In Praise of Developers

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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 it.

Real estate developers are like gods. [Well, miniature gods, at least.] They make up much of the physical world we inhabit. The homes and condominiums we live in. The bakery and the pharmacy in the street. The resorts and casinos and golf courses we enjoy for leisure. Restaurants. Shopping centers. Office buildings. Cinemas. Truck terminals. Medical and surgical centers. Spas. Factories. Warehouses. Auditorium. Parking garages. Hotels.

You name it; if it was “man made”, attached to dirt, and we can get into it, a Real Estate Developer was probably involved.

Real estate developers are visionaries. They have the vision to recognize trends and the need for change. They recognize imbalance between what exists and what is needed. They see neighborhoods and cities and regions in motion as opportunities for renewal and improvement. Not only do real estate developers see opportunity, they seize it. They envision change and commit to it. Then work with it; massage it; form it; squeeze it; stir it; shake it; blend it; juggle it; and make it happen.

How could anyone not love that?

Real estate developers are visionaries with a purpose. Visionaries who know how to transform their vision into reality. They are optimists. They are dreamers and doers rolled into one. And to me they are fun. Not funny, necessarily, but fun to be around. Fun to work with. Fun to dream with.

I remember back 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 rot hole. Largely vacant. In foreclosure. Languishing in bankruptcy. Charged with nearly $10,000,000 in unpaid and delinquent real estate taxes. Physically deteriorating and in need of tens of millions of dollars in repairs. The owners of condominiums occupying the top 40 floors of the two landmark corncob-shaped towers were understandably hostile and uncooperative — having been burned in the past by broken promises from previous owners.

Yet, in all this mess, John saw opportunity. He had a vision that this dilapidated, decaying behemoth of an eyesore could be transformed into an economically viable and thriving gem.

We spent most of the next four years working on that project. The transformation was remarkable. We had a blast making it happen.

Today, the Marina City Commercial Complex is home to the House of Blues, the House of Blues Hotel, Smith and Wollensky Steak House, Bin 36 Wine Café, Crunch Fitness, 10 Pin Bowling Lounge, Marina Management, Skipper Bud’s Marina, and many more other thriving businesses. The pie-shaped condominiums that begin above the 20-story parking garage in each of the residential towers have risen substantially in value and offer some of the most dramatic skyline views in Chicago. The entire Marina City complex has been re-established as a thriving mixed-use and entertainment mecca in the heart of Chicago.

How come? Because Chicago Real Estate Developer John L. Marks had the vision and commitment to make it happen.

Did I mention I love Real Estate Developers?

More recently, in the spring of 2005, I received the call to join the development team of Madkatstep Entertainment LLC.

Madkatstep Entertainment is a combined venture of Sears, Roebuck and Co., the retail giant, and Ryan Companies US, Inc., a remarkably creative and entrepreneurial real estate developer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. [Yes, I love Ryan Companies too.]

It started with an idea.

Ryan Companies had the idea to build and own a sports and entertainment venue in an affluent community in need of convenient and unique entertainment options.

Sears had moved its headquarters to Hoffman Estates, Illinois in the early 1990s. As part of that move, Sears had acquired a large tract of adjacent land that was ready and available for development.

Hoffman Estates is a progressive community in a growing and affluent region northwest of Chicago seeking quality of life amenities for its residents.

It was a match made in heaven.

By the time I was called as lead development consultant, Sears and Ryan had already negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the Village of Hoffman Estates establishing a basic framework for the new Sears Center Arena, including general conditions for municipal financing.

A major tenant for the new Sears Center Arena is a professional hockey team. An important development goal was to have the 11,000 capacity, 240,000 square foot arena built and ready for occupancy in time for the Fall 2006 hockey season. It was already April 2005, only 18 months from the target opening date. Even the most accelerated construction schedule required a minimum of 14 months from groundbreaking to opening. The time was up.

In the 100 day rush that followed, the entire development team entered a zone and worked almost around the clock with the Village of Hoffman Estates.

The Real Estate Developer, Ryan Companies US, Inc., worked closely with the real estate department at Sears, Roebuck and Co., negotiated agreements, faced issues and overcame obstacles to obtain formal development approvals, finalized municipal financing, formalized the agreement on naming rights and property agreements, and accommodated project dissenters who threaten to delay proceedings or stop the arena from being built.

Ultimately, it was creativity, perseverance and intense focus that led to the official groundbreaking for 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 for complementary development that creates new jobs, new opportunities and a broadened 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 every day in large and small development projects.

Renewal of functionally obsolete or declining shopping centers, warehouses and other structures into modern and thriving businesses.

Resurrection of blighted and decaying areas in cities and towns into houses and condominiums with retail and service businesses to support new neighborhoods.

Recycling of contaminated brownfields into safe and productive environments for consumers and business.

Greenfield developments to provide new opportunities, new jobs and new services for emerging communities and families.

Real estate developers see a need, rise to the challenge and improve the world in which we live.

I’ve been blessed to work with some amazingly creative and dedicated real estate developers, both large and small, who are making a difference—and a profit—while having fun in the process.

Did I say fun? Maybe not every time with every challenge, but in general Real Estate Developers are people who really 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 have the opportunity to work with people who make your job “exciting”? What’s not to love about that?

So, the next time you meet a Real Estate Developer, please take the developer’s hand, look him or her directly in the eye, and say with deepest gratitude and sincerity:

“Thank you! My friend Kymn Harp thinks you are the most beautiful person in the world. He loves you and thinks you are brilliant.” [Then slip him my business card and ask him to call me.]

Thank you for listening.

R. Kymn Harp

PS For those of you with “normal” names – or at least conventional name spellings, you might appreciate this help:

My name “Kymn” is a family name and is pronounced “Kim”. Think of “Kymn” as a “church hymn”, with a “K” instead of an “H”. To remember this, associate my last name “Harp” with “Angels”. Then, if it helps, think of me as “Kymn Harp, the real estate developer’s dirt angel” (with a law degree).

Thanks again,

Kymn

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