Developers are Our Friends

John Schneider: the brains and determination behind the Streetcar. Nobody knows more about transportation issues than John. He led the way on this issue as far back as the ballot initiative for a comprehensive system in 2002 and over the years often joked he would never see rail transit in Cincinnati in his lifetime – but kept right on going.

Rick Greiwe: Got his Cincinnati start when David Mann appointed him as Executive Director of the Bicentennial Commission in 1984. Inventor of Tall Stacks. Founder of DCI. Once seriously proposed Cincinnati throw its hat in the ring as a site for the Summer Olympics. Lead the charge on an alternative plan to connect the Little-Miami Bike Trail with the city center.

Neil Bortz: Launched the renaissance in Mt. Adams in 1961. One of the early voices to point out to city leadership that retail would never recover in Downtown without more people living there. Founding chair of Walnut Hills High School Alumni Foundation that raised the private funds for a new science wing. 1992 recipient of Great Living Cincinnati award (joining the ranks of men such as Neil Armstrong, Albert Sabin, and Charles Scripps).

What do these 3 men have in common?

John, Rick and Neil have the same day-job: real-estate development. But as their abbreviated biographies demonstrate, that is not the totality of who and what they are. Because real estate developers, the best and the brightest of them, are first and foremost dreamers and they dream about lots of things, not just buildings. They love their city. They see beyond current problems to what we can be. They aim ridiculously high, because – why not? These are the men – and, yes, they are all men, at least in Cincinnati – who can see things before the rest of us can and they believe in those dreams so strongly, have such patience and determination, that they can make their ideas materialize.

How does a city decide that the financial district is going to shift from the Fountain Square area to the eastern edge of the current business district, a move that will impact several city blocks?

When I have a question I can’t answer, I ask the experts. In this case, I asked Steve Schuckman, Superintendent of Planning & Design for Cincinnati Parks, a man who has been hanging around city government since my mother was on the Park Board in the eighties, the genius behind all our beautiful new parks.

“Nobody really plans these things,” Steve explained to me patiently. “The City waits for someone to bring them an idea and it goes from there.”

In other words, if you’ve got an idea and you believe in it with all your heart and you have patience and determination, if you’re willing to build the relationships, if you love your city enough to work on an idea for decades without a cent of compensation, pull together enough capital, deal with the inevitable set-backs, show up for the normal and natural political bickering that is a requirement for change, you can make almost anything happen. There’s a special breed that walks amongst us who can’t help themselves. Where we see problems, they tune-in to potential, able to hear frequencies that normal mortals can’t.

We’ll never know exactly when Western & Southern started to dream about developing the Lytle Park Historic District. But it wasn’t this year. Slowly, steadily they acquired one piece of property after the next. According to the records on the Hamilton County Auditor’s site, they bought the Guilford School in 1992, the Earl’s building in 1995, the Arch St. houses in 1997, the Police Station in 2002, and the Phelps in 2010. They’ve been imagining what Lytle Park might be for a very long time.

We need our dreamers. To thrive, a city needs to breathe the future down to its very bones and most of us aren’t that brave. But our real estate developers need us, too. We are their market, the ones who will attend their events, eat in their restaurants, buy their condos and ride on their streetcars. We are the audience for whom they dream and they’re used to constant adaptation and compromise. They will do what they have to do to see their visions materialized.

More than 25 years ago, Rick Greiwe, still just a young whipper-snapper a bit wet behind the ears, saw it all – the charm of Cincinnati, the compactness of downtown, the hills, the river, how it could be a visitor destination in the region. But he knew he couldn’t make it happen by himself. “The nice thing about Cincinnati,” he said, “is that everybody loves this place to begin with, and the community can channel that.” That’s how the dreams of the exceptional become bigger things – because of the energy and enthusiasm of the people in this community.

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