Lance Chimka, who became Director of Allegheny County Economic Development (ACED) in 2018, oversees an agency responsible for business expansion, planning, community and real estate development, and affordable housing projects for the second most populous county in Pennsylvania.
Born and bred in Pittsburgh, Lance has long been familiar with the changes the region has gone through in its shift from a deeply embedded, industrial economy to one grounded in medical research, higher education and technologies such as robotics and cybersecurity. Soon after taking over at ACED, he noted that the local economy is hitting an important juncture, one in which Pittsburgh and local municipalities need to think beyond “eds and meds,” adding that a decade after the 2008 financial crisis “we’re in an economic expansion, but we’re not seeing some of the growth that other benchmark cities are seeing.”
Lance previously worked within the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development where he was Regional Director of the Governor’s Action Team, focusing on removing barriers to development, investment and job growth in the 11-county southwestern Pennsylvania region. And prior to working for the state, Lance led community development programs, commercial lending, business attraction and expansion activities for the ACED for a number of years.
Lance is certified as an Economic Development Finance Professional and he served in the U.S. Peace Corps, in Turkmenistan.
Information and Links
- Lance is really proud of ACED’s partnership with RIDC to help the startup, Fifth Season, build a vertical farm in Braddock, PA. The project was profiled by Fast Company and won a NAIOP light industrial project of the year award.
- Lance loves Pittsburgh International Airport’s microgrid project – he thinks it is both important and under-rated. Forbes loves it too.
- And he’s inspired by the tech entrepreneurs that have led Pittsburgh into the forefront of the innovation economy, like Duolingo, MeeterFeeder or Thread.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:18] Hi there. Thanks so much for joining me today for the latest episode of Impact Real Estate Investing.
[00:00:24] My guest today is Lance Chimka. Lance is the relatively new and extremely energetic director of Allegheny County’s Economic Development Department, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has a very contemporary take on what government ought to be doing, and that includes investing in real estate to advance the economy. Lance is building a collaborative team environment, working with developers throughout the county, lending where banks dare not go, always with his eye on economic development growth, and always with the thought of how our region can do better. Learn how Lance and his team are supporting development in a not-quite-market rate environment.
[00:01:11] Be sure to go to EvePicker.com to find out more about Lance on the show notes page for this episode. And be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you can access information about impact real estate investing and get the latest news about the exciting projects on my crowdfunding platform, Small Change.
Eve: [00:01:37] Hi, Lance. I’m really excited for the opportunity to talk to you today.
Lance Chimka: [00:01:41] Pleasure’s all mine, Eve. Thank you. I’m honored that you would have me on.
Eve: [00:01:45] We’re gonna have a great time.
Lance: [00:01:46] Absolutely. We usually do.
Eve: [00:01:48] In a not a lot of time, you’ve gone from being an intern at Allegheny County Economic Development to the organization’s director. And then you did a few odd jobs in-between. And that’s a pretty meteoric rise, wouldn’t you say?
Lance: [00:02:06] Ah, yeah. I mean, I guess it has been pretty quick. It sometimes didn’t feel that way. But I think the cool thing about that is that whole progression is absolutely vital to some of the stuff I want to get done, now. I wouldn’t have changed that course, at all. Like, understanding kind of the daily struggles of interns in my office absolutely directly informs how I work on efficiency measures here, for example. It’s been incredible and I’ve been really lucky to have incredible mentors along the way that have taught me a lot. That was one of my favorite things about public sector work, is it touches so much, that you’re able to, you’re able to learn.
Eve: [00:02:45] What led you to pursue a life in government service? Was it that first internship that you just liked so much?
Lance: [00:02:52] When I was pursuing an undergrad degree in finance, it was kind of in the boom times, the 2000s, and I didn’t want to take that route. Kinda always been a volunteer at heart, and so I joined the Peace Corps, and that was kind of the start of my real public service. And I just kind of knew, I came back to go to CMU and get a policy degree and just kind of always knew, in my heart of hearts, I would always be in some kind of public servant role. Not necessarily in government work, but that’s the path that I’ve chosen to this day, and it’s been incredibly rewarding.
