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Real life Featured

5:36am EDT March 22, 2005
The real estate firm's commercial jingle says it all: "You've got to be real."

And Barbara Reynolds, president of Realty One Real Living, and her team of professionals are making a real effort to be role models for development.

"We've got to make a commitment to the economics of Cleveland, and I want to be a part of that," she says.

Reynolds is showing her commitment to the city -- and her strategic plan for her company -- by moving Realty One from Rockside Woods Boulevard in Independence to 800 W. St. Clair Ave., in the former Joseph & Feiss Building in the Warehouse District. With a growing trend in U.S. cities toward downtown living, the move will allow Realty One, the largest residential real estate firm in the Midwest, to grab a larger share of the urban housing market.

While the company's Independence headquarters boasted five floors, more than 200 offices and 35,609 square feet of space, the modern downtown digs offers a smaller -- but newly remodeled -- location with three floors, wide-open spaces and 33,000 square feet of space. Reynolds says the company will move its 200-plus employees, including Real Living Title Agency employees, to the new building this summer.

Smart Business spoke with Reynolds about how she is managing her company's move.

Why did you decide to move the corporate headquarters to the Warehouse District?

Primarily, we wanted to move downtown in that, as goes the city, so goes the suburbs. People have got to have confidence in the city in the next three, five and 10 years. I also am very hopeful that we will have it grow into a viable and vital urban living area.

I really wanted to have a presence in Cleveland for some time.

The relocation was contingent upon a loan from the city of Cleveland. What steps did you take to acquire it?

We talked to the Department of Economic Development, and then they made a recommendation to council. Then it has to be approved by council.

We had several people involved, including myself. It took a period of several months for me and the landlord to go the Department of Economic Development and the acting director of economic development. We, in turn, went to the councilman in that ward; then, from there, he went to his internal people.

Then I appeared before the council committee. Obviously, we had a lot of economic information prepared so that they realized that they would substantially gain from income tax, payroll tax, etc.

What techniques did you use to get your employees on board with the move?

Actually, it was not as hard as you might think. Transportation and parking are the bigger issues, and we've tried to manage through those. In some ways, we're paying for parking, and literally, trying to have (the employees) not be fearful.

I think we've gotten through the transportation. Some are not going because it's too far; for some, it's closer to home. Probably the bigger (issue) is, 'Is it going to cost me more?' --and we're going to make sure it doesn't. There's parking next to the buildings.

I personally talked to them several times, giving them tidbits of information at regularly scheduled meetings of our employee base at the main office. I think that there was mixed reaction, mostly concerned about distance -- if they were going further away -- and whether it was going to cost them more money with regard to parking.

What steps are you taking to manage the move in July?

We have a whole team working on it. We have conference calls on a regular basis, every other Friday, to coordinate all the various pieces of the move ... with my finance team, my facilities people, human resources and marketing. It's a comprehensive effort on all parties.

How do you expect this move to change the way you do business in Northeastern Ohio?

I'm not so sure that it will change the way we do business. I hope that we have a bigger participation in urban housing. I think that we will be involved in the listing and sale of more urban properties. (Urban housing) is the thing that any viable city has, and I see us as a catalyst, as well as taking advantage of the opportunity.

We also will have not only our main office but a residential office downtown. They'll both be in the same location.

What issues have cropped up during this process that you hadn't prepared for?

We have done enough research and thinking about this, that I can't honestly say that there's something that we did not anticipate. We understood the process of going to council about opportunities to move into the city. We understood that there would be some HR issues and concerns by employees. So I can't say that we had something profound that came up that we had not anticipated -- not so far.

We've been very fortunate, and I think that is a product of good planning ahead of time. We really haven't come up with anything out of the ordinary.

We looked at the opportunities for the commitment to the city, the vacancy rate downtown, a very favorable climate with City Hall to have people come downtown. I called the mayor. I had a personal meeting with her. (She was) very amenable, obviously.

Is there anything you're learning from this process that you can apply to how you -- and Realty One/Real Living -- work with your clients?

I think that there are enough people who realize the advantages of a strong, central city, that they see this as a very positive move. I don't know that we anticipated that it would be so favorably looked upon ... by our customers and also the business community --businesses downtown, organizations and the media.

What advice would you give to other businesses considering a move downtown?

Take a look at it as a viable alternative to the suburbs. It offers a wealth of good things. It's a huge opportunity in diversity and an opportunity to contribute to the economic growth of the entire region, to provide an opportunity to be part of the revitalization of our city. And I would also say that there are some economic advantages, affordability of the properties.

I just think it's been a very exciting process, and ... our employees, our agents, our clients (are) saying they're thrilled about it, and they think it's great. There's been very positive feedback, more than expected.

HOW TO REACH: Realty One Real Living, (216) 328-2500 or www.realtyone.com