URC Profile

Al Ratner

Title: Co-Chairman Emeritus
 Forest City Enterprises
Year started: 1920
Industry: Real Estate
Headquarters: Cleveland, Ohio
Offices: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington DC
Activity: Developer and manager of commercial and residential real estate.
Annual Revenue: $1.3 billion on $10 billion worth of assets
Employees: 3,500
Attended: Michigan State University
Degree: B.S., Forestry, lumber merchandising and lighthouse construction, 1951
Company website: forestcity.net

“We believe that money follows making a difference, not the other way around.”

Al Ratner has been in the commercial and residential real estate industry with his family’s Forest City Enterprises since 1951 and is well known as a long-time booster for Cleveland and a leader in the Jewish community. Ratner was the driving force behind Forest City’s dramatic redevelopment of the Terminal Tower and the former Union Terminal into Tower City Center, a mixed-use complex in Cleveland featuring a multi-floor mall, office space and a hotel. That project, completed in 1990, is widely regarded as the catalyst for the rebirth of downtown Cleveland in the 1990s.

Ratner prides himself on going into communities where sometimes “angels fear to tread” and making a real difference for the city and the people who live there. He holds a forestry degree from Michigan State University, as well as an honorary doctor of law degree from Long Island University, an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Polytechnic University and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Cleveland State University. He’s an adjunct visiting professor for the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute.

“People today mistakenly believe that entrepreneurism is a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ when nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve always had entrepreneurs. This country was founded by people creating things out of necessity.”

Ratner isn’t quite old enough to be considered part of the “Greatest Generation,” but he was certainly influenced by their patriotism, strong work ethic and can-do attitude. After serving in the Army from 1946 to 1948, he told his father that he wanted to start work immediately in the family lumber business rather than go to college.

A week later, his father presented him with a book about MSU’s forestry degree program. Ratner jokingly accused his dad of starting the school because he had never heard of such a thing. Now in his 80s and co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Enterprises, Ratner fondly recounts his time at MSU as being the most influential years of his life, a time when he was exposed to people of diverse backgrounds and learned how he felt the “real world” should and can operate.

After graduation, Ratner went into the family lumber business and started a shopping center division. Today Forest City focuses solely on residential and commercial mixed-use real estate development in cities with growing populations with an eye toward making long-term positive changes within those communities.

Photo credit: Bob Perkowski