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Ed P. Drogaris
The Drogaris Companies have been involved in the development of more than eight hundred acres of land and well over one million square feet of commercial, residential, and industrial space.
“The more influence and the more ability that we have to influence other people, the more responsibility we have,” says developer Ed Drogaris. “The responsibility for a developer isn’t just to make money. It’s to create something; it’s to leave a legacy. It’s to create living spaces and work spaces and play spaces that people enjoy and they want to be in and they want to bring their friends to and they want to come back to—and that integrates and has a synergy with the community.”
His desire to keep improving and to take responsibility started early in his life. Both of his parents were born in Greece and immigrated, separately, to the United States. They got married in Washington, DC, in the 40s. Drogaris was born there and then his family moved to the Florida panhandle when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father passed away. Life was hard for a young Drogaris and his mother. By age twelve he was interested in architecture and design and started developing house plans. In his youth, he was given the opportunity to live in Greece for a time and travel to other countries like Italy, Spain, and Turkey. “I got a whole different perspective on what built environments, architecture, and design were,” he says. When he returned, he started working almost forty hours on the weekends at a high-end steakhouse. He worked there for nearly seven years.
During his junior and senior high school years, his interest in architectural drawing continued. Drogaris recalls petitioning the principal to let him build a coffee table–sized scale model of his design. “It had lights and roofs and I used landscape stuff for the grass and broke up little tiles for flagstones,” he says with a smile. Drogaris wanted to be an architect and he would have been, had it not been for some bad advice from a high school guidance counselor. “The counselor basically said, ‘You don’t have any money. The only prayer you’ve got is to go to a state school and the only architecture program in Florida is at the University of Florida. It’s a five-year program and it’s in the engineering school.’” Drogaris checked it out. He learned the program was mostly engineering, so he chose the next best creative thing he could think of and graduated from Florida State University with a degree in advertising and marketing. “I guess I still had a penchant for creative things. It worked out; if I was an architect I'd have to put up with developers like myself and I don't know if I could do that.”
After graduation, Drogaris came to Lancaster to work for Armstrong Cork Company (as it was called back then). He worked there from 1971–73 then went to work for a model cities corporation for the City of Lancaster. “I started fixing up single-family homes in 1975, bought part of a block and then started buying warehouses and continued to grow the business.” He looked at buildings and places where nobody else placed any value and tried to figure out a way to create value. Growing up, he admits he had very little so seeing potential where others didn’t came naturally. Envisioning the future of a building and renovating rather than demolishing has allowed his properties to retain their character and architecture—and is, by nature, sustainable. His office, located beside Lancaster Dispensing Company and Central Market, was the first historic tax act property in Lancaster County. Other notable projects include commercial office building Liberty Place, and mixed-use projects Liberty North, the Swisher and Buckwalter Warehouses (part of Prince Street Centre), and The Lancaster Press Building which is currently under construction.
As a developer, he is involved in every area of the business. “From the inception of an idea from reviewing properties from acquisition down to understanding structure, design, planning, zoning, subdivision, land development, architectural planning, costing, construction supervision, manifesting the product, marketing it, managing it.” He gives credit to his staff whom he thinks is “stupendous, and they have to put up with me too. If anyone thinks they can do it by themselves, they’re crazy!”
Professionally, he gives a lot of credit to the current local administration for helping create opportunities for the community to grow. “They have created the best environment for this community to flourish. Their focus on the arts, built environment, infrastructure, and on safety has been great.” Drogaris also says he hopes the community continues to see the potential and the resources that are here. “If I have the ability and the influence to buy a city block, then I have a pretty big responsibility to make sure the result of that is really great for the community,” he reiterates. “I am still intrigued by the city. I still love architecture.” He built his life like he built his company—from the ground up.
Q & A
Best advice you’ve received? The bad advice about architecture school—which ultimately led me into development.
Favorite quote or verse? Part of my inspiration is from a lyric from a Waylon Jennings’ song: ‘I’m crazy but it keeps me from going insane.’
Reading? I read a lot and some of everything. At this very moment I’m reading a book about Thomas Jefferson and the American Navy that was actually created to deal with the Barbary pirates off the coast of North Africa.
Love about your wife? She’s nuturing, fun, and she puts family first.
Love about your life? That list is pretty long. How fortunate I am to have been able to do so many of the things that we’ve been able to do, to create what we’ve created, and to continue learning.