Building On Collaborative Relationships To Negotiate The Best Deals

Thursday, June 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Congratulations on being named a member of Kaleidoscope magazine's Class of 2005 40 under 40.

Beasley: I am honored to be recognized alongside other leaders from Northeast Ohio's business, legal, civic and cultural communities. At the time I was named, I was the law director for the City of Cleveland, managing a legal team of 83 lawyers and providing legal counsel to the mayor, city council and a myriad of other city officials, committees and boards. It was an exciting and challenging position that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I was able to build my breadth of experience in real estate by being involved in the negotiation of approximately 50 real estate and development contracts, worth over $300 million. In addition, I served as chief counsel and chief of the city's real estate and development section prior to becoming the law director in 2004.

My experiences in the public sector allowed me to develop a deep understanding of government relations, as well as the intricacies involved in commercial and residential real estate transactions. I also gained knowledge and expertise in the legal issues associated with the financing and development required for complex real estate projects, which has proven beneficial to me in my transition to the private sector and the team at Vorys.

Editor: What attracted you to Vorys?

Beasley: From the moment I walked into their offices and spoke with the attorneys, it was clear to me that the Vorys' culture is one of teamwork, personal development and support. Before I made the final decision to join the firm, I spoke with a number of Vorys' employees and noted that everyone described the culture in the same way - that Vorys is a firm that recognizes the value of having a family and provides outstanding support for developing a most satisfying practice.

I also appreciate the flexibility of the firm's style of self-government and its very high ethical standards. With over 370 attorneys in Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati, Virginia, DC and Columbus, we enjoy the benefits of a large-scale law firm. With 37 lawyers here in Cleveland, our office enjoys the collegiality and other benefits of being a small firm within the larger organization.

Most importantly, we are able to provide our clients with a near-seamless work product through our teamwork approach to our caseloads. Vorys' attorneys work together; no one client is "my" client. Since joining the firm in January, I have had the pleasure of working with lawyers in all of our offices but two. For example, our tax experts in Columbus, our bond experts here in Cleveland and our government relations experts in Columbus all work together with me on development matters, as needed. We are able to provide thorough, fast and cost effective representation for our clients through the sharing of our breadth and depth of expertise. We essentially provide them with a one-stop shop for all of their legal needs.

Editor: In what areas do you focus your practice?

Beasley: I work in the firm's Commercial and Real Estate group. We provide a full range of legal services related to finance, government relations and economic matters, including real estate finance and development, zoning and land use, redevelopment and preservation, economic incentives and property acquisitions.

I focus my practice on government relations, general business law, and residential and commercial real estate development and financing. I assist my clients in gaining both traditional (such as standard bank loans) and non-traditional financing, which could involve multiple layers of financing through public financing, private grants and other funding arrangements in complex transactions for increasingly sophisticated clients.

Editor: How does your ability to build collaborative relationships benefit your clients?

Beasley: I learned the value of collaboration early in my career at Lincoln Electric, an arc-welding manufacturing firm located in a nearby suburb of Cleveland. I began working for the company while I was attending the Cleveland Marshall College of Law and joined its legal department upon graduation. The company leases offices around the globe, which gave me valuable experience in negotiating a variety of domestic, as well as international, lease agreements.

When I joined Walter & Haverfield LLP, I had the opportunity to work on more focused real estate matters and thereby discovering my passion. I really enjoyed helping deals to come together - collaboration results in a win-win for everyone.

I was able to translate that experience into an amazing career with the City of Cleveland where I solidified my existing relationships and established new ones with hundreds more individuals, companies and municipalities throughout the region. I was able to sharpen the negotiating skills I learned in the private sector and gain an even broader perspective of the law.

I have developed collaborative relationships not only through my career experiences, but also through my leadership roles in professional, commercial and civic organizations. I serve on the African-American Outreach Committee of the Cleveland Foundation, which is the second largest community foundation in the country. I also serve on the board of trustees for the Cleveland Bar Association, which will continue to provide me with a network of legal professionals in which to share experiences and knowledge.

I am a past president of the Cleveland Chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). With 6,500 members in the U.S. and Canada, CREW is a network of various disciplines within the commercial real estate arena, providing me with a tremendous amount of national networking opportunities and best practices in order to better serve my clients. For example, CREW membership provides me easy access to lawyers, title companies, surveyors, brokers, property managers and mortgage lenders. I am able to share information and collaborate with them, which helps me to negotiate the best deals for my clients.

Editor: How do you feel about the Cleveland region as an investment destination and a place to do business?

Beasley: I'm very excited about Cleveland's opportunities for growth. It was a topic we explored during the Midwest Regional Conference hosted by CREW in Cleveland last month. About 200 participants from 12 CREW chapters joined us. The CREW members from other chapters were amazed by all that Cleveland has to offer.

I served as the moderator of CREW's panel called "Cleveland Rocks: Entertainment Centers Catalyzing Economic Development." Using examples of Cleveland's Playhouse Square theater district, Shaker Square, East Fourth District, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, panelists described their experiences in developing cutting-edge projects that have become some of the hottest entertainment locations in Cleveland.

Editor: How do cultural venues enable Cleveland to showcase innovation and economic opportunities?

Beasley: A perfect example of innovation contributing to the economic vitality of our region is a project being led by one of America's largest interactive science museums, Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center. It recently built a 145-foot windmill, which will provide the museum 7-10 percent of its power. The real-time data displayed on its outdoor panels provide a vivid learning experience for young and old visitors alike. It's a powerful demonstration of the correlation among cultural venues, innovation, the environment and economic opportunities. Ron Richard, the president of the Cleveland Foundation, was among the early proponents of putting windmills on Lake Erie. It's very exciting to see ideas like his being put into action.

Editor: We have recently heard a great deal about eminent domain. What role does it play in a region's development?

Beasley: Although playing a large role, eminent domain is a tool of last resort. In most circumstances, the property owner and developer are able to negotiate a mutually satisfactory agreement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, our state constitution enables the government to exercise its right of eminent domain. When used properly, the government's exercise of eminent domain improves the area.

A good example of the proper use of eminent domain was used while I was Cleveland's law director. A developer had a detailed development agreement in place, yet an agreement could not be reached between the property owner and the developer as to the blighted property's value based on third-party appraisals. The city's basis for its use of eminent domain was to turn the blighted property into a public park.

Editor: What type of expertise should people look for in legal counsel when they anticipate that the government will exercise its power of eminent domain?

Beasley: The ability to negotiate is critical. The focus needs to be on the true fair-market value of the property, not the property owner's over-inflated expectation or developer's under-priced offer.

When the government begins the eminent domain process, the property owner should compare its own appraisal with the government entity's appraisal and then bargain. The property owner should make sure that the governmental entity is following the proper procedures. The property owner should also exercise its rights under our state constitution to negotiate for fair and just compensation. Many times, the property owner is required to relocate. If that is the case, negotiate those costs and any other incidental costs, but be realistic.

An experienced, savvy real estate attorney can help negotiate the best deal. By understanding the market, assessing the positions of parties and giving a realistic forecast of the time and expense associated with litigating the matter, the attorney can effectively guide the client to the best deal.

Editor: Where would you like to see your practice in, say, five years?

Beasley: Vorys has an excellent reputation across an array of disciplines. I am delighted to be working with its exceptional team of lawyers and contributing to the continued growth of its real estate practice. With our outstanding balance of small-firm collegiality and large-firm resources, Vorys will continue to be the "go-to" firm for sophisticated commercial real estate needs.

Please email the interviewee at tmbeasley@vssp.com with questions about this interview.