Building a Better Way of Life In Inner-City Neighborhoods
Richard D. Baron, one of the nation’s most successful developers of inner-city mixed-income communities, has been selected as the fifth annual laureate of the Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Baron, 62, is co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc., (MBS) in St. Louis, Missouri, a for-profit firm that specializes in the development of economically integrated urban neighborhoods.
The Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize recognizes a person whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development. The $100,000 prize honors the legacy of legendary Kansas City, Missouri, developer J.C. Nichols, a founding Urban Land Institute (ULI) member considered to be one of America’s most influential entrepreneurs in land use during the first half of the 1900s. Baron was awarded the prize during a celebratory luncheon today in New York City.For Visionaries In Urban Development
Since 1973, MBS has developed more than 11,500 units of affordable and market-rate housing in 102 developments in 28 cities across the United States, including St. Louis, Kansas City; Cleveland; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Phoenix; Ft. Worth, Texas; Atlanta; Richmond, Va.; Minneapolis; Highland Park, Mich.; New Haven, Conn.; and New York City. Most of the projects are rentals, although the firm has incorporated some for-sale housing in its developments. MBS manages all of the rental properties, as well as 5,000 other properties nationwide.
While the residences are well-designed and well-built, the housing itself is only half of the MBS story. Under Baron’s guidance, the firm places equal emphasis on connecting residents with social services they need to succeed in life, such as job training, child care, after-school programs, youth activities and elder care. It is a holistic approach to community development that stems from the company’s mission: “to rebuild neighborhoods in central cities that have deteriorated through decades of neglect and disinvestments.”
“I see our firm as an agent of change. We set out to change the economics of communities and empower families,” Baron said. “What has sustained me over the years are the stories of families whose lives have been turned around, the stories of children who are in a better place, whose parents are in job training. The pleasure I get out of this comes from being involved in the turnaround of these communities, of making a difference in people’s lives.”
As the fifth recipient of the Nichols Prize, Baron joins Charleston, South Carolina Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.; the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan; Gerald D. Hines, founder and chairman of the Hines real estate organization; and architecture professor Vincent Scully. Riley, Moynihan, Hines and Scully were the 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 Nichols Prize laureates, respectively.
Peter S. Rummell, chairman and chief executive officer of The St. Joe Company in Jacksonville, Fla., chaired the jury who selected Baron as the Nichols prize recipient. The selection of Baron highlights a key element of community building—affordable housing—and adds to the variety of design and development aspects celebrated by the prize, Rummell explained.
“Richard represents a very important body of work, and he has done it well over a long period of time,” Rummell said. “He has shown that developing affordable housing can be both the right thing to do and good business.”
In addition to Rummell, other jury members were: Joseph E. Brown, president and chief executive officer of EDAW, Inc., in San Francisco; Ronald Ratner, president of the Forest City Residential Group, Inc., in Cleveland; A. Eugene Kohn, chairman of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC in New York City; and Robert Campbell, architecture critic for the Boston Globe.
“Richard Baron’s long-term impact is successfully demonstrating the benefits of inclusivity in neighborhoods, and showing that diversity makes for a rich environment,” noted jury member Ratner. “Housing patterns have long been determined by race and income, but he is a shining example of how that can be changed. Rewarding Richard Baron with the Nichols prize gives a well-rounded picture of what it takes to make great places.”
Baron’s devotion to building quality live-work-play-learn environments stemmed from a stint in 1963 as a school volunteer in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, an area torn up by poverty and neglect. (Years later, MBS would develop Lexington Village, a thriving community in Hough). After graduating with a law degree from the University of Michigan, he settled in St. Louis, representing public housing tenants for the Legal Aid Society. In this work, he met labor leader and home builder Terry McCormack, and the two teamed up in the early 1970s to form McCormack Baron & Associates.
McCormack died suddenly in 1981. While the firm has since expanded from single building to multi-block development, Baron has kept it focused on the mission of neighborhood regeneration that he and McCormack created. McCormack’s son, Kevin, who joined the firm in 1981, is now the president of MBS in St. Louis; and Tony Salazar, who has been with the firm since 1985, is now president of the MBS office in Los Angeles. Baron changed the company’s name from McCormack Baron & Associates to McCormack Baron Salazar in 2003.
“Richard will come to L.A. to look at a possible project and we’ll walk around and kick the dirt and look at things. Richard immediately begins to pick out the site’s salient features, how the street pattern hooks into surrounding neighborhoods, special buildings that can be saved to establish a special character for a projectxhow future residents can access community activities. He immediately starts to blend all these impressions into a plan,” Salazar said.
The success of MBS’ developments hinges on the success of the mixing incomes—in most of the firm’s projects, between 50 and 60 percent of the units are reserved for low- and moderate-income families. But, Baron takes great care to ensure that his units appeal to those paying full rents. “We’ve had to create a way for market-rate families to feel they were benefiting from relocating to one of our developments,” he said. Because the communities are all in close-in neighborhoods, they are drawing many professionals who are seeking to reduce their commutes and live closer to downtown amenities.
“The issue of economic integration is an issue that revolves around values, not incomes. When families share a desire for their kids to succeed, economic integration is not a problem,” Baron said. “We have individuals earning six figures living next to minimum-wage families, and it works fine.”