The tale of how Live Baltimore's executive director landed in Baltimore sounds like one of the success stories the organization likes to promote.
Steven Gondol and his wife were living in Washington. They visited friends in Baltimore and were intrigued by the city's quirky neighborhoods and quality of life. First they rented, then bought a house near Patterson Park. They had two young children. They loved city life.
Here's the plot twist: The family is returning to Ohio, recalled by family ties. His wife is assuming a top job with the family business.
Gondol, 38, who made keeping families with young children in Baltimore one of his signature efforts, said he was worried about breaking the news. He told the board of the organization, which promotes city life and homebuying incentives, in January.
"My biggest concern was that it didn't send a mixed message," he said.
All cities lose some families to outside opportunities, Gondol said. But he's optimistic that his departure aside, the city remains on an upward streak.
New development in the form of apartments, houses and shopping is changing neighborhoods, and participation in city homebuying programs, such as Live Near Your Work, is on the rise. City spending on those initiatives rose from $2.7 million in fiscal 2013 to $4.2 million in fiscal 2016.
"I think Baltimore is in a position to hold onto many more who are able to stay and who want to stay," he said. "There's a lot more positive than negative happening."
Gondol, the third of four siblings born to a nurse and a millwright, grew up outside Youngstown, Ohio. He said having to rely on his parents for rides made him yearn for urban life.
In college, he studied urban planning. After graduating, he moved to Washington, where he worked with firms that designed military bases.
He joined Live Baltimore in 2007 and became executive director in 2011, overseeing a staff of seven and a budget of almost $1 million, about 60 percent of which comes from the city.
Gondol, who participated in one of the city's homebuying programs when he settled here, said he pushed the organization to become more data-driven, digging into home sales by neighborhood and tracking prospective residents.
That approach was critical when it came to another one of his initiatives: the Way to Stay campaign, which highlighted successful schools, said Stacie Tobin, board president of Live Baltimore.
"We want people to make decisions based on facts and not just some broad stereotype," she said.
Tobin said the nonprofit is sorry to say goodbye to Gondol. The board plans to start interviews for a new director in April.
Gondol said he thinks the timing of his departure will allow a new executive director to make a difference, participating in the planning process underway and getting going with a new mayoral administration. He said he sees opportunities to increase employer participation in the Live Near Your Work Program.
He doesn't have a new job lined up, though he hopes to stay in a similar field. He said he's looking forward to exploring Dayton with his children.
"I still believe in cities," he said.
The Evening Sun
Job: Executive director, Live Baltimore
Residence: Patterson Park
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Education: University of Cincinnati
Family: Wife; son, 4, and daughter, 2