Lately, it seems that all we do is talk about how Cincinnati and the Tristate are changing. With new businesses around every corner and a streetcar to take us there, walking around downtown often feels like walking through an entirely different city. The region is changing—literally. And Al. Neyer, the commercial development company first founded in Cincinnati in 1894, and Molly North, its first female CEO, are at the heart of it.
Just like Cincinnati’s renaissance, Al. Neyer’s growth and North’s ascendency within the company were years in the making.
In fact, North didn’t even intend to go into commercial development until the early 2000s. She received a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Cincinnati and entered the world of accounting and banking.
“I don’t know that I was ever interested in finance and accounting,” says North. “I was in the business college at UC really only as a result of perhaps my mom saying when I was young that I should be a businesswoman because I’m aggressive and I’m good at math.”
While a real estate lender at Fifth Third, North was introduced to commercial real estate and Al. Neyer.
“It was completely different than any other client that I had,” says North. “When you walked in here you felt like you were entering an organization that worked in a very transformative capacity. And the level of professionalism that was illustrated by everyone with whom I worked here was completely a great distance from any of my other clients.
“Developers have a reputation for being opportunistic in a way that they can make the most money. They’ve earned a reputation, bad and good, for being maybe self-focused. This company clearly had a purpose. And it had a purpose to be part of something that was bigger than itself. It wasn’t being a real estate lender that led me to wanting to do commercial development it was this company.”
While North was initially offered an accounting position she was ready to move on and inquired about development, something in which she had little experience. She joined the company as vice president of real estate development and finance in 2007.
“I said, ‘Well, how hard could it be?’ I came in as a development manager with really no more experience than a few years in real estate lending and quickly learned that all it is is figuring out how to get to your end goal and churning the path to get there and driving and driving and driving until you get to where you’re going. So having project management work with a high need for persistence. Those are just natural attributes for me.”
Her first project, Columbia Square, put those attributes to the test as its physical characteristics made the project a challenge.
“I referred to it as Last Gas because after we had acquired that property and started digging we found multiple storage tanks from gas stations that hadn’t even been on the register. So what I imagine was, well, this was the last place that you could get gas until the end of time,” says North.
Her ability to remain persistent paid off as she moved on to other projects, like Vernon Manor, and moved up within the company, first to chief financial officer in 2012 and then to CEO in 2015.
The company currently has 15 projects in process throughout the Tristate, from the garage and retail space being built at Eighth and Sycamore to MadTree’s new brewery in Oakley.
“The biggest, probably the most transformative, [project] that we’re working on right now would be the Blue Ash airport,” she says. “The work that we do there will be a decade’s worth of work, but the impact that that 100 acres can have on that entire surrounding area is significant.”
As the city has grown and changed so has Al. Neyer.
“If you had asked me 10 years ago what’s your sweet spot on a deal-size basis I’d say our sweet spot is probably $8 [million] to $15 million. Our sweet spot now is $8 [million] to $30 million. And we see many more projects on the larger scale than we ever have before,” says North.
In terms of the future, North sees Al. Neyer’s growth being fueled by geographic expansion. Its offices in Pittsburgh, which were established 15 years ago, and in Nashville, which the company opened in 2015, are showing significant growth. North anticipates the company looking into a fourth market in the next couple years.
Outside of Al. Neyer, North further indulges her passion for the city and development. She’s the real estate representative on the board of the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation, which looks to return vacant properties to productive use, and she’s the board chair for Findlay Market.
“You knew 20 years ago what a gem [Findlay Market] was and you could only imagine what it could be like with the surrounding neighborhood that was occupied and that’s now happening. It’s very rewarding to be a part of that institution that has given so much to the city and been such a great asset,” she says.
North has two young children—a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old—but they’re beginning to understand that North’s job is more than just a candy bowl on the desk (though that may still be the main draw).
“I think [the 3-year-old] thinks that our company builds all the buildings. I do like the vision she has for the company,” says North.
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