Eve: [00:03:27] So, that what drives you, yeah. So, for listeners who haven’t connected the dots yet, Lance and I share a hometown, Pittsburgh, and a few decades ago, Pittsburgh was pretty well all but written off. You can listen to my podcast interview with Tom Murphy that I think just went live and you’ll get to hear the turnaround mayor talk about where we were then and what it took to shake that image. And that brings me to a statement that I read, that you made, Lance, which was, “we’re in economic expansion, but we’re not seeing some of the other growth that other benchmark cities are seeing.” And I’m just wondering what you meant by that?
Lance: [00:04:09] Not to, not to recap what you probably talked with Mayor Murphy about, but to get from the doldrums of 1983, which is really the trough of our local economy.
Eve: [00:04:19] It was the bottom, right? Yeah.
Lance: [00:04:21] Yeah. To where we’re at now, has been an amazing transformation, right? It’s been all about diversification and it’s, of a regional economy. And then we, now we have these five primary industry sectors: in financial services, IT, energy, advanced manufacturing and healthcare. And that’s really, really important because in recessionary periods, that diversified economy is very robust, and makes us the darling, and outperform benchmark cities in recessionary periods. However, the problem is that in expansionary economies we lack the kind of exponential growth that some of our other cities experience. It’s just kind of the nature of our economy currently, is slow and steady wins the race, which is fine. I think my goal is on the macro economic end, is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, keep the diversification, keep the slow, steady growth, but then really experience some of the upside of expansionary times, which we’re in now. And I think the key to that is, and I’m really optimistic about the future of our economy, is across those five industry sectors. You have artificial intelligence, which we are an absolute worldwide hub of, cuts across all of those. And robotics, cuts across three of those, in advanced manufacturing, health care and energy. So, those eight intersection points that I think are the key to experiencing upside growth, and that’s some of the stuff I’m excited to work on.
Eve: [00:05:56] How do you work on that? How do you improve that?
Lance: [00:05:59] Great question. Especially like, how does government do that? The risk profiles associated with investments in startups are probably too, you know, too risky of an investment for governments to be making. And not to mention, we don’t have that skill set. But I think there are a lot of other ways we can invest in the city in a way to encourage that kind of growth. One of those ways is in real estate development, right? If you take something like biotech, right? A lot of times you’ve got companies that need wet lab space. You have extremely long periods to get through clinical trials. You have really expensive buildings that, you know, because of the nature of the beast, you have your non-credit tenants. So, I think when we’re making investments in real estate, we need to incentivize those kind of assets in buildings that aren’t going to happen in the open market. That’s just one example. We lack high-bay space for robotics. Some other specialty real estate that I think the public sector can play a role in: mitigating the risks for developers who have non-credit tenants, and making sure that building stock is available. Speculative development is another thing we’ve classically underperformed on. And in the kind of pace of the current economy, like, people are not waiting around 18 months to build a building, they want turnkey space ready to go. So, we’re working on a number of things to make sure that those types of building stock in speculative development is allowed for. And a lot of that is investment through tax abatements, and direct investment, and site assembly that I do here in this office. So, that’s just one example in real estate. I think you can find other examples in public infrastructure, amenities, recreational space, and being really intentional about how we connect our tech hubs through infrastructure work. Whether that’s public transit, or whether that’s, you know, really compelling a multi-modal streetscape design. Things like that.
Eve: [00:08:03] Quite a lot to think about, isn’t there?
Lance: [00:08:04] Yeah. Yeah. Keeps ’em busy.
Eve: [00:08:06] So, you also served as an advisor on Pittsburgh’s Amazon HQ2 proposal. And I’m wondering in retrospect how you feel about making it to the top 20 list, but not as an Amazon final city pick.
Lance: [00:08:20] Yeah, I mean, I feel great about it, because I think we extracted all the marketing benefit from it without any of the really, really, really painful stuff that might have been associated with it. I am proud of our approach to that. I think it was, hey, here’s a suite of stuff that we, as every Pittsburgher, there’s wide agreement that we need to invest in. And we don’t have a revenue stream to do that. So, let’s take that suite of things we need to invest in and treat this gargantuan investment coming our way as the revenue stream. You know, and I think it helped kind of distill that suite of, that wish list, if you will, for us. And now, ok, we might not have the revenue stream, but at least it helped distill what we want to be as a city, forcing us to go through that process. And I think it was overwhelming positive experience.
