How did you get your start?
When I dropped out as a biology major in 1977 – after taking a leisurely and painful stroll through Organic Chemistry — my father said, “Come on back home, but you can’t live here” — and I was hired by family friend, V P Chronis as a laborer on the Glencoe Place Row houses renovation in Mt. Auburn (recently demolished). His son, Pete Chronis, the superintendent on the job, convinced me to go back to college and get my BS in Construction Management. I started buying houses and duplexes as soon as I graduated from college in 1980. My first real development project with partners was a small hotel in Northern Ohio.
Did you ever have a normal 9 to 5 job?
I worked for Turner Construction as a project manager when I graduated in 1980, doing projects under $5 mil in downtown Cincinnati, and was recruited by the hotel development company Winegardner and Hammons a year later to build and renovate hotels nationally.. After that it was either on contract , as a partner, consultant on or for my own companies. Have not worn a tie to work as far back as I can remember.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve developed to date?
The Chelsea Lofts, a ground up loft project in the Riverside Historic District in Jacksonville. It won awards for Most Historically Compatible Design and Construction.
What advice would you give anybody entering this field today?
Go to work at a quality firm in an entry position. Learn the technical aspects and mathmatics of the business, but most importantly learn about risk-reward. In Florida there is an old saying about condos: “when its hot you can’t keep em and when its cold you can’t give em away” – that applies in general to all real estate. Make sure that there is enough realistic margin to account for risk or run from the deal. The math is not rocket science but too many people try to “wish” a proforma to work by tinkering with the numbers unrealistically – great way to fail. Development is hard – people tend to think the opposite. And always buy used cars – bankers love to get into a three year old Toyota when sizing up how conservative your numbers are.
They say you can’t go home again – but after many years in Florida, here you are. What brought you back?
A painfully well documented 75% or so collapse in Florida real estate values, specifically condominium developments. Comparatively speaking what people call the “collapse” in Cincinnati is bemusing to me. I was able to help a few people get projects turned around here by buying them, redesigning them and pushing them out the door while continuing work in Florida.
What makes Cincinnati architecture special?
Diversity in the old architecture and activity in the new architecture. It is always interesting to see new development designs – but disappointing to see “boxes” designed in order to maximize widgets (square footage) at the expense of articulated cool architecture.
Where do you hang your hat when you’re in Cincinnati?
Downtown of course.
How long do you plan to stay?
As they say in real estate “there is always another deal.” Who knows where it will be.
How did you name your company?
I had a project manager who was a 2 handicap on the Purdue golf team (he now works with the PGA). While playing on a junior tour he was ahead of Tiger Woods for a bit. He said “it was great to look up at the leader board and see Crane – Woods.” Boom.
What makes Cranewoods different from everybody else out there?
Attention to details, creativity and the ability to take a fresh look at projects, which often involves throwing out previous (expensive) designs and starting over. Complete lack of fear to try something on the edge that people may or may not like.
You’re writing a book about your experiences in real estate development. Why did you decide to write it and will it be finished soon?
The Florida collapse was 4 years of anguish and pain. Multiple developers, some that I knew, committed suicide. Others filed bankruptcy. But at the same time there were comedic events both as the bubble expanded and exploded in a way that would make Cecil B. DeMille proud. My cousin flew down to Florida and convinced me that writing about it as a dark comedy would be therapeutic – which it was. I have not picked it up in quite some time – but who knows – right now there are just two finished chapters. Not sure if I will pick it up and start again. There is pain in reading about the collapse – “a burned child dreads a fire” applies to my feelings on the book.
Have you ever received any public subsidies on your projects – abatement, tax credits or Tax Increment Financing?
Yes, although not in Cincinnati (other than the single family residence abatement that my condo buyers receive). Everything I have done in Cincinnati is straight up conventional. Elsewhere, on projects that simply do not work with conventional equity and financing, we have worked with cities on subsidies including HUD 108 Job Creation Loans, Tax Abatements, TIF and DOT perimeter improvement grants. In many cases it is the only way to get a development that a city wants to work. Cities that want development to happen when it is financially unfeasible without help are always looking for ways to “get it done.” Many of them have a very long term view, and short term tax shortfalls due to subsidy are a good trade-off to them to increase the tax paying body count in their area and increase surrounding property values – which is their long-term goal.
What’s your favorite flavor of Graeter’s ice cream?
Get real – everyone knows that the only TRUE flavor of Graeter’s ice cream is Coconut Chocolate Chip. Jeesh.