Abby Cymerman

Tuesday, 22 March 2005 04:58

Vested interest

Banking is in the blood of Ann Durr, president and COO of Valley Savings Bank.

The granddaughter of the attorney who helped found Valley Savings and Loan in 1923 and the daughter of a former Valley chairman of the board, Durr can relate to the small business owners who come to her for loans and financial advice.

"I have an enormous amount of pride in what I do because of my family heritage," she says. "And I think my employees feel that, too."

Customer demand weighs heavily at this institution. With three offices in Cuyahoga Falls and Stow and more than $100 million in assets, Valley Savings Bank is adding a drive-up facility next to its downtown headquarters and is the first bank in Summit County to offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to employers and individual health care consumers.

"We initially got into them because of the opportunity to offer a local business HSA accounts for their employees, and in a two-hour meeting, we acquired 35 accounts, so that's a productive two hours," Durr says. "It meets a need in the community and gives us an opportunity to grow our account base and get more individuals familiar with Valley."

Smart Business recently spoke with Durr about managing growth into the future.

What are you doing to meet the evolving financial needs of business customers?

I personally meet with a majority of (new commercial prospects) with my senior lender, Bill Flinta.

There seem to be more small businesses in the Akron area than maybe there were 20 years ago. In some of the larger bank models, borrowers who are looking for $500,000 to $2 million may not fit their model perfectly, and that is right in the wheelhouse of the kind of commercial customer we look for.

When we can sit down -- the president of the bank and the chief lending officer -- with a small business owner, that's pretty powerful.

As we move into more of a technology-based society, larger conglomerates just aren't as prolific as they used to be, and as a result, some people have been outsourced, but they're still talented, so they evolve into other businesses -- a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit.

We get requests via word of mouth because of the way we handle our small business customers.

When you're a small business owner, you're sometimes your own bookkeeper. You don't have multiple layers to rely on so that you have a lot of free time to deal with your financial needs. (Small business owners) become frustrated if they're not dealing with a decision-maker because they need to know, 'Is this going to work?' 'What do I need to do?' -- they need answers.

What techniques do you use to manage your business?

Since we're locally owned and operated, the techniques we use to manage our business (include) local decision-makers and having the ability to be flexible.

We have a customer who's a pretty high-profile guy who has financing with us, and he's a small business owner. He came to us with a request, and we examined it for quite some time and decided that ... we weren't going to be able to provide him with additional financing.

That was a little gut-wrenching because ... he's a good customer, and we didn't want to turn him off. (Later, the customer was the guest speaker at an event attended by Durr and Flinta. He mentioned Valley Savings in his speech and said,) 'When they turned me down, I knew I had a partner.' And it's like, OK, wait a minute, we turned this guy down, and he's our biggest fan.

He did some things to retool his business to improve his cash flow, and he felt it was a turning point for his business. He's still a great customer and a good referral source, I might add. Go figure.

People appreciate that we're partnering with them, looking at their cash flow and not getting them into a situation that would potentially jeopardize their business. I don't have 500 originators out there working under an incentive (saying), 'Let's just give the guy the money because it's going to help me make my (quota) for the month.' To be a good financing partner means you're giving good, solid advice.

There are so many (businesses that) have gotten away from the fundamentals as far as (being) honest, hard-working, giving accurate information, professional. When people call in, sometimes they're surprised to talk to me, and I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do.

How do you foresee the local business climate in the future?

I'm not an economist, so I don't know what to say there. We have a very strong business community. One of the things we've become pretty adept at is some of the U.S. Small Business Administration lending. There's a lot of heavy lifting involved there.

Now we're dealing with another decision-maker -- the government. The customer has to be willing to create whatever paperwork the SBA might request but the customer appreciates the assistance of trying to navigate through those waters.

Some of them would prefer not to deal with the paperwork and time involved, but if it's your only option, then some people do look at that. It's not the majority of our business but it is something we have available that could be helpful for the right borrower.

What are you doing to foster growth at Valley Savings?