Eve: [00:09:13] What’s the top of the list that we should become?
Lance: [00:09:16] I think the two things that kind of rose to the top, given the time in our city and the way things are trending, are people want a really robust public transit network. I think that was clear. People want and are concerned about rapidly appreciating real estate values in some of our residential markets. And that would be exacerbated by a huge investment like that. And so I think it really rallied people around public transit, and around affordable housing. Which I think is a positive thing, you know?
Eve: [00:09:48] Yeah, no, I agree.
Lance: [00:09:50] It’s great that affordable housing is suddenly cool again. You know?
Eve: [00:09:53] Yeah.
Lance: [00:09:54] This is fantastic. People working in this field are like, wow, this great sea change, like, in a really short period of time.
Eve: [00:10:01] Yeah, that’s true. Affordable housing is a really hot button issue now, isn’t it? Everywhere.
Lance: [00:10:06] Yeah, no doubt. And it’s great. And I think ultimately, you know, we did not land that investment. I think predominately it was a numbers game, right? A population numbers game. You’re talking about …
Eve: [00:10:18] Yes.
Lance: [00:10:18] … a gigantic pool of workers, and being a small middle market city was tough for us to absorb that, A., and, you know, the facts that matters are we have zero population growth and a two million metro area, and it went to a place with a 20 million metro area and five percent growth. And a, what a, maybe a 12 million metro area, and like 10 percent growth down in D.C., right?
Eve: [00:10:42] Right.
Lance: [00:10:42] At the end of the day it was all about …
Eve: [00:10:45] The numbers.
Lance: [00:10:46] … you know, the numbers, demographics, bodies, population. And that put a fine point that we need to work on that as well, right? That’s a huge Achilles heel for us is a lack of population growth.
Eve: [00:10:56] It is and it isn’t. I mean, that part of Pittsburgh’s charm is its size. When you talk about what should Pittsburgh become, I think you should also think about what it shouldn’t become, right?
Lance: [00:11:07] Sure.
Eve: [00:11:07] It’s a pretty beautiful and rather unique city. And each city has its own strengths. I don’t know. For me, cities go beyond numbers, but perhaps not for Amazon.
Lance: [00:11:17] Yeah, well, exactly. I think, despite what they would tell you, I think they had to take a very analytic approach to that.
Eve: [00:11:23] Yes.
Lance: [00:11:24] And it’s something that like charm and culture and beauty were probably not heavily weighted …
Eve: [00:11:31] No.
Lance: [00:11:31] … on that algorithm scale, right? So. But I agree with you.
Eve: [00:11:35] Probably mobility and housing stock were right up there.
Lance: [00:11:38] Mm hmm. I imagine.
Eve: [00:11:39] You’ve barely started, but what would you like to accomplish at ACED?
Lance: [00:11:44] Oh, boy, I mean, a lot. So, our two-fold mission is this: one, is the work on the macro economic health of the city, which is really about building a diverse and growing regional economy that’s opportunity rich for everyone to tap into, right? And we addressed some of that already. The other part of our mission is much more neighborhood-based. And that’s, you know, we want to create healthy and vibrant communities. So, all of our investments, and we make those investments in the areas of housing, and industrial and commercial development, infrastructure development, parks and rec, things of that nature, all of our investments are done with that two-fold mission. So, there’s certainly a lot of things I think we can do and be more creative with the tools we have. You know, I’m a big proponent of good government, too, and I think there’s a lot we can do to make the public sector meet the needs of our citizens in a more efficient and customer-friendly way. So, that’s the other kind of side of this that I will work on is, not only mission delivery, but just, you know, government efficiency is a twisted hobby of mine that I like, I like working on.
Eve: [00:12:55] Ha! That’s a really great hobby.
Lance: [00:12:57] Yeah. I mean, everyone needs a hobby.
Eve: [00:12:59] Yeah.
Lance: [00:13:00] And to be more specific, again, I talked about the real estate assets that I think we need to incentivize. A big concern of mine is if you put communities, you can kind of classify them broadly in three buckets. And that’s, there are tons of communities that are thriving, and we need to support them. There are a number of communities that are revitalizing that need special attention. There are a lot of communities, they need stabilization. We need triage. And a lot of that is direct fallout from the 1983 exodus of people with any sort of social mobility leaving the city.
