CLEVELAND, Ohio — Chris Warren, the city’s first chief of regional development, will retire this month, winding down a career that started in community advocacy and extended to one of the top posts in Mayor Frank Jackson’s cabinet.
The city announced Warren’s departure, long-rumored in business circles, in a news release Thursday afternoon. In a subsequent interview, 63-year-old Warren said he’s leaving for personal reasons, ranging from his family to his health.
“I want to begin another aspect of my life that is not work,” said Warren, who joined the Jackson administration in mid-2007 after a series of nonprofit leadership roles and public-sector jobs. “I want to learn. I see education. I see going to school.”
His official retirement date is Dec. 31st. But with Cleveland partway into a push to remake its waterfront, Warren will stay on board as a consultant for six months. Though he might provide advice on other projects, he’ll focus on lakefront priorities ranging from public infrastructure to private development proposals for city-owned land near FirstEnergy Stadium.
The city said Warren will work 40 hours, at most, in a two-week period and will be paid $85 an hour. That puts his maximum potential pay at $40,800 during the consulting term, which will run from mid-January to mid-June.
Warren’s current salary is $133,937.65.
“As we go through the process of determining who’s next, we’ll bounce stuff off him as part of making the choice,” Jackson said during an interview.
“What he brings that’s going to be difficult to fill is internal and external relationships, an understanding of community relations, how different departments interrelate. … Finding somebody who is good at all those things will be the difficulty,” the mayor added. “I can find someone who is good at parts of that.”
Ken Silliman, the mayor’s chief of staff, will fill in as the city’s development czar until a new regional chief is hired.
Jackson created the regional development job in 2006 to build better ties with the suburbs and establish broader oversight of and collaboration between city departments responsible for the airports, housing issues, planning and neighborhood and economic development.
The mayor initially chose Michael J. Montgomery, a Cleveland native and economic-development executive in Oregon, to fill the role. But Jackson withdrew his offer after reports surfaced that Montgomery had lied about being arrested in a California prostitution sting in 1999.
Jackson waited a year before naming Warren, then president of the nonprofit ShoreBank Enterprise Group, to the post.
Warren had worked under two Cleveland mayors, shepherding development for Michael White and staying on for the first months of Jane Campbell’s term. Before that, he launched the Tremont West Development Corp. and helped found Cleveland Housing Network, which focuses on affordable housing and neighborhood stability.
“I think he really helped the whole business community figure out what their role could be in the neighborhoods,” said Joe Roman, chief executive officer of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the local chamber of commerce. “And it has worked out for 25 years. He does have a unique ability to have a foot in a whole bunch of camps, and I think everybody in those camps respects him. That’s why he’s such a valuable commodity to the city and to the mayor.”
During the last six years, Warren has been part of citywide and regional efforts to stem the flood of foreclosures, clean up blighted properties, reinvest in neighborhoods and link downtown to Lake Erie.
On Thursday, he acknowledged his role in large, complex real estate projects but showed his community-crusader roots, highlighting the city’s attempts to push back against “institutionalized greed” during the housing crisis and his hand in building up permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
“A lot of people know Chris as a very serious guy at City Hall,” said Mark McDermott, a longtime neighborhood advocate and current vice president at Enterprise Community Partners. “But at the same time, Chris is a very fun guy. And I think he’s always loved the idea side as much as he’s loved the project side.
“That’s something that I’ve always admired about him,” said McDermott, who has known Warren for more than three decades. “Throughout so many years at City Hall — which is not an easy thing — he’s kept that love for ideas that underlies the project.”
Warren and his wife, who have eight grandchildren and a ninth on the way, live in the city’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.
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