A pioneering developer in Downtown Charlottesville and venture capitalist with 50 years of real estate development experience, Ludwig is dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture in Charlottesville. Easily recognizable with his spray of white hair and colorful wardrobe, Ludwig has helped shape Charlottesville into the pedestrian, bike and family friendly space we now know it as. For instance, Ludwig was an instrumental voice in advocating that the Downtown Mall allow outdoor cafe seating, which is now an intrinsic part of the experience. And when the Paramount Theater was slated for demolition, it was Ludwig who purchased it. Today it sits as a landmark on the pedestrian mall. His passion and expertise is in advancing good design in civic spaces.
It was just a little more than fate that led him and his family here. Nearly forty years ago, his wife, Beatrix Ost, had held a pendulum over a map of the eastern United States. It stopped just south of Charlottesville. With their love of arts and culture, Ludwig and Beatrix renovated the Estouteville Estate and have been supporting the arts community ever since, including Second Street Gallery and Live Arts.
A few years ago, Ludwig met Charlottesville resident, Brian Wimer, at Burning Man. It was there they hatched the idea for the IX Art Project. They put together a team including Susan Krischel who was instrumental in the development. For the past three years, their collective vision of an interactive art space that brings together the community with events, open space and art has continued to mature.
Definition of a Good Developer
Like in all business, a good developer will always:
1. Strive to create a superior product. To achieve this, I look for beauty, iconic design, environmental efficiency, creative use of space, and good quality materials. I am always bothered when I see developers who cut corners just to make a little more money. I want my developments to be beautiful, but I also want them to stand the test of time. America is a relatively new country, but I come from Europe where buildings are oftentimes several hundred years old and still in good shape. That’s because they were built right in the first place. So my advice to all developers is invest now and you’ll save money for years to come because you will have created a long term, viable project.
2. Think about flexibility. I try to cater to the needs of the current community, but I also try to anticipate the needs of future generations. With technology today, the world is evolving at a whirlwind pace. I can’t change that pace, so I might as well embrace it. I tend to ignore those people who scream the loudest or who shy away from change. Instead, I listen to people who have proven themselves to be smart, experienced, and intuitive – people who aren’t afraid to welcome a changing landscape.
3. Avoid wasting space or time on unimportant, perceived values. I’m a bit of an anarchist in this regard. I will go to great lengths to avoid unnecessary overhead or meaningless regulations, and I have no patience for long, bureaucratic delays with authorities. Instead, I want my time and money to be spent creating innovative and attractive projects.
4. Understand that the space between buildings is as important as the building itself. I look to incorporate nature, art and culture into my developments. Creating civic and green space where people can come together and interact with each other makes a place come alive. It’s very important to me.
Three Favorite Projects
Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall – I am very proud of my role in the creation of the downtown mall and it is one of the reasons I love Charlottesville. When I moved here in 1981, the downtown mall was a depressed, desolate and crime-ridden neighborhood. But myself and a group of visionaries, artists and developers saw great potential. In 1984, I built Central Place on an abandoned plot of land. There, I introduced the concept of outdoor dining to Charlottesville. It is funny to think of it now, but some people thought I was crazy at the time and told me that no one would want to eat outside. But people love it! Today, it is a trademark of the downtown mall. Then, in the late 1980’s, there was a plan to demolish the Paramount Theater, a beautiful, landmark building that had fallen into decay after sitting empty for 20 years. I just couldn’t imagine that happening, so I bought it. After being denied tax credits to help fund the development, I transferred the Paramount Theater to a non-profit foundation that raised money to save it and restore it to its former glory. I also became a major financial sponsor of Live Arts and the 2nd Street Gallery, two other important artistic venues that brought culture and beauty to the mall. Then in the 1990’s, I bought the old Woolworth Building as this American institution was declining. After gutting the building, my son Oliver and I collaborated on redeveloping it into The Terraces, a multi-terraced residential apartment building with ground floor retail. It was, and still is, a testament to the best of urban living.
Wachenheim, Germany – this was a medieval town nestled in the Rhineland region of Germany, which is world renowned for winegrowing. The region had been heavily damaged during World War II. When I arrived in Wachenheim in 1973, it was a quiet, sluggish town. The Mayor and the City Council wanted to bring new vitality to the area. I bought large tracts of land from Dr. Burklin Wolf, who inherited a wine estate that dated back to 1527. Today, the Dr. Wolf’s winery is still family owned and one of the largest and most important wineries in Germany. I helped to revive this town by building 700 energy efficient homes. This was at a time when people weren’t thinking much about green technology. Each house was designed with modern living concepts, including open entryways and restricted fence heights that created and guaranteed beautiful views. I introduced the concept of cul-de-sacs, which were unknown to Germany at that time. The project was a testament to how successful partnerships between developers and city government can be when we work together towards a common goal. The Mayor and the City Council were able to cut the permit process from potentially years to 5 months and eliminated much of the bureaucracy. Their efforts saved me over $1 million in development costs which enabled me to provide the town with a new fire engine, a gymnasium, and special street lighting. It was a win-win situation. We were honored to receive several national awards for our efforts.
