Tony Troppe learned from an early age that music has a way of connecting people. Raised in Akron, the son of a saxophone player and classically trained pianist has watched hometown rockers such as Chrissie Hynde and the Black Keys make his city a headliner.
Inspired by Akron's flourishing art scene, he returned to town after studying philosophy and business at the College of Wooster to begin his career as a developer in the suburbs. But nothing hit the right note like working in Akron.
"I realized I wanted to be downtown, at the front door of the city," he says from a table at the bustling Urban Eats coffee shop.
In 1996, he started Historic Arts District Management Group in a 1900 opera house that is now the Everett Building. In its 20 years, the company has renovated 16 historic buildings downtown and turned them into creative hotbeds, such as the concert venues Musica and Blu Jazz.
The Cascade Lofts, which opened last month, transformed the former Swinehart Tire and Rubber Co. building into 24 energy-efficient apartments overlooking the Towpath Trail. Later this year, Cascade's lower level will be home to Lock 15 Brewing Co. featuring a fresh earth-to-table menu.
"Making a living space right on the Towpath, I don't think there's any greater improv than that," he says.
The exhaustive process of developing may seem as though it would leave little room for ad-libbing, but Troppe says adding individual spice is the key to long-term success. That means creating modern places such as coffee shops and jazz clubs that attract people of all generations.
"You might have the classics driving the train, but you can veer off track with your own style," he says.
Later this year, the 1923 building that housed the United Cigar Store Co. will become the jazz-themed United 1:Blu-tique Hotel. The 65 rooms with fashionable midcentury modern style, a day spa and rooftop cigar lounge will invoke the Roaring '20s.
"We're taking the old and blending it with the new," says Troppe. "This is jazz in a whole new form."