I can't get into specifics except to say that we're embarking on some new strategic initiatives for deposit acquisition. The entire organization will be going through some training and procedure development, and it will be ultimately unveiled to the public in May. We have developed some strategic plans to attract checking account customers to the bank.

When you're a bank our size, we have limited financial resources as far as how much we can dedicate toward marketing and training. We're in the process of training and development right now but in May, it will become readily apparent to the public what we're doing.

This drive-up facility will be a nice complement to retaining and attracting more customers. It's more on the personal side but we do have a very competitive business deposit.

They appreciate online banking and bill pay because a lot of the time, they can't get to their own personal affairs until 10 at night, and the Web's always open. We have a reputation for being fairly innovative, and we were one of the first Summit County banks to have a completely online and bill pay function.

Because we're small, we have the ability to be fairly nimble. As an executive team, we just said, 'This is something we really need to get our hands around.' In a larger organization, it's a big change to bring on a Web site with a bill payment function. The larger the organization, the tougher it is to get change started and completed.

HOW TO REACH: Valley Savings Bank, (330) 923-0454 or www.valleysavingsbank.com

Thursday, 24 February 2005 10:29

Gone F.I.S.H.in'

Strategic planning often involves the executive team developing a plan off-site, then returning to the company to present it.

But Jamie Gallagher, CEO of Cleveland-based Faber-Castell USA, and his executive committee recognized that approach didn't work for them. They didn't have the resources to hire consultants, and they wanted their strategic planning to be participatory throughout the company rather than top-down.

That's when Faber-Castell CFO Don Fischer told this story: A wise, experienced fisherman and his child went fishing. The father knew what kind of fish he was fishing for. He had the proper bait, the right equipment, and even knew the exact location in the pond to find that type of fish.

The child, on the other hand, put some bait on the hook, tossed it into the water and wondered why the fish weren't biting.

"The moral of the story becomes, rather than just traveling around the pond, throwing your hook in the water, waiting for some fish, what you really need to be asking yourself is, what is it that I'm fishing for?" Gallagher says. "What is the right bait? What type of equipment will I need to do that? And where, in fact, am I going to find those fish?"

The result was the Focused Initiatives for making Success Happen (F.I.S.H.) plan, which was rolled out companywide in December 2003. Employees were asked to think of themselves not only as employees but also as consumers, and to determine opportunities to be addressed. Fifteen cross-functional teams were formed, and they created a list of 15 initiatives.

"What we learned about the company was a bit about the leadership potential ... and the leadership styles of some of our people, and also that good ideas can come from all across the company," Gallagher says.

F.I.S.H. is now part of the vocabulary at Faber-Castell USA, a professional art supplies company.

"If we are in a meeting and we're getting off track, somebody will very naturally say, 'Wait a minute now, let's really identify what we're fishing for here,' and it just becomes part of what we do," Gallagher says.

Based on research from the "Internet and Web site F.I.S.H team," the company changed the way it updates information and communicates with consumers via the Web. Another team researched the international market and distribution channels for Faber-Castell's Creativity for Kids line, a manufacturer of creative activity products for children of all ages that the company acquired in 1999.

"A significant portion of our growth over the past year can be attributed to the international business that we do on Creativity for Kids," Gallagher says. "So it wasn't just a few pennies; it really did help improve our performance this year."

The company has narrowed the original 15 initiatives to eight high-priority issues.

"We're continually dropping and adding strategic initiatives because some of the ones that you may have thought would have been very interesting opportunities just turned out as being a dead end," Gallagher says. "So with the help of the group, we dropped it, and now we move on."

F.I.S.H. team members talk to employees in toy or stationery departments about market trend, and read articles and conduct research on the Internet.

"The sheer amount of information and knowledge that we've gained by having everybody involved is much greater than it would have been if it was just an executive committee initiative," he says.

During first quarter 2005, the company is expected to provide employees with a summary of the past year's initiatives, and with F.I.S.H. 2005 under way, some teams have changed their composition to keep the creativity flowing.

"(The F.I.S.H. initiative) is a living, breathing entity within the company here -- one that we have found out worked really well, and we're ready to improve it for 2005," Gallagher says.