Eve: [00:13:37] Yeah. Yeah.
Lance: [00:13:37] And we have certain areas that, they have zero market. Land value is negative, right? And that presents a whole slew of economic and social problems that go along with that. And we really need to support those communities. At the same time, kind of leaving the development breadcrumbs from areas of high opportunity to establish markets, and you kind of need to string those investments along. It’s going to be a while until I can take the strength of the market that is the Strip District, for now, and pool it across the Allegheny Valley, right? And pool it down into the Mon Valley.
Eve: [00:14:14] Yeah.
Lance: [00:14:14] And in the process establish beachheads in Etna. And I need to establish that beachhead in Etna before I can really get to Tarentum and New Kensington, right? Same thing goes for the Mon Valley. I really need to establish a strong beachhead in Wilkinsburg and Braddock until I can really talk about strength of market in places like Clairton. In the meantime, we need to make sure that we are treating those communities with the respect that they deserve in addressing the blight and disinvestment they’re struggling with, and doing that in a really smart and strategic way.
Eve: [00:14:46] Well, it must be really tough making decisions because you can’t have endless resources, I’m sure. And then you have to decide where to direct those resources. And for people who don’t know who are listening, Pittsburgh was around 700,000 people strong and really lost more than half of its population in the 1980s. And it’s now still hovering just over 300,000. Although family units are smaller now.
Lance: [00:15:16] Yes.
Eve: [00:15:16] It’s still a lot of vacancy, right?
Lance: [00:15:18] Yeah, absolutely. And so, you know, there’s some opportunity there. You know, to some extent, affordable housing price per square foot is a supply demand calculation, right?
Eve: [00:15:27] Yes.
Lance: [00:15:28] The problem is the areas that are close to job centers, well-served by public transit, and have amenities like grocery stores. We’re seeing rapid appreciation there, and obviously, because they’re more desirable places to live. So, we need to make investments to ensure that those are mixed-income communities. And we also have the opportunity, though, that a lot of other cities don’t, to make proactive preservation investments in areas that have naturally occurring affordable housing. And we’re doing both of those things on the housing investment side.
Eve: [00:16:00] Real estate development is a major component of your work.
Lance: [00:16:04] Oh, yeah. I would say most of what we do has a real estate component to it. Now, one of the things we’re trying to get more engaged in, that we traditionally have not, is the workforce development arena. You know, I think one of the big transitions we talked about, like the change in public opinion around affordable housing … the innovation economy has forced site selection to go from a predominately site- and building-centric approach to predominately talent-based approach. And we, I think in the past, in the economic development community, have taken a very hands-off approach saying, hey, there are specialists in workforce development, we’re going to let them do their thing, and we’ll just, we’ll build the stuff, invest in those tangible building products. I don’t think that model works anymore. I think the workforce challenge and the future of work is such an acute need that we really need an all-hands-on-deck approach. And the more resources everyone can leverage, that and, the better. I’m just finalizing my budgets for next year and we’re probably making close to a million dollars in investments in workforce development, which doesn’t have a land and building component to it. And I’m proud of that. And I think that’s something we’ll continue to invest more heavily in. And that’s everything from workforce readiness of teens, to adults with barriers to employment, getting re-educated and prepared for the workforce. You know, we need to attack this from all angles.
Eve: [00:17:33] I was going to ask, is there a rhyme or reason to the projects you become involved in. But I think I’m hearing that your organization, you really play the role as almost a pioneer investor early on when perhaps it’s a little bit uncomfortable for private money to be involved?
Lance: [00:17:51] Oh, no doubt.
Eve: [00:17:52] Yeah.
Lance: [00:17:52] Yeah, absolutely. Our investments, I think, are predominately … well, one, we take first mover investments in site assembly. Right? For example. So, one of my big hypotheses was that people say there is no market, no real estate market in Braddock, right?
Eve: [00:18:14] Mmm Hmm.
