The formidable influence of UCI
Posted August 18, 2014 in Articles
Author: Lee Chilcote
Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., has a letter on his desk from Robert Moses — the planner who shaped modern-day New York City — to Elizabeth Mather, the Cleveland philanthropist who helped create UCI in 1957. In the letter, Moses advises her to create a plan for the area's growth and sustainability. Mather not only followed his advice, she had the foresight to create an organization that served as a land bank for area institutions. The leaders that followed her took it a step further, creating a police force, helping to plan new development, offering free educational programs and advocating for residents and institutions.
Today, University Circle is one of the fastest-growing employment centers in Ohio and a nationally-touted example of creative place-making. UCI has grown into a sophisticated nonprofit organization with a $10 million annual budget, a 75-member board of directors and a police force that's as large as many suburban ones. UCI is unique because each of its more than 40 member institutions has a seat on the board and contributes to the budget. About one-third of UCI's funding stems from institutions, one-third from philanthropy and one-third from real estate services. Ronayne likens UCI's structure to the U.S. Senate — yet promises it's much better at getting things done.
“The smallest institutions have a seat at the table with the biggest, just like Connecticut has a seat at the table with Texas,” he says. “I love that, because I know that the Music School Settlement needs as much as the orchestra in terms of place-based services.”
Whereas the organization that Mather created was primarily a land bank, today UCI is helping to develop some of the most exciting real estate projects in Northeast Ohio, including the $65 million Uptown development and new housing in the Circle.
“Our development agenda has been to take the empty pieces between institutions and revitalize them,” says Ronayne.
“Years ago, the view of the highest and best use was parking. In the 21st century, the view of the highest and best use is development.”