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In Praise of Developers
Did I happen to mention that I love Real Estate Developers? Not like I love my wife or my kids or even my dog, but real estate developers are definitely among my favorite people.
Think about that.
Real estate developers are like gods. [Well, miniature gods, at least.] They create much of the physical world in which we live. The houses and condominiums we live in. Grocery store and pharmacy down the street. The resorts and casinos and golf courses we enjoy for our leisure time. Restaurants. Shopping centers. Office buildings. Cinemas. Truck terminals. Medical and surgical centers. Salvation. Factories. Warehouses. Auditoriums. Parking garage. Hotels.
Just tell; if it’s “man-made”, bolted to the dirt, and we can get into it, there’s probably a real estate developer involved.
Real estate developers are visionaries. They have the vision to recognize trends and the need for change. They recognize the imbalance between what is there and what is needed. They see neighborhoods and cities and regions in flux as opportunities for renewal and improvement. Not only do real estate developers see the opportunity, they’re taking advantage of it. They envision change and commit to it. Then work with it; massage it; shape it; squeeze it; stir; shake; blend it; juggle; and make it happen.
How can anyone not love that?
Real estate developers are visionaries with a purpose. Visionaries who know how to turn their vision into reality. They are optimists. They are dreamers and doers rolled into one. And they’re fun for me. Not funny, necessarily, but fun to be around. Fun to work with. It’s fun to dream.
I remember in 1992 when John L. Marks of Mark IV Realty Group walked into my office and said he wanted to buy and redevelop the Marina City commercial complex in downtown Chicago. At that time, the Marina City commercial complex was a rat hole. Mostly empty. In seizure. Sleeping in bankruptcy. Burdened with nearly $10,000,000 in delinquent and unpaid real estate taxes. It is physically deteriorating and needs tens of millions of dollars in repairs. The owners of the residential condominiums occupying the top 40 floors of the two landmark corncob towers were understandably hostile and uncooperative – having been burned in the past for broken promises by previous owners.
Yet in all this confusion, John saw an opportunity. He had a vision that this dilapidated, crumbling eyesore giant could be transformed into an economically viable and successful gem.
We spent most of the next four years working on that project. The transformation was remarkable. We were thrilled to make it happen.
Today, the Marina City commercial complex is home to the House of Blues, the House of Blues Hotel, Smith and Vollenski Steak House, Bin 36 Vine Cafe, Crunch Fitness, 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, Marina Management, Skipper Bud’s Marina, and numerous other thriving businesses. The pie-shaped condominiums that begin above the 20-story parking garage in each of the apartment towers have increased in value significantly and offer some of the most dramatic views of the Chicago skyline. The entire Marina City complex has been re-established as a successful mixed-use and entertainment mecca in the heart of Chicago.
Why? Because Chicago real estate developer John L. Marx had the vision and commitment to make it happen.
Did I mention I love Real Estate Developers?
Recently, in the spring of 2005, I was invited to join the development team at Madkatstep Entertainment LLC.
Madkatstep Entertainment is a combined venture of Sears, Roebuck and Co., the retail giant, and Ryan Companies US, Inc., a highly creative and entrepreneurial real estate developer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. [Yes, I love Ryan Companies too.]
It started with an idea.
The Ryan Companies had an idea to build and own a sports and entertainment facility in an affluent community in need of convenient and unique entertainment options.
Sears moved its corporate headquarters to Hoffman Estates, Illinois in the early 1990s. As part of that move, Sears acquired a large tract of adjacent land that was ready and available for development.
Hoffman Estates is a forward-looking community in a growing and affluent region northwest of Chicago in search of quality living amenities for its residents.
It was a match made in heaven.
By the time I was brought in as chief development advisor, Sears and Ryan had already negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the Village of Hoffman Estates that laid out the basic framework for the new Sears Center Arena, including general terms for municipal financing.
The main tenant of the new Sears Center Arena is a professional hockey team. A key development goal was to have the 11,000, 240,000-square-foot arena built and ready for occupancy in time for the 2006 fall hockey season. It was already April 2005, just 18 months from the target opening date. Even the most accelerated construction schedule required at least 14 months from foundation to opening. Time was running out.
In the ensuing 100-day rush, the entire development team entered the zone and worked nearly 24 hours a day with the village of Hoffman Estates.
Real Estate Developer, Ryan Companies US, Inc., working closely with the real estate division of Sears, Roebuck and Co., negotiated agreements, faced issues and overcome obstacles to obtain formal development approval, finalized municipal financing, formalized the contract on naming rights and ownership agreements, and accommodated project dissenters who have threatened litigation to delay or halt construction of the arena.
Ultimately, creativity, persistence and intense focus led to the official groundbreaking for the Sears Center Arena on July 21, 2005. It is a unique sports and entertainment facility that will serve the village of Hoffman Estates and neighboring towns for decades to come. It already serves as an economic engine of complementary development that will provide new jobs, new opportunities and an expanded tax base.
These two examples of creative development by visionary Real Estate Developers are not unique. Between these two notable examples, and beyond, the scenario plays out over and over in development projects large and small every day.
Renovation of functionally outdated or decaying shopping centers, warehouses and other facilities into modern and advanced enterprises.
Revitalizing blighted and decaying areas in cities and towns into homes and condominiums with retail and service businesses to support new neighborhoods.
Recycling contaminated brownfields into a safe and productive environment for consumers and businesses.
Greenfield development to provide new opportunities, new jobs and new services for emerging communities and families.
Real estate developers see a need, stepping up to challenge and improve the world we live in.
I’ve been blessed to work with some incredibly creative and dedicated real estate developers, big and small, who are making a difference – and a profit – while having fun in the process.
Did I say fun? Maybe not at all times as they face every challenge, but for the most part real estate developers are people who truly enjoy what they do. As a commercial real estate attorney, working with Real Estate Developers has always been exciting for me.
Why do I love real estate developers? Ask yourself: How many times do you get to work with people who make your job “exciting”? What’s not to like about it?
So, the next time you meet a real estate developer, take them by the hand, look them straight in the eye, and say with the deepest gratitude and sincerity:
“Thanks! My friend Kimn Harp thinks you’re the most wonderful person in the world. He loves you and thinks you’re brilliant.” [Then slip him my business card and ask him to call me.]
Thanks for listening.
R. Kim Harf
PS For those of you with “normal” names – or at least normal name spellings, you might appreciate this help:
My name “Kimn” is a family name and is pronounced “Kim”. Think of “Kymn” as “Church Hymn”, with a “K” instead of an “H”. To remember this, connect my surname “Harpa” with “Angels”. Then, if it helps, think of me as “Kimn Harp, the dirty real estate investor angel” (with a law degree).
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