Lance: [00:18:14] And I challenge that. I think it’s the fact that the available real estate is not the right kind of real estate. So, for example, we assembled 60 tax-delinquent, single-family structures, demolished them, consolidated them into one five-acre parcel, and worked with a very creative developer on a take-down period that worked for the finances of that kind of constrained market. And they built a 60,000 square foot high-bay light industrial building. It’s probably the first new industrial development in Braddock in, I couldn’t even tell you how long. This is a place that suffered 90 percent of population loss.
Eve: [00:18:52] Yes.
Lance: [00:18:52] Those are the type of things, in that case, we were a first mover and then worked on aggressive land conveyance strategy with the developer. And now the great thing is we have new tax base in Braddock, we new job base in Braddock, and almost more importantly, I have a comp now, I have established that land has value in Braddock.
Eve: [00:19:12] Oh yes, that’s very important.
Lance: [00:19:14] And previously that didn’t exist. So, that’s something we did in 2019. They’re going to take occupancy first quarter of 2020, and, yeah, we’re really proud of that kind of work. So, sometimes our investments are in that realm. Other times were physical investments, either through tax leverage finance or direct investment, and yes, we assume a much higher risk profile than our private sector partners.
Eve: [00:19:35] And have you been able to convince some banks to come along on the ride with you?
Lance: [00:19:39] Yeah. And I think as long as you understand their underwriting criteria, and their approach, they’re great partners. You just have to understand what their sweet spot is and work around it. We underwrite our investments in a very similar way that banks do, on the risk end. The difference being, one, we’re willing to assume more risk. And two, on the return end we think much more broadly about returns. It’s not just about debt coverage ratio. It’s about tax base expansion. It isn’t necessarily going to pay us, but is a return to the project because it’s a mission-based return.
Eve: [00:20:16] It’s a return to the region, right? As well.
Lance: [00:20:17] Exactly. We love working with banks and traditional funders. And we have the ability to be more flexible to allow them to meet their underwriting goals and and still participate in the project.
Eve: [00:20:28] What sort of projects do you hope to see more of? I mean, if things go really well and your investments pay off in the way you want them to. What sort of projects are you hoping to see arise independently in the next five years, let’s say?
Lance: [00:20:42] Yeah, I think if we do a couple of projects like that, that light industrial building in Braddock then … that’s the goal, is that you would then establish a market and I can then start making similar investments in Duquesne and McKeesport. And like I said, you just pull that market down to maybe less centrally located areas. So, yeah, more spec buildings, more high-bay light industrial for robotics industry, more wet lab for biotech and life sciences. You know, hopefully, some of our development community starts to realize that you can stand in Lawrenceville in 40 dollar square foot space and look across the river at 15 dollar square foot space. And …
Eve: [00:21:19] Yes.
Lance: [00:21:21] … start to recognize that arbitrage opportunity. Because these communities, they’re fantastic, unique, beautiful places. They are open to development. They are, you know, they’re wonderful places to do work. And they’re right adjacent to the urban core. So, you know, rethink your idea of proximity and let’s do some great projects in some of these communities that are maybe overlooked in a lot of cases.
Eve: [00:21:47] And then most importantly, it’s pretty fun to be at the leading edge, right?
Lance: [00:21:51] I think so! Sometimes, you know, that’s when you don’t have a comp and the bank starts to get real nervous …
Eve: [00:21:58] I know, I know.
Lance: [00:21:58] … that’s when, you know, they don’t find it as much fun as I do. But yeah. I mean, that’s part of the fun, is there’s additional challenge there, but it can be really, really rewarding if you pull something off.
Eve: [00:22:08] I agree. Totally agree. Yeah. We’ve also talked about how to empower people in these communities to be part of the change, the rapid change that’s occurring in cities like Pittsburgh. And I am wondering why you think that’s important?
Lance: [00:22:23] One of the big challenges we face as a society is disproportionate allocation of not only income, if you look at wealth, right? It becomes even more staggeringly problematic. So, we’re not trying to establish markets for, just because, just for tax base, right? Hopefully, the idea is then, by establishing market you can assist in families building wealth, right? And we want people to be able to participate in the benefits of these hopefully catalytic investments we’re making. How best to do that is a challenge. You know, obviously, it’s easy when you have homeownership, high levels of homeownership, because that’s, you know, your biggest asset that appreciates with change in real estate market.
Eve: [00:23:17] Yeah.
