Spring Real Estate 2008: Committed to his community

His fingers keyed e-mails and reminders into a BlackBerry just before a 9 a.m. construction meeting started in downtown York.

His fingers keyed e-mails and reminders into a BlackBerry just before a 9 a.m. construction meeting started in downtown York.
He did some small-talking as he punched in dates, but his mind lined up the rest of the day at the same time.
When the meeting started, the BlackBerry was set aside. He threw an occasional glance to the remote device on the table but didn’t pick it up again until the meeting ended.
At one point, he stressed the importance of the completion date set for the renovation project they had gathered to discuss. Seconds later, his head was buried in a stack of blueprints, helping the others break down wall widths, elevator dimensions, window panes and floor levels.
The senior vice president of Wagman Construction Inc. led the meeting in a give-and-take fashion. The project manager, architect, site superintendent and another colleague pitched ideas and complaints back and forth with him. During the meeting, he was serious but never unapproachable. He listened as much as he spoke. He threw in the occasional joke to keep the mood light when heaviness approached.
When the meeting ended, he threw on a hard hat, exited the job trailer and climbed a series of ladders in the neighboring building Wagman is turning into loft-style apartments. He inspected window frames in the dusty, cavernous third floor. Minutes later, with BlackBerry in hand, he was off to a lunch meeting to discuss another project.
Thus began Eric Menzer’s day.
It was guaranteed to be a busy one, but you can tell he loves it. Energy pours off him. It’s not nervous energy. It’s the kind some can harness and stow away until next time. And for Menzer, there is always a next time, right around the corner. And not just for work.
He is chairman of the 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a member of the board of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, a member of the executive committee of Better York and is regularly invited to participate in local real estate panel discussions and other public forums. The list of volunteer work goes on.
Making it look easy
Despite all his responsibilities Menzer does not sacrifice time at home with his wife, Kendall, and 18-year-old daughter, Frances. He even shares the cooking and cleaning responsibilities, Kendall said. He is a voracious reader, and exercise is important to him. He starts every morning off with a 5:30 a.m. run. He likes to ski and garden. And last year, he was an umpire for the local Little League.
“It’s not too hard,” Kendall said of keeping up with her husband. “Most of his commitments are scheduled regularly, and many of them are during the workday. When the children were younger and one of us needed to be here, we kept track a little more closely. Now it’s easier, plus, we both usually remember to put our meetings on the calendar at home so we know when one of us is out.”
Menzer doesn’t intentionally go after the limelight. And he only begrudgingly allowed the Business Journal to follow him around to find out what his days are like.
“I always find it a bit annoying reading about self-absorbed people who complain about how busy they are as a way of proving their importance,” Menzer said. “One of my favorite lines I heard a long time ago is, ‘take your work seriously, but not yourself.’ I’ve tried to always keep that in mind. I don’t think I’m any busier than anyone else involved in (a) normal level of business and community work.”
A lasting legacy
It’s hard to drive around York and see a project that doesn’t have Menzer’s fingerprints, said Mayor John S. Brenner. Through work or volunteer efforts, Menzer has been instrumental in leading a laundry list of redevelopment projects and programs since he moved to the city in 1987.
Menzer grew up in Hyattsville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Upon graduating from the University of Maryland, he moved to York to become executive director of the Transportation Authority, known today as rabbittransit.
In 1994, he became York’s economic-development director, and he led the effort to convert North George Street into a bustling two-way artery in downtown York. This was one of the most challenging and satisfying projects he took on in his role with the city, he said. He said he is happy to know he played the lead role in the project that brought more people in and out of downtown York.
Menzer left the city to join Wagman in 2001. That didn’t mean he left city improvement efforts behind. Much of the work he takes on as the leader of Wagman’s urban-development group relates to revitalization in downtown York.
“He has been a good leader in promoting the downtown, and I know that Wagman has helped bring more young people into the city,” said Matt Sommer, a member of the York City Planning Commission.
Several years ago, Menzer led the renovation of the historic Bennett Williams building on North George Street, home to the popular Harp & Fiddle Irish Pub and Restaurant. He helped bring Sovereign Bank Stadium, home of The York Revolution baseball team, to the city, too. Wagman built the stadium.
