Mario San Marco, President of Eagle Realty Group, and I have a history. It started in 2011 when I concocted an extravaganza called “Cincinnati Dreams Italy” in conjunction with the Taft Museum. Even though I’d never met him before I wrote Mario a letter asking if we could use a few of his buildings and – the crazy Italian – he said ‘yes.’ It was a ridiculous undertaking that included over a hundred local artists, 3 locations, and the installation of a bocce court in the middle of Lytle Park – all in less than 6 weeks.
A few days before the opening, my phone rang and it was the president of the United States Bocce Federation. “It’s been brought to our attention that you intend to hold a tournament without official sanction from our governing body,” he said. I tried to be polite. I explained that the tournament was about building community, that I didn’t really know anything about bocce or the Federation or sports in general. The conversation went on for several minutes before Mario finally identified himself. I’d been punk’d by the best. He was en route to a family vacation with one of his sons riding shotgun, the whole exchange broadcast on speaker.
So when I answered my cell phone the other day my first reaction was to assume someone was playing a joke on me. But it was really Mario. He wanted to get me together with Tom Stapleton, Eagle’s senior vice president, so they could clarify the facts regarding Great American Tower. We agreed to meet the following afternoon at his office in the Guildford Building.
Am I brave? Or ridiculously foolish? Our meeting was on Good Friday and the front door was locked when I arrived. I had to call upstairs for somebody to come down and let me in, the whole place dark and empty, me, alone, with these two powerful, important men on their home turf.
Mario was very serious. He communicated that Western & Southern cared deeply about its reputation and readers of my blog were getting the impression of wrong-doing, particularly related to my focus on their Queen City Square development. The real purpose of our emergency pow-wow was to hand-deliver a formal letter of clarification Tom had prepared. Until Mario handed me my copy of the document, I hadn’t even noticed the blue folder sitting in the middle of the conference table.
Mario and Tom said they seldom grant interviews because the media so often gets the facts wrong. In order to avoid any possibility of mis-interpretation, this is the original text of that letter in its entirety:
As we shook hands before I left, Tom smiled and handed me his business card. “Call me with any questions,” he said – and he sounded sincere. So let’s call this the start of a new version of public-private partnership in developing Cincinnati, one where citizens and for-profit developers work together in a spirit of trust and cooperation to create a great place to live. Tomorrow I’ll share a few comments about Tom’s letter and my first steps towards team-building.