Lance: [00:23:17] If people have that asset and they want to cash out and participate in that upside return, well, great. You know, that’s building equity, that’s building wealth. And hopefully that’s life changing for the family that chooses to do that. I think the problem, because when people are very culturally, emotionally and kind of societally invested, but don’t have that asset to participate in the appreciation, how to plug those people in to our changing communities and make sure that they participate. And that’s where, you know, lots of novel ideas that I think we’ve been talking about, about microlending, and, you know, equity returns back to neighborhoods, start to become really, really compelling for that kind of segment of society and something that I really want to learn more about, and try and institute some really progressive things on that front.
Eve: [00:24:10] I’ve been talking to some people over the last year who also believe that making a space for those people, like a physical space, is really important. And they do that in different ways. Like maybe a community space or … there’s a developer that I know who very purposefully will create retail space and then look for someone in the neighborhood to fill it and really help them build their business into that space. And that, I suppose that’s another very concrete way to involve community and make them feel like they belong, right?
Lance: [00:24:47] Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, maybe that’s a, you know, a silver lining on the challenges to retail real estate now is that mixed-use buildings are kind of hoping that’s a break even spot? Right?
Eve: [00:25:01] Yeah.
Lance: [00:25:02] And so what you have is then, is a really affordable commercial …
Eve: [00:25:05] Right.
Lance: [00:25:05] … property for people to move into. You know, locally-owned, sole proprietorship businesses that provide a higher return back to the, to the owner.
Eve: [00:25:17] Yeah, yeah.
Lance: [00:25:17] Hopefully we can continue that.
Eve: [00:25:19] Yeah. And so, like, I have to ask, what’s, you know, your background? You mentioned a little bit about it, but what did you study? What got you to this place?
Lance: [00:25:29] Yeah. I grew up in Pittsburgh, to a … I was the youngest of four.
Eve: [00:25:35] You were the baby.
Lance: [00:25:36] I was the baby and I probably act like it too much. But, you know, my first education was growing up in incredibly hilarious and brilliant family. So, you know, my parents were really hardworking, great people. I went to a mix of public and Catholic schools when I was a kid. I studied finance in Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America. Went overseas and lived in Turkmenistan for three years, which was arguably the most educative of all of my educational experience. And I came back to CMU to get a policy degree with the intention of going back to do more international development work, because I found it just fascinating. But really fell back in love with my hometown, recognized that there were parts of my city that were in as much need or possibly greater need than what we consider to be some of the, you know, the most poverty stricken places on earth. And that didn’t sit great with me. Yeah, all of those different educational life experiences, it kind of like, let me down this path. And, you know, people, like I said I have had great work mentors that have given me chances to work on stuff. I’ve just been incredibly lucky.
Eve: [00:26:51] I have a feeling it’s not just luck, but we can go with that.
Lance: [00:26:53] I think it’s mostly luck. It’s mostly luck. But yeah, like I say, it goes back to my parents. I do work hard at it because I love it. It never quite feels like work, you know. Some days it does.
Eve: [00:27:04] Yes.
Lance: [00:27:05] Most of the time it doesn’t.
Eve: [00:27:06] That’s great. And do you think on the whole, socially responsible real estate is necessary in today’s development landscape. Outside of the work you do, like everyday developers? What do you think that should look like?
Lance: [00:27:20] There’s crappy real estate development and there’s good real estate development, right?
Eve: [00:27:23] Yes.
Lance: [00:27:24] I think good real estate development is about placemaking, and placemaking is about integration into the community. Not just, you know, from a contextual design standpoint, but from a ‘community needs’ standpoint. And I think enlightened developers get that. Enlightened developers know that incorporating that kind of philosophy in the development usually leads to higher returns, too. So, I think it can be done well and it can be done profitably, right?
Eve: [00:27:52] Right.
Lance: [00:27:52] It just requires a kind of a philosophy, a mindset, and the ability to listen to people a little bit more. But in the end, they have a much better project to show for it.
Eve: [00:28:03] Creating something that’s responsible isn’t really swallowing a bitter pill, right?
Lance: [00:28:09] No, definitely not. Especially when you have your friendly local government economic development person to help you along the way and hopefully chip in where necessary.