HOW TO REACH: Faber-Castell USA, (216) 643-4660 or www.faber-castell.us

Monday, 24 January 2005 11:17

Ready-to-wear

When the Virginia Marti College of Art & Design expanded in 2003, it wasn't because its owner was eager for growth.

"The city came after us," says college founder Virginia Marti Veith. "I was very comfortable staying small and selective, but with the expansion, we have had so many more opportunities for students coming in here and wanting to get in here. When you're very comfortable, you don't want to rock the boat, and we were doing very well at that time, but (the city of Lakewood) offered to help us."

With help from Lakewood, Cleveland Growth Capital and Huntington Bank, the college underwent a $1.5 million expansion, nearly doubling its campus size from 12,000 square feet to 21,800 square feet.

The city bought the building from its previous owner and used Cuyahoga County's Brownfield Redevelopment Fund, designed to overcome environmental barriers to reuse and obtain full use of underutilized commercial, industrial and institutional properties. The city did about $200,000 worth of asbestos removal work to make the building suitable for development, and demolished two small buildings behind the site, allowing the school to build another small parking lot for its teaching staff.

The college then bought the building from the city for $265,000. Cleveland Growth Capital financed 40 percent of the expansion, Huntington Bank financed 50 percent and the college financed the remaining 10 percent.

As part of the agreement, the college moved 18 positions into the city within the first year of occupying the space by moving from Cleveland to Lakewood seven administrative offices, including the comptroller, financial aid, support, registration and job placement. It also moved a designer fabric store that donates its proceeds to the Mission for the Fatherless, a charity Marti Veith and her husband founded to aid orphaned children in Kenya.

The college's structure, which consolidated the original and new buildings into one facility, includes two art studios, an interior design lab and an expanded student gallery. Marti Veith says that, as with any expansion project, there were problems with not getting materials on time, but despite a few glitches in completing the building's façade, "It's been good for us."

That is proven out in the college's enrollment numbers. The expansion has allowed the school to offer more classes, and it had a record 100 new starts last fall, compared to an average fall, which brings in 75 new students. The college can now accommodate up to 400 students in its two-year fashion design, fashion merchandising, graphic design, interior design and multimedia programs.

Now that the students and staff have settled into their new digs, Marti Veith is looking at the undeveloped 6,000 square feet on the campus, space that is being used for storage and for students filming multimedia presentations. In the past, the college has rented warehouse space to produce fashion shows, and Marti Veith says, "Everybody wants me to do a theater right now, and I say, 'Hey, hold it.'" She may consider that idea in the future, but for now, she's content with the facility's current setup.

Marti Veith is pleased with the results of the expansion project and seems almost envious of the opportunities available to her students.

"It's kind of a crazy business, but it's great," she says. "I'll tell you, I'm so tempted to go back into designing clothes, but how many things can you do in one lifetime?" HOW TO REACH: Virginia Marti College of Art & Design, (216) 221-8584 or www.virginiamarticollege.com

Designing woman

When Virginia Marti Veith was planning the $1.5 million expansion of the Virginia Marti College of Art & Design in Lakewood in 2003, she wanted the project to reflect her vision. She shares four tips for making a real estate project personal, yet keeping it in check.

* Keep it creative. The college's Interior Design Department developed the color schemes and interior of the new facility to make it feel more corporate, and the interior design lab was designed to reflect industry standards. "If you really look at some of the paintings around here and the color schemes, it's really very artistic and inspiring," Marti Veith says.

* The exterior should reflect the inner goings-on. "We wanted to show that we are really teaching interior design. The building is our calling card, so if we teach interior design, we better look like it all the way," she says. "It is fun to see all the creative juices getting together when (the students) design all the displays."

* Know when enough is enough. "You always have to be careful of not overprojecting and overspending. Really, I'm a conservative businessperson. I want to have both of my feet on the ground before I take another step," Marti Veith says.

