Tim Fishking

Tim Fishking

Principal, NBBJ
Tim is a principal in the Columbus office of NBBJ. When not leading complex healthcare and mixed-use projects around the world, he can often be found dodging the baseballs thrown at him by his Little League Team.

Parking Lots Are an Urban Blight

Cleveland Developer Robert Stark Shares Ideas for Transforming Vacant Downtowns

May 6, 2015

Principal, NBBJ

In part two of my interview (read part one here) with Robert Stark, president and CEO of Stark Enterprises, a developer of mixed-use lifestyle destinations in Cleveland, Ohio, we discuss specific ideas for ridding downtowns of the parking lots that sap their vitality:


What can cities do to redevelop vacant lots?


Parking lots in downtown Cleveland (Wikipedia)

A lot of cities in this country suffer from parking lot blight: oceans of surface parking. When America became an automobile world, so many wonderful buildings and neighborhoods were torn down and replaced — as Joni Mitchell said — by parking lots. We haven’t been able to get rid of them because the value to the landowners of keeping them as parking is greater than anything else.

The only way we’re going to change that is by demonstrating and unlocking the greater economic potential of going vertical with those spaces. I propose that cities should consider an incentive program for people who convert parking lots into vertical development. Vertical, structured parking has its advantages, except that it’s expensive. To make up for the extra expense, a city could allow people to build a certain amount of extra spaces, then take the parking tax on the new spaces and TIF it. That could become an amazing catalyst for development across the country.

Some communities have similar incentives for converting brownfield sites. Well, parking lots are brownfield sites, as far as I’m concerned. In some respects they may be even worse than brownfields, as killers of progress. The city, the state, the federal government, the EPA — whoever — can easily spur redevelopment using existing remediation incentives.

In order to change America, you have to have public participation. The question is how to do it in a way that doesn’t pull existing dollars and cents out of the general fund. These two options — either tax-increment financing or funding for brownfield remediation — could be powerfully efficient incentives.

Image courtesy of Stephen Harlan/Flickr.

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Rebuilding American Cities Is a Community Effort

An Interview with Cleveland Developer Robert Stark

May 4, 2015

Principal, NBBJ

I recently sat down with Robert Stark, president and CEO of Stark Enterprises, a developer of mixed-use lifestyle destinations in Cleveland, Ohio — including the downtown nuCLEus project, designed by NBBJ — to talk about the urban renaissance happening in his city and in cities around the world. Here are some highlights (edited and condensed) from our talk…


How does Cleveland’s history mirror that of cities throughout the country?

Everybody who lived through the good days in Cleveland — and I caught the end of them as a child in the 1950s, when Cleveland was still competing head-to-head with Chicago and New York — remembers the energy on the streets. It was like walking down Fifth Avenue shoulder-to-shoulder — you had to be careful you didn’t get knocked down. Then, when sprawl took hold in America, you could toss a bowling ball down the main street and not hit anybody. And that became worse and worse over a period of 60 years.

The newness that was made accessible by the freeways, the bedroom communities where everyone could have their own plot of land and a different sense of privacy, drew the residential population in those directions. And what followed them were the amenities they needed: the supermarkets and strip centers, which then evolved into enclosed malls. And what followed then were office buildings, places to work that were close to where you lived and where the amenities were, because the office environment is as sensitive to those amenities as it is to the residential environment.

I like to call office employees office dwellers, because we spend so much time in our workplaces that we also need a lifestyle, or a quality of life, that relates to our business environment. In the suburbs, the amenity configuration supported both the residential and the business environment. As it evolved and became more state-of-the-art and more relevant to the culture of that time, the inner city became totally irrelevant.


How are urban development patterns changing?

It’s the reversal of sprawl. Cleveland has started to experience a residential movement back into the central business district. Now 13,000 people live there, and in the next few years it will double.

And what follows the residences? The amenity package: the retail, the restaurants, the entertainment, everything that makes the city not just convenient but more interesting and exciting.

And what follows the lifestyle amenities? The workplace. The workplace follows the cultural infrastructure that gives office dwellers a quality of life that is consistent with their values. But the United States is way behind in building its urban cultural infrastructure. It cannot be built solely by converting existing space from another era: every major city needs a new city alongside the old city, one that establishes a 21st-century community.


What do you mean by a “new city”?

Canary Wharf, London (Wikipedia)

Some of the major world cities anticipated the cultural infrastructure change that would happen between the 20th and 21st centuries by building a new city next to the old city: Berlin, Barcelona, London, Paris, you name it. Everybody understood that the nostalgia, the beauty, the magnificence of the old city is important and foundational, but it’s not relevant from the standpoint of carrying a city forward.

And because of the shrinking of the world through the Internet, competition is no longer local or regional — it’s global. So the competition to attract and keep the best and the brightest relates to the best, most advanced lifestyle that you can offer. By its nature, such a lifestyle has to be new. The 21st century is new, and so are its values, its culture and its amenities.

Take New York City. Where’s New York’s new city? Hudson Yards. And what is Hudson Yards going to do? It’s going to create the best possible representation of 21st-century living and working, starting with its architectural statements, which are very different than anything else in the city, and they should be. They should be reflective of this century. Chicago did it on a smaller scale with Millennium Park and what surrounds it.

nuCLEus is not big enough to be called a new city. But it is a great test case, because it’s big enough — and its location is perfect — to have a transformational impact on the city. It will demonstrate that public participation is worth its weight in gold. The economic impact of nuCLEus will far exceed what people imagine. And it will generate an enormous sense of pride. The world-class architecture will make the statement that Cleveland is a major-league city. Then we’ll open the doorway to building the new city. So it’s a catalyst.


Why is public investment necessary in private development?

We now live in a world where people can choose to live and work anywhere, almost totally detached from where their office may be. Or, equally, their office is on their hip or in their pocket. So you have to compete with everywhere else in the world, if you want to remain — or establish yourself as — a first-tier urban environment.

If you have communal and city vision from the right people, about the necessity to be competitive in a global society, then the city has to be a partner in the effort. And not only the city, but also the county and the state. Because you can’t do it otherwise. At the turn of the last century the private sector didn’t pay for communal infrastructure. There were public works, the roads, the tunnels, the railroads — the infrastructure was provided by the public sector. And it has to happen again. If it doesn’t, or if it doesn’t happen on the order of magnitude that builds a new city, then that city will not be competitive.


Why are people now seeking out cities and other dense, mixed-use, “urban” environments?


East 4th Street, a successful mixed-use district in downtown Cleveland (Wikipedia)

When you stack different uses vertically, when you put people in offices and residences and commercial space, all at the same time, it creates an energy — even a positive tension between the way each one of those components interacts with the other. That is what excites people when they visit cities like New York: many, many people occupying the same space, running to do different things. They all come for the same reason — the context, the excitement — but they’re there to do different things: the architecture, the food, the activities. That’s the experience I remember from 1950s Cleveland when I was six years old.


You often refer to yourself as the “Poet Developer”… What does that mean?

It means that I’m motivated by being creative and articulate, and that our developments need to be works of art, intelligent and textured. I am always designing contexts which create an experience. An artist, a poet is responsible for transmitting an experience. A poet’s art is to create an experience from an inspiration, and to put the observer within the context of that inspiration. A great artist of any type — a musician, a painter, a sculptor — does the same thing. As our tagline says, “It’s all about the experience.”


Image courtesy of Erik Drost/Flickr.

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