Interview

A Conversation with Dan Whalen, INTRO Developer

Ohio-native Dan Whalen understands the importance of differentiation. His young-yet-tenured development career includes Starwood’s $7 billion portfolio, and MOD Pizza’s rapid Midwest growth, establishing the up-and-coming restaurant chain as Chicago’s fast casual pizza leader in one of the country’s toughest markets. As Vice President of Design & Development for Harbor Bay Real Estate, Whalen’s most recent project, INTRO, is proving to be one of his most notable to date, earning distinction as Cleveland’s first — and soon to be America’s tallest — mass timber building. 

Think Wood recently connected with Whalen to talk about INTRO, and his firm’s aspiration of becoming the U.S.’ foremost developer of mass timber projects.

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Think Wood: Thanks for joining us Dan. INTRO is set to be America’s tallest mass timber project, and is one of the early adopters of new IBC code provisions for tall wood buildings. What inspired you to innovate with mass timber construction?

Dan Whalen: The site for INTRO is one of the most high-profile corners adjacent to Cleveland’s West Side Market. Being next to this historic landmark, we felt like we had to create a project of similar standing – we wanted to be different and historic in our own right. So we began this project knowing that we were going to be different, but we didn’t know what that would be at first. Then we thought, ‘If our building is still here in 50 years, what are people going to say about it?’ We want people to look at INTRO and know that it’s not just another apartment building. Timber helped us bring that vision to fruition.

 

TW: What makes timber a differentiator?

DW: We were blown away by its aesthetic qualities. Mass timber started out as a design differentiator, and then it snowballed from there. As we studied the product and building systems more and more, it became advantageous across a number of channels — from the ease and speed of construction; the cleanliness of the construction site; and the renewability and sustainability of the material — the story just started to become so strong and powerful.

 

TW: You mention the increased speed of construction with mass timber. Are you seeing a cost savings as a result of this material choice?

DW: Cost savings depends on how well you manage your job. The savings and the benefit come from how streamlined the workflow is and how well you manage just-in-time delivery and alignment of the trades that follow. That’s where you really see the benefit, efficiency and cost savings. We are measuring this project from cradle to grave. We’re documenting everything on every front so we know track the assumptions we are making and see if we are missing the mark and where we can improve.

 

TW: What challenges and opportunities are you encountering as you build this first-of-its-kind mass timber project?

DW: We’re educating others about mass timber every single day, and it’s reassuring to see that people are excited. When people walk by the building, it feels unique. They don’t quite know what it is, but they know that it’s different from everything else around them. Visitors also can see the efficiency firsthand. They watch the building one week, and then the next week construction is drastically further along. We’re also educating local building and fire code officials about mass timber’s strength and fire resistance. Think about the tallest trees; they’re hundreds of feet tall, so why not be able to build buildings out of the same materials at the same height?

 

TW: What are you seeing in terms of public interest and tenant response to INTRO so far?

DW: It’s still a bit early in the process, but I will say that we’re the talk of the town and one of the most anticipated projects in quite some time. We’ve had extreme interest on the retail side, and the registration for apartments is 300-400 names long. The phone also hasn’t stopped ringing for the event venue. We’ve had about 200 inquiries over the past five weeks. And this is without much, if any, promotion. The only marketing we’ve done is the construction fencing wrap. We have an A+ location, and we further cemented ourselves to this fortress of investment by doubling down with mass timber design. By having this one-of-a-kind beautiful building on a prime corner, it’s almost irreplaceable and truly something that we can showcase, nationally and internationally.

 

TW: What’s next for Harbor Bay?

DW: We are continuously innovating even during the construction process. We are taking copious notes and learning on the fly so that we can innovate taller and faster down the road. We want to develop timber buildings almost exclusively moving forward. The cities that we are working with are all salivating at the idea of having large scale timber projects, and we want to be the foremost developer of timber, especially on the multi-family front. Great quality and design combined with great locations – that’s what we’re hanging our hat on.

Learn more about Dan's work on INTRO in this project profile.

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