* Avoid growing too quickly. "If you're taking on growth and you have double expenses, you better double your business. And if that doesn't happen, you slow down and you pull back a little bit," she says. " ... I learned a lot in the garment industry, and that's kind of what I've taken into education."

Monday, 24 January 2005 09:56

Thinking inside the box

The company name, Ranpak, stands for random packaging, but this Concord Township company doesn't produce petroleum-based peanuts that make a static-cling mess, bubble wrap that is difficult to recycle or airbags that burst or deflate based on temperature and altitude fluctuations.

Ranpak's core product, PadPak, has recently been joined by another biodegradable, renewable and recyclable void-fill product: The FillPak converter, launched in January 2003 in the United States and Europe, turns kraft paper into a star-shaped tube, which is geometrically the most efficient way to fill an empty space in a cardboard box. Several 100-cubic-foot boxes of Ranpak fanfold paper can be queued in the machine stand, allowing a packer to focus on filling boxes and not on changeover time.

"It's been demonstrated that it's faster than any other competitive system, so throughput increases when you use it," says Ranpak CEO Dave Gabrielsen. "The cost per cubic foot of paper compared to other commodities is low, and as a result of all these petrochemical cost increases in the marketplace ... the polystyrene products and the polyethylene products have gone through the roof."

Another Ranpak packaging system, AccuFill, figures out how much packing material is needed to fill a void in the top of a box and then lets the FillPak converter know. AccuFill users often see material usage reductions of between 10 percent and 25 percent.

Gabrielsen says the packaging industry "has tended not to be terribly innovative," with "Styrofoam peanuts put in a box today by a person wearing blue jeans, much the same way they put them in the same box or a similar kind of box back in the 60s." He says his company has been able to create these innovative products by listening to its customers.

"Most of what we've done with -- first FillPak and then AccuFill after it -- have all come as a result of just watching what our customers do and watching some of the problems that they have with the products that they use," he says.

In addition to its corporate headquarters, Ranpak has manufacturing facilities in Nevada and The Netherlands and a sales office in Singapore.

HOW TO REACH: Ranpak Corp., (800) RAN-PAK7 or www.ranpak.com

Wednesday, 01 December 2004 08:45

Leading by example

One month before Sept. 11, 2001, The Achievement Centers for Children (ACC) and its executive director, Patricia Nobili, began a campaign to raise money to build a new facility on Cleveland's East Side. Several years of hard work and $8.2 million later, the state-of-the-art Breen Family Center opened in June 2004.

The licensed and accredited ACC helps children and young adults with disabilities lead independent and productive lives. The agency also weaves therapy, education, recreation and family support services together to meet the needs of the entire family. The centers are located in Highland Hills and Lakewood, with Camp Cheerful and therapy services focused in Strongsville.

Set on five acres, the new 36,000-square-foot Breen Family Center features a barrier-free camp pavilion surrounded by wheelchair-accessible mulched trails; treatment facilities with video monitoring technology, which allows therapies to be recorded for progress reports and family training sessions; and a resource center to help families learn more about supporting children with disabilities.

Among the ACC team members, Nobili is known for embracing change in good times and in challenging ones, and effectively balancing ACC's mission with for-profit business principles. When she arrived at ACC 10 years ago, she instituted a decision-making process that continues today. Any program development, program change or solution to a program issue must pass a mission and fiscal compatibility screening.

The ACC team analyzes the issues and presents the information to management; employees understand the fiscal aspect is critical to sustaining the agency's programs and its mission into the future.

Nobili's management techniques have also impacted the development, expectations, retention and participation of the agency's board of trustees. Through clear expectations, relationship-building and frequent and concise communication, ACC has a supportive, active and dedicated board that enables the agency to better meet its fiscal challenges. HOW TO REACH: Achievement Centers for Children, (216) 292-9700 or www.achievementcenters.org.

Wednesday, 01 December 2004 06:24

Strengthening communities

In an effort to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility in local residents, Chip, Kenneth and Scott Marous, the president, secretary/treasurer and vice president, respectively of Willoughby-based Marous Brothers Construction Inc., implemented the Participating Area Resident (PAR) program in local neighborhoods.