Asam Hof, Munich, Germany. In the 1970’s, I was part of a group of people who convinced the city of Munich to convert a portion of the downtown historic district from a traffic congested thoroughfare to a large pedestrian zone that today spans several miles and is the lifeblood of Munich. At the crossroads of two large city streets, I conceived and designed the first large, high-end residential and retail building known as Asam Hof or Asam Court, which jumpstarted a wave of people who moved their residences and offices to downtown Munich. Asam Hof sits between an 18th century palais with beautiful private gardens and Asamkirsche, a private church built by the Asam brothers between 1733 and 1746, which was badly damaged by a bomb in 1944. Asamkirsche now serves as an important tourist destination. The area has become a symbol of urban living at its best – the quintessential work-live-play environment.
A common theme to these three projects (as well as many other projects that I’ve done) is my ability to recognize underused, orphan properties that many people don’t appreciate or even notice. Dream Big! That’s my motto! No idea is ever too crazy. I start with big ideas and imagine all of the possibilities. Then, I work those elements into a project that is affordable to build, but still captures the uniqueness of the original idea. I look at every space as an empty, white canvas, and then I began to paint a picture of what it could be. I did the same with the IX property in Charlottesville. Some people thought I was crazy when I purchased IX. It was a rundown, dilapidated factory that sat in a hole. But to me, it was a future green valley with a rich history. To this day, I’m sad that the city of Charlottesville forced us to tear down some of the old factory buildings. The potential for doing something cool with those buildings was huge. But, there is no sense in crying over spilt milk. Instead, I choose to move forward. When I start a project, I always go out into the community to see how people interact in a space. I don’t believe in designing a development behind a desk. It takes you away from the people. I always ask myself: What makes the space interesting and interactive? Will people be happy to live, work and play there? If not, then it’s probably not the right project for me. I want to be inspired by what I build.
Contrary to popular belief, good quality development doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It just takes vision and creativity. Sometimes it might also take a little guts and a lot of patience because there’s always the risk it won’t catch on or it’ll be built before its time.
Another important theme to each of these projects was collaboration and positive partnerships. Too often, developers, builders, citizens and government officials get caught up in putting up or fighting roadblocks. They get lost in the trees instead of seeing the forest. In doing so, they lose sight of what a space could be and should be. The result is usually something nobody wants.
The Biggest Impact
Simple. People love living there or spending time there. What more could you ask for? When I’m able to give people more than what they expect, that’s exciting to me!
IX Art Park
The idea of the IX Art Park started during a trip to Burning Man in Black Rock, Nevada. The area is literally a barren hole in the middle of the desert. One week out of every year, 60,000+ people converge on this space which is only a few miles in diameter and they transform it into a living, breathing artist community. When the week is over, it is either torn or burned down, leaving no trace that anyone was ever there. It is an exercise in accepting change, something that I believe is very difficult for most people. I was inspired by the incredible artistic talent, and the creative, positive energy that infused the whole place. There was an organic rawness to it. There were professional artists of every medium who brought their immense talent to bear there, but there were also regular people who just wanted to express their creativity. It didn’t matter whether they possessed some special skill or not. I saw many people stepping out of their comfort zone. They put their heart and soul into the experience. Personally, I can get as much satisfaction from a street artist who puts his whole heart into his performance as I can get from a hearing a world renowned orchestra or visiting a famous art museum.
I wanted to create a similar place in Charlottesville – a place where people who want to be part of a positive community are welcome. I don’t care where you come from, how much money you have, or what you believe in, so long as you respect, love and care for the space and you infuse it with a positive energy. I partnered with other like minded people who thought outside the box, people like Brian Wimer, Chicho Lorenzo, Brian Williford and Peter Griesar, just to name a few. Working together, we are creating a new and vibrant community at IX – a place that people want to be a part of.
