02/18/2021 | by

Nareit’s REITwise: 2021 Law, Accounting & Finance Conference provides attendees with the opportunity to learn about the latest developments impacting legal, financial, accounting, and tax professionals in the REIT and publicly traded real estate industry. The conference will be held virtually on March 23-25, and attendees will have the opportunity earn CPE/CLE credits.

Donna Wagner, EVP, Tax at JBG SMITH (NYSE: JBGS), is one of four program directors this year. She will be moderating the Emerging Tax Issues session that will cover the tax implications of Smart Cities, lease modifications and Section 467 loans, and much more. View the latest agenda here for a complete list of sessions.

As a 15-time REITwise attendee, Wagner spoke highly of the conference. “I think this is one of the best conferences that anybody in our industry—in the tax, accounting, legal purview of REITs—hosts. This is a must-attend event. There’s so much great knowledge that we all share,” she said. Wagner looks ahead at top tax issues to watch in 2021 and shares advice for first-time REITwise attendees.

What are the most important tax, law, finance, and accounting issues that you’re watching in 2021?

I’m watching what the Biden administration might change or pass in tax legislation or through the regulatory process. His tax plan includes non-specific reference to “eliminating certain real estate industry tax provisions,” which creates uncertainty for all of us.

Separately—and specific to my role at JBG SMITH—I’m particularly focused on issues related to rents from retail tenants, dealing with all loan modifications, and rent deferral programs. I’m working with our business teams to make sure that we’re all aligned and getting the best outcome for everybody, including our tenants.

What advice would you give first-time REITwise attendees?

In a normal year, I would say ‘network, network, network.’ Meet people, meet your counterparts, and exchange email addresses. There is nothing better than when a question comes up, and you can say ‘Oh I know John Smith at that residential REIT who dealt with this issue.’ How we approach networking in the virtual conference environment will be different but making that happen is extremely important.

From a tax perspective, I was in awe my first year at REITwise during the Government Relations Committee meeting. Watching this elite panel talking about molding and drafting the future of tax law was just incredibly impressive to me. Even now, my priority is attending the Government Relations Committee meeting.

What are you looking forward to most this year? Are there any sessions you’re particularly excited about?

I’m excited about the “Leveraging Technology to Drive Shareholder and Stakeholder Value” session. There’s going to be a whole business discussion around Smart Cities, and JBG SMITH’s EVP of Strategic Innovation & Research, Evan Regan-Levine, will be discussing our own smart city initiatives—including the recent acquisition of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which is part of our broader initiative to establish National Landing, home to Amazon’s HQ2 development, as one of the country’s first 5G enabled cities. My session on Emerging Tax Issues is immediately following and will cover the REIT tax consequences of the Smart City initiatives.

Lastly, I never miss the State of the Capital Markets session since that is such an important piece of the puzzle. If I don’t know what’s going on in the business world, I can’t do tax planning, so that’s another really important session for everybody to attend—whether your focus is accounting, legal or tax.

As a REIT executive during COVID-19, what have been the biggest challenges over the last year?

I think the biggest challenge has been implementing a different management style—keeping everybody’s spirits up and keeping everybody engaged. When we’re in person, there are separate daily interactions so you know where to focus when it comes to employee engagement, but in a remote setting it has to be much more intentional.

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