Foremen at the Longwood Apartments on Cleveland's near East Side acted as mentors to PAR employees and taught them basic construction techniques so Marous Brothers staff could determine where their skills could best be worked into the construction company's apprentice program.

As a supplement to union training, Marous Brothers' Total Quality Management Program has been implemented to instruct apprentices on the proper ways to complete specific tasks, gain a better understanding of their jobs and learn trade secrets from supervisors or experienced journeymen to make them better tradespeople and more valuable as Marous Brothers employees.

Understanding the value of cooperative education, Marous Brothers has hired 18 college students from throughout Ohio as office and field personnel.

Occasionally, a project requires the services of a construction manager. Marous Brothers Construction has accepted this challenge from two local organizations:

* Hard Hatted Women needed construction management assistance to convert an existing office/warehouse building in Cleveland to house its new Pre-Apprentice Training Facility. The upgrades and improvements are estimated at $65,000.

All labor on the project is being donated by various construction trades and local union apprentice committees, and local companies are donating all material. Marous Brother' in-kind donation to this project is $6,000.

* The Willoughby Fine Arts Association asked Marous Brothers to oversee the construction of a 20-by-20 stage that would be strong enough to support a theatrical performance or concert. Marous Brothers' site, concrete, carpentry and landscape divisions and other companies donated labor and material.

The staff, faculty, board, students and patrons were so pleased with the results, Marous Brothers staff members were invited to be guests of honor at a concert and dedication of the outdoor stage in July. The company's in-kind donation to this project was $9,100.

Chip, Ken and Scott also believe the legacy that you leave behind isn't always made of bricks and mortar. Marous Brothers' management and staff are committed to their communities and partner with organizations that improve the lives of individuals and the condition of the world at large. In 2003 and 2004 combined, they gave nearly $24,000 in charitable donations and $68,000 in sponsorships.

HOW TO REACH: Marous Brothers Construction Inc., (440) 951-3904 or www.marousbrothers.com.

Monday, 22 November 2004 10:08

Prayer and home runs

Two things that play major roles in the lives of Rita and Peter Carfagna are Catholicism and baseball.

The couple recently worked as co-chairs of The Campaign for Beaumont School, raising $5 million to create a Spiritual Life Center for the Cleveland Heights Catholic college-prep school for women, and Rita -- a 1971 Beaumont graduate -- is serving her second term as a member of the school's board of directors.

"No two people have taken (the Spiritual Life Center) project into their hearts more than Peter and Rita Carfagna," says Maria Coyne, chair of the Beaumont School board of trustees. "For them, and for all of us, this will become the new spiritual heart of Beaumont's lovely campus."

Rita is majority owner of the Lake County Captains, and Peter is the team's president, as well as chief legal officer/general counsel for global sports marketing company IMG Worldwide Inc.

Rita also serves as president of the Murphy Family Foundation and as a trustee of St. Ignatius High School. Peter is former chairman of the board of St. Ignatius High School, a member of the Diocesan Finance Council, director of the Harvard Alumni Association and board member of the American Association of Rhodes Scholars.

Together, they serve on the advisory committee of Womankind Maternal and Prenatal Health Care Center and the advisory board of the West Side Catholic Center. They are also involved in their Shaker Heights parish, St. Dominic Church.

"(Peter and Rita's) commitment to the poor of our city especially inspires me, as these gifts are most often never recognized. I am honored to know them and serve with them," says Fr. Thomas Fanta, pastor of St. Dominic Church. HOW TO REACH: Beaumont School, (216) 321-2954, www.beaumontschool.org

Monday, 22 November 2004 09:23

A slice of PIE

When a company understands its role in the community it calls home, it's a win-win situation, and the Barberton plant of PPG Industries Inc. has that understanding, says plant manager Richard V. Bauer.

The $100 million-plus company does more than manufacture specialty chemicals for pharmaceuticals and pesticides, water-repellent coatings for aircraft windows, synthetic printing sheets used to make ID cards and menus and silicas that thicken and reduce gloss in varnishes, lacquers and paints.