The company is moving its office from Manchester Township to the first floor of the building it is transforming into apartments. The building is part of a larger project called Codo. It will include townhouses, apartments and office space. Codo will sit across the street from the baseball stadium, which Menzer said he considers the anchor for future development in York.
Moving and shaking
Working on public projects in the city has made Menzer a target of some critics, Brenner said. And there were plenty of critics who opposed the baseball stadium. Everyone thought the project was going to be a no-brainer, he said, but it took 10 years to make it work.
Some felt the stadium was only undertaken to please big businesses and that no thought went into how it would work for the everyday working people of York, Brenner said. But they were wrong, he said.
Some opposed earlier possible sites for the stadium, while others disagreed with the final choice. Eminent domain was pursued on some commercial and residential properties to clear the way for the stadium. Some viewed that as a problem, too, Brenner said.
“You can’t move forward in any project and expect everyone to be on board. At some time you have to decide, ‘is this a way?'” Brenner said. “And that’s how Eric Menzer is. He understands that, and he will tell you he has been in that position many times. That’s why you need leaders in the public and private sectors. It’s the difference between talkers and doers.”
Joe Wagman, president and chief executive officer of Wagman Construction, is also chairman of Better York, a group that focuses on the city’s redevelopment. He said the position gives him a window into who is community-minded. Menzer is in that window, he said.
Menzer understands urban redevelopment, Wagman said. Without his efforts, projects like Codo would not exist, Wagman said.
Menzer’s face lights up when he discusses the stadium and Codo. Old renderings of the stadium still sit out on the drafting table in the Codo construction trailer across the street from the baseball park. These projects circulate in his blood.
Wagman called Menzer a man of integrity. The two work closely together on many projects, and Menzer is not afraid to admit when he makes a mistake, Wagman said.
“We often say if we make a mistake, just admit it, deal with the consequences and move on,” Wagman said.
Dealing with tragedy
Perhaps no time has Menzer’s integrity shined more than in the past two years, following the death of his young son, Reid, in January 2006.
Reid died in a skateboarding accident. There are sad times that linger, but Menzer has stayed busy and committed to redevelopment work for two reasons. He loves it, and it’s therapeutic, he said.
“Being busy is definitely better than the alternative,” Menzer said. “You have to keep your head up and keep marching on.”
Part of what has kept Menzer busy is a skateboard park he is developing in the city in honor of Reid. Businesses, nonprofits and a host of volunteers from the York community are helping him create the concrete park in Memorial Park.
The project will cost about $500,000, and roughly $300,000 has been raised. The other $200,000 in services and materials were donated by various contractors and companies, Menzer said.
That in itself says a lot about Menzer.
Rolling up his sleeves
Bill Simpson, vice chairman of York-based Susquehanna Real Estate, had a lot to say about him, too. He has known Menzer since Menzer worked for the city. He called him a hard worker.
Simpson co-chaired the Metro York project for York Counts Inc. York Counts is a community-minded organization dedicated to economic development, the municipalities of York and the betterment of its schools.
Metro York was a study of York and its surrounding areas. It looked at the feasibility of joint municipal police and fire relationships, Brenner said. It also pinpointed economic-development issues and problems the school district faces and came up with solutions, Simpson said. Menzer is in line to become the next chairman of York Counts.
“His wife (Kendall) works in the city as well. You have got people who live in the city who are dedicated to the greater York community,” Simpson said. “Eric is very caring of the community and solving problems that could be issues going forward.”
Menzer said he plans to continue doing what he loves: jogging in the morning and redevelopment throughout the rest of the day.
Wagman Construction’s focus in York is on downtown, and the company is pro-city in other locales it works in, too, Menzer said. Wagman Construction is 105 years old, and Menzer said he is excited to work for a company that will soon become a part of York’s revitalization.
“It’s not about making a quick buck. To make a lot of these urban-development projects work, it takes a long view,” Menzer said. “Three yards and a cloud of dust. The whole idea is to just keep moving the ball down the field.”

This article was modified from its original version to correct Eric Menzer’s
titles with 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Downtown Center and Better York.

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