Ohio City is first site for Whalen’s new venture

Dan Whalen, after 12 years of working for others in real estate, the former quarterback at Willoughby South High School, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Gladiators will now be quarterbacking his own real estate firm (LinkedIn). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

New firm Places Development launched this week

What does a quarterback like to do? Run a winning team and call his own plays. With that, Cleveland-area native and former pro football quarterback Dan Whalen is taking the snap from center this week and launching his own real estate development and investment firm — Places Development. Not only is the new firm based in Cleveland, Whalen said much of his business focus will be on Cleveland.

For the past six-plus years, he rose through the ranks at Harbor Bay Ventures, based in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook. Starting out as vice president of design and development and later adding the title of president of hospitality. His interest in lodging, restaurants and retail grew when he previously was director and manager of development at Chicago-based Starwood Retail Partners and it stuck with him.

Hospitality is where a lot of his interest remains and could physically manifest itself soon in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. In this growing community, he oversaw his biggest Cleveland project yet — the mass-timbered, $150 million, 512,000-square-foot Intro Cleveland.

Opening in April 2022 at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street, Intro has 297 apartments, 35,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space and an acre of green space. The building reached 95 percent occupancy at top-of-the-market rents of $3 per square foot before its grand opening celebration that summer. It lent to calls for a second phase of Intro that has yet to happen due to market-wide financing constraints.

“I’m Looking to diverge and do something on my own,” Whalen told NEOtrans in a phone interview last week. “I’ll be going solo and running things but with support from a bunch of local investors. It’s going to be a platform to achieve new things and offer a level of credible property development.”

This parking lot at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 26th Street in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood could be the place where Dan Whalen and his new firm Places Development plants its first, big flag. Here, Whalen plans a hotel, probably over ground-floor retail. West Side Market towers in the distance at right (Google).

He made the news public today in an announcement on LinkedIn and noted that he’s leaving Harbor Bay on good terms. His last day at Harbor Bay was April 30. However, he declined to identify his investors in his new venture.

“After six amazing years and so much to be proud of and thankful for at Harbor Bay Ventures, it was time for me to take the leap and start my own development and investment firm,” he wrote on LinkedIn. “What we accomplished in Cleveland and beyond has been nothing short of extraordinary. I am looking forward to sharing more about what I’ll be working on, but needless to say, I’m feeling lots of different emotions…excitement being number one.”

Although he was not ready to reveal details of his first big venture, he acknowledged that his firm has under contract a 0.83-acre property at Lorain and West 26th Street — just one block from Intro. Currently used as a parking lot, the two-parcel property is owned by 2523 Market Corp., an affiliate of nonprofit community development corporation Ohio City Inc. (OCI).

When OCI issued in Spring 2022 a request for interest in the Lorain-West 26th site, Whalen was interested in the site at that time. NEOtrans learned from two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity that My Place Group, which has been developing residential and mixed-use throughout Ohio City, was another respondent. Since then, interest in the site transferred to Places Development along with Whalen.

“I have a couple of things I’m already working on, including a hospitality project in Ohio City,” he said. “I’ll be able to share more news in the next few weeks. But this neighborhood desperately needs and would benefit from a neighborhood-driven boutique hotel. There’s so much activity in this neighborhood yet there’s no hotel west of the (Cuyahoga) River until you get to the airport.”

Outlined in red, the site currently owned by Ohio City Inc. affiliate 2523 Market Corp. is under a purchase agreement by Dan Whalen’s new firm Places Development. Whalen proposes a hotel development here (Google).

Whalen referred to his experience with Intro when discussing the hospitality needs of Ohio City. The nine-story building, which has a rooftop event center called Truss, has been able to attract more than 150 events per year. But it could have attracted even more if there was a hotel close by in Ohio City’s bustling Market District, Whalen explained.

“The neighborhood is screaming for something,” he said. More property could become available next door if Great Lakes Brewing Company relocates its brewing and production operations to Avon in a story first reported by NEOtrans. OCI Interim Executive Director Chris Schmitt did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment about its West 26th site prior to publication of this article.

The parking lot is zoned for local retail which allows all uses permitted in a multi-family district plus businesses for local or neighborhood needs. The maximum building height allowed here is 115 feet which equates to an 11-story residential and/or hotel building. It isn’t yet known how tall Whalen wants to build. A Great Lakes source said the potential development of the parking lot on West 26th was a factor in its plans to relocate their production facilities.

Two hotel projects in Ohio City have struggled to get off the ground. One is at Bridgeworks, which is proposed to include a 132-key Cleveland Motto By Hilton hotel, 146 apartments and ground-floor retail. If it gets city approvals soon, the project could see a groundbreaking by the end of summer. Another is the proposed Hulett Hotel which has no estimated groundbreaking date. Neither are within an easy walk of Ohio City’s Market District.

The inability of those hotel projects to get rolling is a financing problem and Whalen intends to tackle project financing issues with Places Development. Many projects in Cleveland and nationwide have been put on hold due to a lack of financial liquidity and a refusal of banks to lend construction money, especially to large projects costing more than $100 million.

The $150 million, 512,000-square-foot Intro Cleveland development at Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street in Ohio City was the biggest project Dan Whalen had worked on in Cleveland. But that was with Harbor Bay Ventures. It whet his appetite for more, but with him calling the plays (KJP).

“Capital markets for the last 18 months have been tough,” Whalen said. “You’ve got to get creative and have a project that not just works but has a contingency to amend (its programming) as the market develops. Others are willing to fund projects but they’re not always easy to find. I think the market’s right for that, not just in Cleveland, but nationwide. Development is hard right now. Down times are a good time to start businesses.”

He said there are buying opportunities out there right now among project owners who can’t recapitalize and get out of their construction loans. Those are going to create sales by opportunity, Whalen said.

He said he didn’t take any cues from anyone else who chose to go on their own in real estate. He was asked about Mike Panzica who worked for eight years at Cleveland-based Hemingway Development before forming his own company M Panzica Development LLC in 2020. Since then, Panzica has been partnering in local projects including Church+State, The Monroe Apartments, The Abbey Townhomes & Flats and now Bridgeworks.

“Mike Panzica took a leap of faith and it paid off,” Whalen said. “I’m 35, 36 this summer, and I’m ready to do this, including doing some smaller stuff outside of Greater Cleveland, too. I’ve always had a game plan to set out on my own and this is my first opportunity to do that.”

Whalen is a former quarterback from Willoughby South High School who went on to get his Masters of Business Administration at Case Western Reserve University while quarterbacking its Spartans football team. He also quarterbacked professionally in the Arena Football League (AFL), playing for the Cleveland Gladiators in 2011 and the Orlando Predators in 2012. The AFL ceased operations during the pandemic and filed for bankruptcy last week.


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