Among the company's volunteer efforts over the past 10 years, PPG has made a $27,000 investment in Highland Middle School's students through the Partners in Education (PIE) program.

Each year, salaried and hourly PPG employees collectively volunteer about 1,000 hours through mentoring and tutorial programs. Since 1994, 550 Highland students have benefited from tutoring twice a week, and 125 have had PPG employees as mentors.

Employees have participated in Highland's career day speakers bureau and outdoor education camping program, Junior Achievement's "Go Figure" program, which teaches practical applications of math in everyday life, and the National PTA's "Reflections" essay program. PPG also built the Lake Dorothy outdoor ecosystem "classrooms" and education trails for students.

The company also supports -- both financially and through volunteer time -- the Straight A's program, attendance program, teacher sponsorship at the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council's Annual Teachers, Industry and Environment Conference, PPG Industries scholarship foundation and the student council leadership retreat at Kent State University.

When it comes to philanthropic endeavors, PPG and Highland have joined forces to support the Salvation Army's holiday programs, Pasta for Pennies campaign for the Leukemia Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. PIE is led by PPG employees, the principal and the teachers from Highland, who meet once a month to review and plan programs and activities that meet the partnership's goals.

PPG's volunteer efforts extend beyond Highland. The company supports the University of Akron's Women in Engineering's summer camp for seventh- and eighth-grade girls in the Akron area, provided a $6,000 scholarship to a high school senior living in the Barberton-Norton area and provided financial support to Barberton and Norton secondary schools.

Within the community, PPG employees volunteer with the Salvation Army, South Summit Chamber of Commerce and the Barberton Community Foundation. To stay in touch with its neighbors, PPG produces quarterly newsletters and meets monthly with its Community Advisory Panel, a voluntary group of area residents who keep the lines of communication open between PPG and the community. HOW TO REACH: PPG Industries Inc., (330) 825-0831, www.ppg.com

Thursday, 21 October 2004 06:59

Go with the flow

Five years ago, you might have found Lance Healy and Jim Walborn delivering grout to a construction project. Today, they run Elyria-based Banyan Technology, a multimillion dollar nationally deployed technology firm.

When Healy's product development company joined forces with Walborn's concrete specialty supply house in 1999, they expanded beyond the traditional local markets and began to explore the possibilities of the Web. The pair launched ConcreteBrokers.com in August 2000 but, frustrated with the difficulty of the coordination and management of freight, soon pioneered a new online marketplace for freight.

Following this successful model, Healy and Walborn received many requests to purchase materials outside their area of expertise, concrete. That led to the launch of ConstructionBrokers.com in November 2001, supplying materials for building construction.

Again, they realized their Achilles' heel was an automated freight partner that failed at random and hindered their ability to conduct business efficiently and effectively. In response, Healy and Walborn created a solution to serve their needs -- they allowed their shipping utilities to be used by other companies via the Web. The solution was so well-received that revenue on their freight solutions outpaced their construction materials sales.

Healy and Walborn then decided to develop and market their freight solutions under the name Banyan Technology. They were introduced to the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) in 2002 and moved to a technology incubator at Lorain County Community College in April 2003.

Healy says the "healthy paranoia of competition" inspires Banyan to reinvent itself and incorporate new services.

"The sudden downturn of the (concrete) industry and simultaneous aversion to dot-coms was an incredible motivator to take stock of our knowledge assets and make some hard decisions on where to place our resources," he says.

First, Healy says, know what separates your company from the competition. If four other competitors hold the same claim, look beyond the traditional business operations, brainstorm some "really brass ring ideas," and then ask, "What if?"

"Instead of listing why it won't work, start to investigate how it could work, and don't compromise on the end product because what you need isn't available," he says. "You may have just identified a goldmine." HOW TO REACH: Banyan Technology, (800) 835-1274 or www.banyantechnology.com

Monday, 27 September 2004 10:20

Where the day never ends

Bob Stark, president and CEO of Robert L. Stark Enterprises, wants to be clear: Westlake's Crocker Park is not a lifestyle center. It's a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week mixed-use neighborhood.

