A Rubinesque View of Cleveland

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 04/26/2007 - 15:56.

Interesting perspectives on economic and community development from Coral's Peter Rubin, from the Villager Newspaper Online. I think Rubin makes some good points, and the reality is that we are overbuilding the Cleveland housing market, and other amenities, and that will make Cleveland a more powerful residential draw. As more of Cleveland becomes more "livable", more people will chose to live here. Add good schools and free city wide wifi and watch out. Clevelaqnd first will draw people from other parts of the region - empty nesters from the xburbs, students and young professionals from the inner heights - it will be cool and good to live in Cleveland again. That will attract people from other regions and parts of the world, and they will grow the economy - you need a critical mass of urban housing and culture to be a player and we aren't even near that yet - time to keep building and innovating in Cleveland housing! Now for the chair half there, with Rubin:

The Call for Regionalization....  A Rubinesque View of Cleveland

    As developer of two leading West Shore residential neighborhoods - Westhampton at Crocker Park and The Hamlets of Rocky River - you might expect Peter L. Rubin to credit housing development as central to regional revitalization.

    The President and CEO of The Coral Company offers a view that is more than simple provincial analysis, however.

    His company has developed notable northeast Ohio projects like Shaker Square, Cedar Center, Lakewood City Center and more. His residential interests include The Courtyards in Cleveland Hts. and The Shores of Edgecliff. And his assessment of economic conditions in northeast Ohio is candid and frank: "If we think of northeast Ohio as a jet cockpit, every alarm should be going off."

    Rubin shared his high altitude view of the Cleveland economy as guest speaker of the West Shore Entrepreneurs Club at Westwood County Club last week.

Rubin's Cube

    "As a region, we have decided to invest in the wrong place - in housing," said Rubin. It is a mistake, he said, that follows a national trend to invest in mass housing growth.

    Rubin bases his analysis on a long and respected career in the Cleveland area real estate scene. Rubin formed The Coral Company in 1987 with partners after many years in real estate law. His diverse background in law and real estate development brings unique clarity and focus to strategic planning and execution.

    Rubin suggests that there is a simple equation - a logical sequence of measures - that set the foundation of a successful economy. "This is nothing formal - just the result of my years of observation as a businessman and a developer," he said. "The equation goes like this: Industry creates jobs, jobs create demand for housing, housing creates neighborhoods and amenities, which improve the quality of life. And that ultimately creates even more jobs."

    Simply stated, Rubin defines a successful economy like the six sides of a cube - almost like dice. But, instead of rolling dice by chance, smart planners should base revitalization on jobs. Put first things first.

    "It is short term," he said of the new housing boom. He agrees that things like tax abatement and residential improvements look good on paper. They are necessary to attract developers. But they are occurring out of a sequence that has lasting regional impact. "There are more housing permits in the Cleveland than any other city. We have ramped up housing, but the impact is short term and it doesn't create jobs. It empties out the inventory of housing that is still worthy," he said.

    "That is the way I see the economic cycle," said Rubin. "And the central city is crucial. The health of Cleveland is crucial."

The Arts of Healing

    Rubin said Cleveland can be great again. But it will be great as a mid-sized city with its focus on areas of special talent. "We need to decide what we want to be excellent at," he said.

    He suggests that the region can easily identify two areas of excellence here today. "There are two things Cleveland can boast about," he said.

    "We are world class in health care. Our overall employment and income in the healthcare fields outperforms manufacturing. There isn't a city anywhere that can say it has better health care than Cleveland."

    He just as strongly endorses the region's arts community. "The Cleveland Orchestra is the best in the word. You would have to go to, maybe, Berlin, to find a similar institution," he said. He points to The Cleveland Museum of Art's unprecedented $250 million upgrade in example. He is personally a strong proponent of the arts with a leadership role in the Playhouse Square Foundation and other arts organizations.

    "Why can't Cleveland become the Toronto of the Midwest," asks Rubin? He suggests that Cleveland can be a cultural hub for residents of Pittsburgh and Columbus in much the same way Toronto is now.

    But, he said, the economic equations in place in northeast Ohio must be revamped.

    "In real estate, we are followers. We follow demand," he said. "We have a situation in northeast Ohio today where the equation is upside down. There is no demand for any real estate product in northeast Ohio today. We work it backward. We build supply and then create demand....

"We are just shuffling chairs....."

The Idealism of Regionalism

    Running northeast Ohio like a business is something that makes sense to Rubin. "What scares me is our inability to make decisions about our region, to run it like a business. We have exciting projects (the flats, warehouse district, City View) but not enough market," he said.

    Regional government should be a priority. People should look at the number of fire departments and other overlapping services each separate community maintains. Consolidation would bring massive benefits. "The establishment of regional government in northeast Ohio would make this area the fifth or sixth largest media market in the nation, rather than the 15th as it is today," said Rubin.

    People are also needed. "Every major growth spurt here has been done by immigration," he said of Cleveland's history. Today, vital areas of the country still rely on people coming in. In Cook County, Ill., home to Chicago, immigrant population (move-ins from other locations) is up 12 per cent over a decade ago.

    "There is a 16 per cent growth rate in Chicago created by people who moved in from elsewhere," said Rubin. He notes that Chicago actively recruits nationally and internationally as a destination for potential residents. "Cleveland should be recruiting," he said. "Our cost of living is low, out quality of life is high."

West Shore Entrepreneurs Club

Will Limkemann of Bay Village heads the West Shore Entrepreneurs Club. The Club is a networking organization designed to assist the small businessman and entrepreneur. "Peter J. Rubin brings to his speaking and teaching engagements not just his far-reaching experience but also his perspective from the culture of The Coral Company which provides a refreshing commitment to integrity, creativity and promises kept," said Limkemann as he introduced Rubin to the 40 in attendance at last week's meeting. "Peter Rubin's speaking engagements and teaching assignments include presentations to the Cleveland Bar Association, the Urban Land Institute, the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, and the International Council of Shopping Centers."

    The Club meets again on Wed., May 9, at Westwood Country Club where guest speaker will be Tom Embrescia. Call (440) 871-0976.