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Stuart Lichter Profile

Last month, Northeast Ohio breathed a collective sigh of relief when Goodyear executives announced its headquarters would stay in Akron. That's when the mastermind behind the deal surfaced. Amid much fanfare, Stuart Lichter, the Bronx-born developer, recalled his drive around the site a year earlier with his business partner, in search of the ideal project.

Stuart Lichter: And, we said we really think we can do something significant here. We can keep Goodyear in town and we can basically redo a whole side of Akron.

Lichter plans to build the new headquarters and redevelop the old Goodyear facility into "Akron Riverwalk," a complex of shops and offices. Such transformations are Lichter's forte. Over the last 10 years, his company, Industrial Realty Group, has secured a handful of industrial sites in Northeast Ohio for redevelopment. Among them are the American Stone quarry site in South Amherst and the Ford assembly plant in Lorain. And, he's also turned the B.F. Goodrich tire plant into Canal Place -- a downtown Akron office park.

So, what does Lichter see in an old, industrial building?

Stuart Lichter: Everybody else sees this gigantic white elephant. This building's gorgeous. It just needs a little paint and polish and work. You know a lot of the new buildings are so characterless. So, I was always attracted to preserving old buildings where possible.

And there are plenty of old buildings in Northeast Ohio. But most industrial locations need extensive work before they can re-developed. Industrial toxins have to be cleaned up and old equipment removed, and many sites need to be re-zoned. All of that can get expensive and, combined with the sometimes dour economy and jobs picture, can chase off potential investors. But Lichter isn't deterred. .

Stuart Lichter: But, when you close down these big facilities, what we have is a piece of clay that we can get at very cheap price, a lot cheaper than a lot of other places in the country. And, then we could fix it up and we can offer competitive rates. And, a good labor force that's stable, which this place has. The taxes are moderate and you have pro-business government.

Lichter says after Goodyear announced its plans to stay, he worried about rezoning the site. But Mayor Don Plusquellic had already taken care of those details.

Stuart Lichter: I said to the Mayor what do I have to do to actually get the zoning changed? I know everyone wants this deal to happen, but it's not zoned for what I'm gonna do. And he turns to his economic development director and goes "Bob, we did already, didn't we?" And the economic development director says, "Oh yeah, it's done."

Real estate insiders say it's Lichter's aggressive, visionary approach that gives him an edge. Not to mention the capital he's built up as the largest holder of industrial property in the country.

Nick Zarnas is a Cleveland commercial broker. Lichter, he says, is especially successful because he honors the role brokers play in making business deals. Zarnas says Lichter always makes good on paying broker's fees, even if a deal doesn't play out as expected.

Nick Zarnas: There are many people who if they don't get exactly what they're looking for the first thing they look to is the commission. And, Stuart is always anxious to pay a commission. And, so brokers bring him all kinds of property that some other owners might not see.

While investors complement Lichter's vision and gift for finding hidden gems in old structures, Lichter himself attributes his success to a detachment to money and a desire for balance.

Stuart Lichter: You're happiness is internal and I'm not saying I'd like to lose it tomorrow. But I've never been attached to it. So let's do really good things that are good business propositions, but also do good things for the community and the city.

And that philosophy goes over well around Northeast Ohio.

Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.