Q&A with Chris Dobrozsi, Neyer Vice President of Real Estate Development

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Cincinnati’s Uptown Innovation Corridor is bustling with future-focused development plans. That’s why we asked Chris Dobrozsi, Neyer Properties VP of Real Estate Development, to discuss the formation of MLK Investors I LLC—the partnership of Neyer Properties, Inc. and Kulkarni Properties—and what the Uptown Innovation Corridor means to them.

MLK Investors I will oversee development on the northeast quadrant of the Uptown Innovation Corridor, at MLK and Reading.

Q: How did MLK Investors I first form? Had Neyer Properties and Kulkarni Properties worked together previously?

A: We had not worked together prior, no. It all came about in the fall of 2015 when [Kulkarni Properties President & CEO] Shree Kulkarni acquired over twenty parcels surrounding the planned interchange. He had a good vision, but realized that a project of this scale required a partnership with a developer who had experience in large mixed-use projects. That’s where Neyer Properties came in.

Q: What drew you to the Uptown Innovation Corridor?

A: Uptown is the front door to roughly 50,000 daily jobs and its location is near the University of Cincinnati medical campus. That's a no-brainer. We looked at the opportunity beyond the development footprint-- we looked at this as the future of the Greater Cincinnati region from an economic development perspective. Kulkarni Properties clearly embraced the vision from day one of what the Uptown Innovation Corridor is to become, and we saw the opportunity and wanted in.

Q: What do you believe is the key to the success of the corridor’s development?

A: Think big, no bigger and act boldly. This corridor has the foundation in place for the creation of over 10,000 new jobs bringing in $2 billion in investment. To capitalize on this opportunity, we must collaborate at the regional level to attract the most innovative companies, not only to the Uptown Innovation Corridor, but to the entire Greater Cincinnati area. That’s why Uptown Consortium’s community research, economic development studies and visioning work have been so important. The results to date are that each developer at the table is equipped to do what's best for all locations—and the dynamic between all developments is what makes this such a nationally-unique opportunity. Another key is that the Uptown Consortium, the developers and the corridor’s surrounding neighborhood leaders gather regularly to discuss how our work aligns with the communities’ long term goals. That last piece is probably most important, because we all know that for the corridor to be successful long-term, the neighborhood has to be successful long-term. We want this to be successful for 50-years plus, right? By collaborating and working together, we’re planting the foundation for long-term success.

Q: What does community engagement mean to MLK Investors I?

A: Any development starts with community engagement in a collaborative environment, working in a true partnership. The surrounding community is a vital partner in the vision and long-term success of the corridor which requires this true partnership.. They're the ones that live there day-in and day-out. We must understand what's important to them, and they must know what's important to us as developers, that’s what a partnership is all about.. We all have to work together to create something in everyone’s best interest. Again, if it's not done with the best interest of the community, then it won't be successful long-term. So, we start with community engagement.

Q: Will minority and neighborhood jobs be a part of MLK Investors I’s economic inclusion process in the northeast quadrant?

A: Amen. That will be a major piece of it. Again, getting community buy-in from two fronts. We have to understand what is important to the neighborhoods--what's going to lead to their long-term success, and the neighborhoods have to understand what the market means to us. Unless we work together, these things won't be successful long-term. We're advocating for one another. We’re proud to be long-term holders of real estate. We don't develop and sell, we’re in it for the long haul. We're invested in this community now and we'll be even more invested in the future. With that attitude going in, we ensure that it’s going to be a win-win. Additionally, Uptown Consortium’s partners at WEB Ventures--Henry Brown, Bill Witten and Howard Elliott--are a critical partner ensuring inclusion evert step of the way.

Q: Is the current development plan still to create a mixed-use space for research and innovative companies?

A: Yes—it's going to have residential; it's going to have retail; it’s going to have hotels; it's going to have innovative office; and it's going to have research. That's the kind of mix it takes to encourage collaboration and innovation.

We plan on having what I’ll call an 18-hour, live-work-play mixed-use development. What you'll see with many innovative companies is the desire to work in a centered community; they talk about collision points. So, it’s up to us to determine how we bring people from different innovative companies together—where they can collide with one another and build relationships. We plan to design central gathering areas, both inside and outside of the buildings, with these collision points in mind. We want to give them a reason to connect.

Q: What is MLK Investors I’s current development timeline?

A: Now that we have a preliminary site plan approved by the surrounding Uptown neighborhoods, we are going to move forward with design development. What that means, is that we’ll start to determine what exactly phase one of this development will look like. The first phase is positioned at the corner of MLK and Reading and will include a hotel, an office building and office amenities. We have the end—the big picture—in mind for the whole quadrant, but for now, we're just focusing on the first phase. Our goal is to break ground by January 1, 2019.

Q: Speaking of breaking ground, are there any specific milestones to look forward to in 2018?

A: There's about a thousand of them—between zoning, financing, securing tenants, deciding on final design—but they all end with breaking ground on phase one.