POWERBOOK 2013: Development efforts are another creative process for Live after growing from York to worldwide fame
Hundreds of miles of fiber-optic lines running through the heart of Central Pennsylvania.
The data centers that are part of the overall, game-changing project with related investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Dozens of properties owned and eyed for redevelopment in York alone, including the former Bi-Comp building under renovation in a section of the city in need of a makeover.
Chad Taylor is one of the three York-native rockers of the band Live who have been joined by real estate developer and investor Bill Hynes in projects that also aim to make a difference.
But why? They've already made a mark.
"There is a tremendous amount of possibility in each and every one of those shells, in each and every one of those structures," said Taylor as he sat earlier this fall on the third floor of the Bi-Comp property approaching completion at 210 York St.
"So very much like we would dream of songs, and dream of gigs, and places that we would play or places that we would travel to as kids, now we also dream of the enterprises and the entrepreneurs that can go in those facilities," he said.
Live has sold more than 20 million albums, the list of which includes its acclaimed 1994 album, "Throwing Copper."
Upstairs, Taylor as well as Chad Gracey and Patrick Dahlheimer had been working on a new album. Vocalist Chris Shinn has replaced Ed Kowalczyk in the lineup.
The band members founded their first businesses, related to music, in 1988, Taylor said.
"We had our own bookkeeper, our own accountant, our own legal-affairs people, our own business affairs structure," Taylor said. "We realized that the people with those skills and expertise could also handle other business ventures, and then slowly but surely we began to read other business plans and invest."
The firm through which band members place investments is Think Loud Holdings.
Data business emerges
What is now called United Fiber & Data was founded in 2009 and is developing a fiber-optic route stretching from the New York to Washington, D.C., areas as well as data centers in the Allentown, Lancaster, Reading and York areas.
Taylor said that, during the next 30 years, the project is estimated to produce more than $2 billion in Pennsylvania tax revenue and create about 400 direct jobs.
The multiple centers will provide redundancy for users of the network, Gracey said. And the project itself is an alternative to the Interstate 95 and Route 1 corridor between the New York and D.C. metropolitan areas.
Another name for data centers is the cloud, Taylor said.
"We've pushed the vast majority of our computer storage into the cloud, the vast majority of our tablet and cellphone storage into the cloud," he said.
Investing in this sector, Taylor said, included asking a simple question: Are people going to be using technology more or less in the coming years?
Also, the uniting of the fiber-optic infrastructure and data centers under UFD will help to fix any problems with the system much more quickly, Hynes said.
Overall, the endeavor gives the region the ability to compete on a global stage with technology enterprises, Taylor said.
Dahlheimer said his vision is that putting the fiber and data center network in place will make York a tech center that also retains its character and history.
"It's a great place to raise the kids, and there's a mentality. There's a hard-nosed work, blue-collar attitude here," he said. "People know their job, they stick to their job, and they get their job done. And they care."
After a flood at Dahlheimer's house, his wife said he should get his music equipment out of the home. He began to rent what became the band's rehearsal space within view of Bi-Comp.
One day, Gracey spied the property, and they found out the price, Dahlheimer said. Once they went to look at the property, the amount of attention required was obvious, he said. But a vision began to come together.
"The fourth floor just appeared to us to be a studio," Dahlheimer said.
The project includes first- and second-floor commercial office space, Taylor said. The offices will include executive administration for United Fiber & Data, with sales offices in Allentown.
The third and fourth floors includes the studio as well as hotel-style space and amenities for visiting musicians.
Gracey doesn't live in the midstate, but he said he's back in York all the time.
For Gracey, even with the long history of business ventures, the realization of exactly what they have been didn't come to him until about five years ago.
"We didn't know that we were entrepreneurs at the time. We just had this singular focus to be a successful band," he said.
The new challenge is to bring development to York and help the community flourish again, Gracey said.
He hits on another important reason for him for business diversification: The music industry as a whole is not in the best of shape, he said.
Taylor said he has continued to live in the midstate because where the band is from makes its music unique.
"The one delineation that made Live stand out globally was the fact that we didn't have that big-city upbringing," Taylor said. "That blue-collar environment not only affected our work ethic but also the art itself."
Music remains his No. 1 passion, but he also realized along the way he needed more.
"I can remember being on tour in some arena in New Zealand and making up my mind that the band wouldn't be enough," Taylor said.
When officials learned of Think Loud's investments, they were excited by the band's willingness to come back home and do something for their community, York Mayor C. Kim Bracey said.
A lot of people have moved on from York and never looked back, but not them, Bracey said.
Going to work
Hynes, CEO and founder of Think Loud Development, said an attorney led him to Chad Taylor years ago when he needed someone to work on a film project.
"And I just loved the guy the minute I spoke with him on the phone," Hynes said.
Eventually, the band members asked Hynes to go into business with them.
One day he was with Gracey talking about a real estate project, Hynes recalled.
Gracey said he wanted to invest in real estate and said he was in on the project in Reading. He wanted to put money into something other than music, and the other two decided they wanted in as well, Hynes said.
Working with the band members does have its challenges and advantages, he said. His own real estate investments, no matter what they are worth, have flown largely under the radar screen. But anything the Live band members do gets picked up in the media, Hynes said.
"That has been a unique challenge … but definitely, having the three guys of Live as partners, it's definitely not a bad thing," Hynes said. "It can open some doors, and I'd say $1 of ours is equal to $20 or $30 of any other developer."
It's helped to attract talent, for example, but at the same time it has not meant lenders have just thrown financing at them along the way, he said. Money for projects has come from their own pockets.
"We're not going to listen to everyone, the naysayers, and we're going to put our heads down and roll up our sleeves and go to work," Hynes said. "And that's how you attain these things. You can't wait."