People often ask me what is going to happen to the IX property, specifically the IX Art Park in the future. Will I develop the property? My answer is, quite truthfully, I don’t know. I sometimes imagine what it could be, but I also enjoy what it is. Occasionally, I hear naysayers comment that I’m only teasing the community with the IX Art Park, and that my real motive is to tear it down and develop the property in order to make a lot of money. I try to ignore such negativity, but sometimes, I get irritated when I hear that. Two years ago, there was no IX Art Park. My partner Allan Cadgene and I funded it and a lot of dedicated and talented people helped build it. I support it because I love the community vibe that it creates. If I decide I want to develop IX – and that’s a big IF – you can be assured that I will do my best to build something that makes this city better and harnesses the same creative energy and vitality that people enjoy when they visit the IX Art Park.
I’ve certainly experienced many setbacks in my life, but I never dwell on them. Many people let setbacks rule their lives. They become afraid to think outside of the box. They worry about making mistakes, or they fear they will be viewed negatively by others. That is how static communities and bureaucratic environments are created. I feel sad and frustrated when people get stuck in a world of rules and regulations that don’t really contribute to the overall goal of a project. If you believe the end product will be great, don’t let yourself get bogged down by nonsense. Figure out what needs to be done and make it work!
I don’t spend time thinking about failure. It inhibits creativity. I try to learn from my mistakes, but every mistake I’ve ever made – and there have been plenty – is an opportunity to take the next step forward. I tell every person who works for me: Make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, then you’re not making decisions. Mistakes can always be fixed, but fear of trying something new prevents anything worthwhile from ever happening.
If I believe in a project, I never give up on it, sometimes to the chagrin of the people around me. I don’t worry about not succeeding. That is probably why I am so successful. I always weigh the potential risks against the possible rewards. I ask myself what are the drawbacks of every project? Can we address these drawbacks early in the process? What is my financial exposure? Can it hurt me? What type of time commitment will the project take? Do I have the time and the staff to see it through? As long as the answers to these questions lean in my favor, I will usually forge ahead. In the end, there is only one certainty in life – you will eventually leave this world and lose everything. When have you ever seen a U-haul behind a hearse? The absence of plenty is the base of creativity. So don’t spend all your money on expensive toys or miserly pursuits. Reinvest in the future. It will inspire others to pay it forward.
Traits of an Entrepreneur
Work hard. Surround yourself with intelligent, creative people. Welcome those who think differently into your inner circle. Don’t fight or shy away from their different opinions. Listen to them. Let them challenge you. They will either expand your mind or strengthen your resolve. I am one of the founders of Charlottesville’s Angel Network. We give entrepreneurs and start-up companies an opportunity to present their ideas to experienced investors and businessmen. I’m always amazed and inspired by the entrepreneur’s ideas. I encourage everyone who has an idea to be open to listening and learning from people who have more knowledge and experience than they have, and to never allow people’s negativity or fear of change drag them down. Don’t get too discouraged if you are forced to take a step backwards because it might lead to several steps forward.
I was inspired by its beauty and rich history. Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes. He wasn’t perfect and he was a product of his time, but he was also a brilliant man who built a world class university in the middle of nowhere. What a crazy idea!! I often wonder what Charlottesville would be like if Thomas Jefferson had never settled here. I believe that part of the reason that Charlottesville is such a fabulous town is, in part, because his legacy is still felt today. Sometimes I imagine what Thomas Jefferson would do if he were alive today. You can be certain that Charlottesville would be a leader. I love that the people who live here welcome intelligent, creative people who appreciate our history, but embrace the present, and dream about how to make our future better.
Charlottesville has many great organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, that work to create a better tomorrow. We need to support collaborative partnerships between business, government and the people. There are so many bright and innovative people here who aren’t afraid to push the envelope. We just have to encourage them, support them, and make sure that we limit the bureaucracies that hamper their great ideas.
I’d like Charlottesville to become a model for the rest of the country. I understand the attraction of the small, sleepy town. But, to maintain long term economic vitality, I believe that Charlottesville needs to grow and attract new talent. If we put our heads together, we can do it in a smart way without losing our identity or displacing the people who currently live here. I’d like us to explore new types of neighborhoods with greater “intensity”, but neighborhoods that find ways to celebrate nature and incorporate art and culture. I’d like to see more traffic-free zones. We have the ability to create jobs by utilizing new energy sources, supporting the growth of innovative technology companies, and building more incubator office and maker spaces. We have the ability to build new types of affordable and integrated housing. Our country is going through some difficult political, social and economic changes. But, America is oftentimes at its best when we face adversity. I firmly believe that we can build vibrant urban communities where people from diverse backgrounds and economic spheres live, work and play together peacefully. We just have to be creative and embrace change in a positive way.