Crocker Park is 1.7 million square feet; 900,000 square feet of it is residential, 250,000 square feet is office space and 550,000 square feet is retail.

Stark says a lifestyle center is "all about the retail," and the East Side's Legacy Village, "by its name -- village -- and by its design, is a rip-off, it's a representation of a cutesy, mixed-use downtown environment. Only one problem -- that's not what it is. It's faux."

Stark says most lifestyle centers today are not as elaborate as Legacy Village. They are "strip centers with a little bit better finishes on it and leasing to a certain kind of tenant mix that has dubbed itself 'lifestyle retail.' ... You won't find any of those retailers here, and that's not what Crocker Park is about."

When it comes to residential space, Stark wants Crocker Park's apartments, condos, town homes and single-family homes to have the feel of "speaking over the front porch," and he envisions visitors going to this district to eat at the restaurants and hang out in the park areas.

"I'm all about creating special, and special is about aesthetic sensibilities. ... It's about evoking a positive warmth, a comforting emotional response from people about a place that they find themselves in," he says. " ... It's important that a bench be placed in such a way that it's connected to the things around it, and together they create a space. If you just put benches down so many feet apart from one another because that looks good on an architect's drawing, that has nothing to do with creating spaces that give people an opportunity to be at rest or at ease or to interact socially."

Stark has been testing his brand of social aesthetics at his Eton Chagrin Boulevard development. A chess park is being constructed at Eton, with plans for a larger version at Crocker Park.

"(It) brings to mind those parks in New York City where you see people playing chess with the clocks, and tournaments going on, or even the young people playing with older people," he says. "It's a wonderful, socially interactive, even spectator-oriented, endeavor that people really like, and we have no place to do it anywhere in Greater Cleveland."

Eclectic landscaping details like outdoor couches, antique benches and planters bring "a sense of delight" to a neighborhood, Stark says. Eton's perennial gardens are starting to come into their own, following in the well-established footsteps of the garden at The Promenade of Westlake, another Stark development.

"Crocker Park is an outdoor living room to the Nth degree," Stark says. "It gives people the opportunity to revel or to celebrate, to feel like they're on vacation in their own backyard. And that's a very important thing."

Stark calls Westlake's city leaders, "the highest level of professionals," and says they "get it." They go to the same seminars he attends, and have become educated about the nature of new urbanism so they can have input into the process.

The proof of this successful partnership is the widening of Crocker Road and the plan to connect Crocker to State Route 480. Stark says Westlake has "come of age" and, with Crocker Park set to open in October, will "probably move ahead of any other community in Northeastern Ohio as the ... most forward-thinking community in the area."

HOW TO REACH: Robert L. Stark Enterprises Inc., (216) 464-2860 or www.crockerpark.com


A 24/7 condition

Residents, office workers and shoppers have to live in harmony in a mixed-use community. Bob Stark discusses some issues he has faced while developing Crocker Park, slated to open this fall in Westlake.

* Reconciling demands. Crocker Park residents need privacy while being surrounded by shops and offices. They must also have easy garage access and not feel like visitors in their own neighborhood.

"You have a 24/7 condition, so you have to have lighting and security and conditions that are conducive to (a resident) walking their dog at 3 a.m.," Stark says. "The development doesn't close. It's truly an urban condition."

* Density issues. When planning residences above stores, Stark had to consider installing sound insulation between floors to please both parties. Flower pots on railings may make an apartment cheery, but walkers below may feel the effects of watering. These issues made Stark think like a city planning department dealing with its downtown.

"It required us to think about putting like opposite like, so the space above retail on one street is residential, and across the street from it we wanted other residential. We didn't want office dwellers peering into residential apartments," he says.

* Looking forward. Stark is considering bringing Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) to Crocker Park and to his Eton Chagrin Boulevard development to attract the younger generation.

"If the community becomes known as a place that is innovative, as opposed to a place that is conventional and boring, then we have a shot at maintaining our standard of living," he says.