Hemingway principal Michael Panzica exits to start own real estate development firm – Crain’s Cleveland Business

Michael Panzica, a principal of the high-profile Hemingway Development firm, has left the company to form his own real estate development firm in Cleveland.

Panzica said in an in-person interview that he has set up shop as the owner of Panzica Development, which will be based somewhere in Cleveland. He joined Hemingway in 2012, four years after fellow principals Fred Geis and Jim Doyle launched the company to pursue complex real estate developments in the city after long, successful careers, respectively, in Northeast Ohio real estate development and real estate finance.

“I grew up in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, and there is no better way to work than for yourself,” Panzica said, referring to his family.

His grandfather is Nacy Panzica, who founded Mayfield Village-based Panzica Construction Co. in his station wagon in the 1950s, and his father is Tim Panzica, who operates a consultancy called IQ Advisors LLC that represents owner interests on construction projects. His uncle, Tony Panzica, is president of Panzica today and has also taken roles through the years in real estate development projects.

However, Michael Panzica also weathered the economic storm that buffeted his generation of real estate professionals. He became a Hemingway principal in 2016, having joined the firm when he returned home in 2012 from Chicago, where he had been working in real estate finance, with the intention of moving, in his phrase “to the principal side” of the property business.

He had already gotten a taste for realty ownership with investments in Northeast Ohio and Chicago. He also was able to join Hemingway because Doyle, a mentor and former boss in the mortgage banking business, was building his own foray into development full-time at a point when most would retire, and the firm needed staff. Hemingway also used services from Streetsboro-based Geis Cos. for design and construction.

Panzica wound up working on a variety of projects, including The 9, the conversion of the former Ameritrust Corp. bank complex to mixed use as the Metropolitan hotel and apartments with a new Cuyahoga County Administration Building next door. Others included small suburban build-to-suit headquarters, the build-to-suit for IBM’s Explorys Systems unit in University Circle, and apartments from Little Italy to Ohio City.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better education,” Panzica said. The niche for his company will be the same as Hemingway’s. He will focus on mixed-use residential-commercial projects and build-to-suit structures such as company headquarters. He intends to pursue deals costing more than $10 million to develop.

“They’ll also be the projects that need a capital stack with federal and state historic tax credits, EB-5 and other sources of funds,” Panzica said.

In other words, the focus will not be vanilla suburban projects that may have a single source of funding.

Panzica not only sets up shop with top-drawer contacts in government and real estate, but also some significant potential pieces of business. The largest is the contract with several investor-partners to buy from Cuyahoga County the old bridge garage property at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Bridge, midway between the Stonebridge apartments and condos and the 2-year-old Quarter apartments. The design for the 200-suite structure with some first-floor commercial space is in flux, so Panzica wouldn’t discuss its height other than characterizing it as midrise, which means under six stories. It’s expected to be a $40 million project.

In a phone interview, Doyle said Hemingway will consider partnering with Panzica on future projects. They are also investors in existing projects, such as the 11-story Church+State apartment-commercial project being built at 2861 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland.

“It’s time for him to get out and do his own thing,” Doyle said. “One motivation for me here is that Cleveland needs good young developers, and (Panzica) fills the bill. He has education, street smarts, and now he has the experience.”

For his part, Doyle said Hemingway will not replace Panzica because he and partner Fred Geis plan to wind down operations but not quit.

“I want to keep my finger in the game a while,” Doyle said. “I just don’t need six projects at a time.” He acknowledged actively working on three other projects at this time.

Panzica said he intends to focus on projects in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, adding that he starts his company with one eye on the downside thanks to his experience working in real estate through the Great Recession.

Even as the real estate cycle moves into extra innings before the next, overdue recession, he said he’s excited about making his own mark on his hometown.

“There’s a lot of runway left in Cleveland,” he said.

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