Business Courier Article: Dragonfly Foundation launches campaign for $30M residential community

Senior Staff Reporter- Cincinnati Business Courier

When Dragonfly Foundation co-founders Ria Davidson and Christine Neitzke started talking about a new space for the group’s patient/family retreat, called the Landing, they had no idea they were starting on a journey that will create a community unlike any other in the nation.

Working with Dan deStefano, president of W.V. deStefano Homes, Dragonfly board member and chair of the development team, the foundation assembled a team of some of Cincinnati’s most respected designers, builders and developers to come up with a plan for a new headquarters for the foundation, surrounded by a 28- to 30-acre development. The project will include 200 apartments, 50 of which will be set aside as short-term housing for Dragonfly families, a boutique hotel, and shared amenities between Dragonfly Foundation and the community, such as a clubhouse, park-like settings with walking trails, and water features.

“Why think small?” said Neitzke, president and co-founder of Dragonfly Foundation. “Our families face restrictions on where they can go and what they can do. Rather than limiting their world to the hospital or their home, motel or alternate housing, we give our families a place, a community, where everyone is totally dedicated to making them smile.”

Founded in 2010 after Neitzke’s youngest son was diagnosed with stage 3A Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Dragonfly Foundation is a nonprofit that provides distractions from the emotional, physical and financial toll of cancer and bone marrow transplants, as well as the post-traumatic stress associated with the diagnosis of a serious illness.

The core of the new community will be the Landing 3.0. The Landing is the name of Dragonfly Foundation’s patient/family retreat. Currently, the nonprofit operates out of 6,000 square feet of donated space at 9275 Governors Way in Symmes Township. There, patients and their families have a chance to be normal. Some times it’s just the little things, such as having a chance to sit on a couch without being asked harsh or intrusive questions, that Dragonfly family members are looking for.

The new Landing, which will be more than double the size of the existing facility, will cost about $12 million. The total development is expected to have an overall cost between $25 million and $30 million.

The name and exact location of the new development have not been determined yet. However, the group said they have been in negotiations for a piece of property that is convenient to Interstate 75 and near Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Liberty Township campus.

One reason why Dragonfly Foundation has centered on the Liberty Township area is the expansion of Cincinnati Children’s Liberty campus and the upcoming opening of the region’s only proton therapy center. The hospital expects an increase in patients in the next several years.

When completed, the foundation believes this development will be the first of its kind in the U.S.

To make this dream come true, the foundation launched a $15 million capital campaign. Davidson and Neitzke announced the campaign Saturday night at Dragonfly Foundation’s annual gala. The nonprofit’s goal is to raise the money in the next two years. Dragonfly Foundation hopes to break ground on the new community at the end of 2015 and complete the project by 2017.

Marty Brennaman, the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, was on hand to announce the ambitious project. Click here to see Brennaman talking about what this new development will mean for Dragonfly Foundation.

DeStefano said the conversation about a new location started about 10 months ago. They looked at building a new facility or renovating an existing building to meet their needs. When the nonprofit started looking to identify a contractor to build a facility, they partnered with HGC Construction.

Peter Marrocco, vice president of business development and marketing for HGC Construction, helped take the conversation from being about renovating or building a new facility to a much larger idea.

“We believe it’s the first development of its kind in the country,” Marrocco said.

For HGC Construction and the other companies involved, finding a new home for Dragonfly Foundation has become much more than just another project.

“This is not just building a building,” deStefano said.

When they decided to make the Landing part of a much larger development, the team reached out to Dobbs Ackermann, CEO of Ackermann Group, to handle the management of the residential and hotel portion. Greg Otis with GO! Architecture LLC, is acting as the owner’s representative and was instrumental in helping the team. Finally, the group selected the Drawing Department from a number of architecture firms.

I had the chance to sit down with the foundation and its development team a couple of times to learn about their plans for expansion.

“This is the next piece of Cincinnati history,” Neitzke said. “There is no other nonprofit like us.”

Davidson said when (not if, “It’s going to happen,” she said) this community comes together the way they are planning, it could be replicated across the country.

“We already have property offered in Chicago to do the same thing there,” she said. “This is a plan people around the world will be talking about.”

For more information about the capital campaign and Dragonfly Foundation’s plans for the new community, click here.

The Landing 3.0

Renderings of the Landing 3.0 show a facility that was designed by the Drawing Department to be as home-like as possible.The new space will have a kitchen area, where families can cook a meal together, a zen garden for meditation, a large arts and crafts area, a reflection room, a theater room, a game room, an Internet café area, and a large outdoor space. It will also have space for the staff, laundry area, a small catering kitchen, a dining area and fitness and wellness space.Rob Busch, founding partner of Drawing Department, said his team spent a lot of time learning about the current Landing before designing the new version. Most of that time was used listening to current Dragonfly families.

“This is so much more than a building,” Busch said.

There will be two fireplaces on either end of a large great room. The back wall of the great room will be nearly all windows and glass doors, allowing people to look out to a large outdoor area and see through to the two wings of the Landing. Even though the building will mainly be for patients and their families, it will have enough space to host up to 200 people.

There will be a second floor designed for those patients whose immune systems have been compromised.

The Community

The apartments and hotel will be managed by Ackermann Group. While about 75 percent of the apartments will be market-rate units marketed toward those who want to live in a community where they can be part of helping with Dragonfly Foundation’s missions, about 25 percent will be short-term, furnished rentals for Dragonflies when Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge or other housing options can’t meet their needs. A portion of the rent collected at the apartments will go back to the foundation.

The idea to do something on a larger scale makes sense for a couple reasons, said Dobbs Ackermann, CEO of Ackermann Group. When Dragonfly was first looking at a new facility, it was planning to use six or seven acres for amenities. That’s a lot of space for a community’s amenities.

But when the amenities of the foundation are tied with the community amenities, it makes sense. People want to live in an area with nice walking trails and other amenities.

Plus, the group did research to see if potential residents would want to live in a socially conscious community.

“For millennials, truly making an impact is important in their world,” Ackermann said.

In terms of size, the residential component would be about 230,000 square feet, while the hotel would be between 60,000 and 70,000 square feet.

In addition, the team is looking at a concierge service from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Patients and their families would be taken from the airport to the Landing first, where they would receive information and a welcome into the Dragonfly family before going off for treatment. With Cincinnati Children’s expecting more patients to travel to the region for treatment, HGC Construction Vice President Peter Marrocco said adding this component could make one of the scariest and most trying days for a family into a much easier one to handle.

“I couldn’t imagine it. You come here from 400 miles away to Cincinnati, Ohio and you land in Kentucky. Where do you stay? Who do you know? How do you do anything?” Marrocco said.