Richard E. Jacobs and Northeast Ohio

Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio
Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Ohio

The faces of not only northeast Ohio, but also especially that of the city of Cleveland, were forever altered by real estate developer Richard E. Jacobs (1925-2009).

Known to friends and associates alike as Dick Jacobs, the real estate mogul had a long career in the development of commercial properties throughout the region and across the country. After a youthful stint as a drive-in restaurant worker in Akron, Dick went on to service in the U.S. Army in 1943, and, upon return from World War II, received a business administration degree from Indiana University in 1949.

Within six years, he had joined his elder bother’s real estate property management firm, and they were soon erecting small office buildings, and that spreading American sensation, the strip shopping center. The firm went through various ownership and name changes from 1952 through 1988: Meade-Jacobs; Visconsi, Mead-Jacobs; Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs, Co.; and The Richard and David Jacobs Group. By its growth peak in the early 1990s, the company had become one of the largest real estate development firms in the nation, with ownership of 41 regional shopping centers across 16 states, plus numerous office and hotel properties. Upon David’s death in 1992, the firm was renamed The Richard E. Jacobs Group.

Dick and David Jacobs bought the hapless Cleveland Indians major league baseball team in 1986 for $35 million. With significant investment in the team’s farm system, and a strong push for a new team park within Cleveland’s Gateway development (to which the brothers also purchased initial naming rights), the Jacobs brothers brought about a renaissance in Cleveland baseball. Occupying their new ballpark in spring of 1994, the Indians went on to the World Series in both 1995 and 1997, and hosted the 1997 MLB All-Star Game. Many of the great names of the Indians’ heyday — Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Chuck Nagy, Jose Mesa — were brought to the Tribe under the Jacobs brothers’ management. In 2000, Dick Jacobs sold the much-improved club to new owner Larry Dolan for $320 million.

In their key roles in the design and development of Jacobs Field, Dick Jacobs and his brother significantly altered the appearance and appeal of downtown Cleveland. Standing at the eastern terminus of the Hope Memorial Bridge, Jacobs Field’s primary sign and its drum-like radiating steelworks became an icon of the cityscape — so much so that Drew Carey used it as the opening intro backdrop for his Cleveland-based television series.

Three years prior to the opening of Jacobs Field, the Jacobs development company had topped out Cleveland’s (and Ohio’s) tallest structure, Key Tower. The elegant 57-story high-rise, designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, became the tallest structure between New York and Chicago, and established a perpetual landmark above Public Square’s northern flank. The development also restored the historic Society for Savings Building, and brought a downtown Marriott hotel to the city.

In 1987, the Jacobs firm had made another significant investment in Cleveland city life, with the opening of The Galleria at Erieview. Having acquired the 20-year-old Erieview Tower office building, the company erected at its base a new two-story skylit-barrel-vault shopping complex, with food court and plaza, that brought renewed activity to East Ninth Street.  

The Jacobs firm ventured southeast of the city, with its development of the two-level regional shopping mall, SouthPark Center, opened in Strongsville, Ohio, in 1996. That mall, like many other of the Jacobs malls around the country, offered customers access to middle-to-high-end retailers in a vast, elegant center, with multiple peripheral opportunities in banks, restaurants, retail and office facilities. It soon became the dominant retail mecca of the southeastern suburbs.

The firm also made its imprint to the west of Cleveland, with the 1965 opening of its Midway Mall in Elyria, Ohio. The Jacobs Group substantially renovated and expanded the mall in 1990, and retained ownership and management until divesting it in 2001. The company still owns and operates its newly renovated and expanded Westgate retail center in Fairview Park, Ohio.

With the continuing development of The Chagrin Highlands Corporate Park in the city’s eastern reaches, The Richard E. Jacobs Group continues to make its mark on the architecture of our region. Its Chagrin Highlands One brought the design work of renowned New York architects KPF (Kohn Pederson Fox) to the area. Due to open in 2011, University Hospital’s Ahuja Medical Center — a reinvention of the typical hospital complex — bears the design stamp of HKS, a large and well-respected Dallas architectural firm. Scheduled for completion in 2012 is the new corporate headquarters of Eaton Corporation, a 470,000 square foot structure designed by Pickard Chilton of New Haven, CT.

Despite Dick Jacobs’ passing in 2009, The Richard E. Jacobs Group continues its management and development of commercial real estate projects in several states. These include the Chagrin Highlands Corporate Community in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs; Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, NC; Gulf Coast Town Center in Lee County FL; Avon Crossing in Avon, Ohio; a mixed-use development at Lear Nagle Road in Avon, Ohio; and Cypress Creek Town Center in Tampa, FL. 

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