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Man Behind the Plan Settling in Richmond

One of the first orders of business is tearing down the Marketplace from Marshall to Grace streets. The southern half is to come down first, and Laing says the demolition will start in early fall. His team is researching how long that will take. "We'd love to see it down in two to three months," Laing says, but it could take longer.

Officially, Laing is managing officer of ECI Development Services, a unit of developer Gary Beller's ECI Investment Advisors out of Chicago. Beller is the developer who plans to gut the former Miller & Rhoads building for an upscale, 216-room hotel. Laing is in charge of that, as well. He hopes the hotel will open in three years.

Before joining Beller for the Richmond project, Laing worked for 22 years for Urban Retail Properties. His company worked with Beller's ECI to develop a $150 million shopping center in Skokie, Ill.

Laing and Adrian Hogg, senior vice president and director of design for ECI in Richmond, have spent much of the past few weeks assembling the consultant team that will organize and execute the infrastructure work — such as expanding utilities, building parking lots and developing the new streetscape.

The hardest work will take place below the street.

"A lot of the stuff we're doing [the public is] not going to see," Laing says. "The utilities work is the slowest, and it will take the longest time. … probably 15 months."

But he's working under a CDA-imposed deadline of two years, which is why he flew to Richmond to start working on the project just a few days after investors in late May bought $66.7 million in CDA bonds that will fund the improvements.

Laing and his wife, Mary, already have put a contract on a traditional, two-story house on River Road in the West End. His wife and children, Patrick, 14, and Julia, 10, will make the move to Richmond in August. For the time being, Laing spends his weeks in an apartment on Cary Street and flies home to Chicago on the weekends.

"We pulled it together in a hurry," Laing says. — Scott Bass

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