nelson is a licensed Master Builder and a licensed real estate broker in the state of Michigan for the past 47 years.


Mr. Nelson is a graduate of the University of Michigan where he received his Bachelor of Science in Design degree from its Architecture and Design School in 1965.  He is also a graduate of Wayne State University’s Law School where he earned his Juris Doctorate degree in 1968.