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His vision changed a city's skyline


He wasn't an architect, but he had a greater impact on the skyline of his adopted hometown than most designers who work there.

He helped enliven city streets, while promoting smart growth strategies for the suburbs long before it was popular to do so.

Like his famous uncle in Baltimore, he was known for taking on projects that others deemed impossible, and bringing them to fruition.

Willard Goldsmith Rouse III, a Baltimore native who settled in Pennsylvania and become a developer and community leader like his uncle James Rouse, died of lung cancer Tuesday at the age of 60 at his home in Chester County, Pa.

He will be remembered today during a public memorial at one of the civic projects he helped create, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in center city Philadelphia.

Willard "Bill" Rouse is perhaps best known as the developer who broke a longstanding height limit in Philadelphia when he won the city's permission to build a 945-foot-tall office tower, 1 Liberty Place, that was 396 feet higher than the crown of William Penn's hat atop City Hall - the unofficial limit for decades.

He also led efforts to complete the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the largest public construction project in the state's history, and celebrate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

As founding partner of Rouse and Associates, which later became Liberty Property Trust, he built the 650-acre Great Valley Corporate Center in Malvern, Pa., a suburban office park. He constructed the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Building. His company is now working on plans to build Philadelphia's next major high-rise, One Pennsylvania Plaza.

There were many parallels between Willard Rouse and his uncle Jim, who died in 1996.

Both were visionaries who pushed cities to set their sights higher.

Both made their money in the private sector but "gave back" to the community through extensive public service.

Both were unafraid to work simultaneously in urban and suburban areas, and both died long before they finished all they hoped to achieve.

Willard Rouse never quite had the national stature of his uncle, a pioneer of the suburban shopping mall who helped invigorate America's cities by building "festival" markets in the 1970s and '80s. With his wife Patty, Jim Rouse also founded the nonprofit Enterprise Foundation to create "fit and affordable" housing across the United States.

Although he worked in 11 states and the United Kingdom, Willard Rouse's primary focus was the Philadelphia region. Moving easily among the worlds of art, business and politics, he worked closely with mayors and governors on civic initiatives, in the same way his uncle worked in Maryland on efforts such as creation of the Greater Baltimore Committee and transformation of the Charles Center and Inner Harbor renewal areas.

Friends and colleagues say it's no surprise that Willard Rouse was similar in many ways to his uncle Jim, because he considered him a mentor and learned from watching him.

"There's a lot in the genes," said Walter D'Alessio, chairman and chief executive of Legg Mason Real Estate Services in Philadelphia. "It's a remarkable family. We're poorer for their departure."

Willard Rouse III was born on June 19, 1942 and raised in the Roland Park area of Baltimore. His father, Willard Rouse II, and his uncle were founders of the Rouse Co., the developer of Columbia, and projects such as Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and Harborplace in Baltimore.

A 1966 graduate of the University of Virginia, Willard Rouse did intermittent part-time work for the Rouse Co., including a stint at the opening of Cherry Hill Mall in 1961. But he decided to make his mark outside the "family" business.

He worked for a series of national developers before starting his own firm in 1972, Rouse and Associates, which was active initially in southern New Jersey and the counties ringing Philadelphia. It became one of the nation's largest private real estate companies and went public in 1994 as Liberty Property Trust.

Influenced by his father's and uncle's views on social responsibility, Willard Rouse always made time for civic initiatives such as heading We the People 2000, the group that celebrated the Constitution's bicentennial, and the Regional Performing Arts Center, which built the $255 million Kimmel Center.

D'Alessio said he prefers to think of Willard Rouse as a community builder rather than a developer. He said he'll remember him for "the era he represents," rather than any one building or civic effort.

"He took this region from a relatively stagnant period to a new era of growth, a higher level of expectation because of what he showed was possible," D'Alessio said. "He gave us a better vision of how we could and should live."

"He was bold by nature and courageous in whatever he undertook - and he looked like a Rouse," said F. Barton Harvey III, chairman and chief executive officer of the Enterprise Foundation.

The younger Rouse "had been very close to Jim," Harvey said, "and when his dad died, Jim took him under his wing." Like his uncle, Harvey said, "he had a knack for taking on the impossible and achieving it."

One of Willard Rouse's strongest opponents was Edmund Bacon, Philadelphia's longtime city planning director who objected to Liberty Place. Last week, Bacon indicated that he still wishes the previous height limit had not been violated. But "there's no point in crying over spilt milk," he said. "Rouse decided to do it and he did it."

Bacon said he's enthusiastic about the design of One Pennsylvania Plaza and the way it builds on the 50-year-old master plan for Penn Center and its commuter rail station. Featuring an eight-story winter garden and generous public plaza, "it's a new vision for architecture," he said. "It's absolutely wonderful."

One can't help but wonder what Baltimore might be like today had Willard Rouse decided to stay in town. Then again, with his uncle so active already, maybe there wouldn't have been room for the two of them in the same city. Willard Rouse was a trustee of the Enterprise Foundation, supporting his uncle's efforts to create affordable housing.

Similiarities with Jim Rouse are evident even with today's memorial services. There will be a private service in the morning and a public service at 1:30 p.m. at the Kimmel Center. When Jim Rouse died seven years ago, there was a church service in Baltimore in the morning, followed by a public memorial at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Posted on the Liberty Property Trust Web site is a biography of Willard Rouse that begins with a quote from Goethe: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." It clearly meant a lot to Willard Rouse. It was one of his uncle's favorite sayings as well.

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