Eve: [00:28:20] And are there any current trends in real estate that you think are interesting or most important to the future of our cities?
Lance: [00:28:28] Well, I mean, I think it’s interesting, you know, being the hub of technology that we are. I think the design considerations around places like parking garages, for example, I think are really interesting. Because the rate of technological change is forcing people to consider the fact that this structure could achieve obsolescence in five, 10 years.
Eve: [00:28:52] Yeah.
Lance: [00:28:52] Which, what previously was considered a 50 year asset. So, I find that inherently fascinating.
Eve: [00:28:58] It is fascinating, isn’t it? I just start thinking about, well, what could you do with a parking garage?
Lance: [00:29:04] Yeah, right.
Eve: [00:29:04] How many housing units could you put into those little slots?
Lance: [00:29:08] Precisely. And are they going to be livable, you know?
Eve: [00:29:10] Yeah.
Lance: [00:29:10] And how do you remediate the oil afterward? You know?
Eve: [00:29:12] That’s right.
Lance: [00:29:12] It’s a … it’s a really interesting thing. So, you see people spec-ing in higher ceiling heights than they would have previously. Flat floor plates. All these different design considerations that I find fascinating. And even more fascinating because we’re on the bleeding edge of all of the autonomous vehicle technology that is going to lead to obsolescence of those buildings. So, yeah, I mean, that’s one that I find fascinating. What else?
Eve: [00:29:39] I’m watching zoning changes across the country, and across the world. I’m pretty fascinated to see how quickly that’s going to move along. When you have cities, you know, basically outlawing single family homes. That’s quite a statement.
Lance: [00:29:53] Yes. I think Pittsburgh in particular is being very progressive in some ways with, you know, allowing for accessory dwelling units, which I know you’re probably an advocate for, and …
Eve: [00:30:05] Yeah.
Lance: [00:30:06] … and, you know, what they’ve done with the RIV district, for example, and ensuring access to the waterfront, I think is some really good things. However, in some city neighborhoods, and this gets even more acutely problematic when you move out to maybe smaller municipal governments that haven’t updated their zoning and code in a while. The thing that I find problematic is if you ask the average 10 people on the street what the vision for new development their community would look like? And then you show them what current zoning allows for, they would be horrified, right?
Eve: [00:30:40] Yes, yeah, I think that’s true in most places.
Lance: [00:30:43] It’s a huge disconnect and it’s worrisome to me.
Eve: [00:30:47] Yeah, I mean, how do, you know, it’s really expensive updating a zoning code. I’ve been involved in that. It’s a really big deal.
Lance: [00:30:53] It is. And when you multiply that by 130 municipalities with wide, varying levels of, kind of, capacity. It’s … yeah, it’s really a daunting task.
Eve: [00:31:05] Yeah. And one sign-off question, then. Given all of the possibilities, what comes next for ACED, and for you?
Lance: [00:31:14] I am very project focused. And I believe that markets are built one great project at a time and I try not to let the enormity of the challenges, you know, get me down, right? It’s just one good project at a time. We’re focused on that every day, and we’re focused on being innovative and creative every day. And there are a ton of innovative and creative people in Pittsburgh that we need to partner with and work with to solve these problems. Like I said, it’s all hands on deck.
Eve: [00:31:48] Well, thank you very much. I really enjoyed that conversation. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Lance: [00:31:52] Awesome. Thank you so much, Eve.
Eve: [00:31:54] That was Lance Chimka. Lance is embracing his role as the head of an economic development department with energy. Our conversation reflects the way that Lance thinks. Broad and diverse ideas to get at very particular economic problems. Lance is focused on growth, first and foremost. Making sure that Pittsburgh’s growth matches other cities. But at the same time, he wants to make sure that no one is left behind. So, he thinks a lot about how to empower communities in the path of rapid change, and how to change the disproportionate allocation of wealth. I’ll be interested to see the impact that Lance’s leadership will have.
Eve: [00:32:46] You can find out more about impact real estate investing and access the show notes for today’s episode at my website, EvePicker.com. While you’re there, sign up for my newsletter to find out more about how to make money in real estate while building better cities.
[00:33:12] Thank you so much for spending your time with me today. And thank you, Lance, for sharing your thoughts with me. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Lance Chimka