John Ott, owner, Alley A Realty
1. What’s your background?
My degree from MU is in journalism. I worked with Dave Baugher and Al Germond for almost 20 years in the broadcasting business. [Editor’s note: Baugher and Germond are partners in The Business Times Company.] For about the last 15 years, my wife, Vicki, and I have been buying, redeveloping, leasing, and managing primarily commercial and historic properties in Columbia’s downtown district. Our son, Tanner, joined us at the company about four years ago. We are very fortunate that he decided to join us in our business.
2. Tell us about your job.
We work with creative people in designing retail, restaurant, office, and artist spaces that meet our tenants’ needs. We work hard to retain the character, historical, and cultural value of the buildings.
3. What does your typical day look like?
Every day is different, and most days that can be a wonderful thing! We meet with the people working on our projects at the sites, and we meet with others at the design table. We spend time with potential and existing tenants, and some days you pick up a broom, a shovel, or a jackhammer and help out when needed. Note that the tools I use do not require any special skills!
4. What drew you to your position?
Vicki and I redeveloped some historic buildings in the river town of Rocheport, Missouri in the late ’80s and ’90s. We enjoyed the creative and business aspect of redevelopment and historic preservation. When my partners and I sold our broadcasting business, Vicki and I gravitated toward doing redevelopment in downtown Columbia.
5. What don’t people know about your industry that they should?
It’s just like “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. No, just kidding! These projects take many months to complete and there are many, many people involved, not to mention the permitting and regulations that can be onerous.
6. What would people be surprised to know about your work?
I don’t know if it’s a surprise, but like a lot of peoples’ jobs, it never ends!
7. Did you start your career in small business?
My first job out of MU was walking the streets of downtown Columbia selling radio ads to local merchants. It gave me an appreciation for how hard small business owners work and how creative they are in attracting people to their stores. My wife was the manager of the University Bookstore on campus in her early career.
8. What are some challenges you face in your work?
The rising cost of materials and labor. An ongoing industry shortage of tradespeople. Rising interest rates.
9. Describe a success you’re most proud of.
I’m proud of our involvement in the North Village Arts District, the Alley A Project, and the preservation of the Stephens Building, Berry Building, and Pucketts Building. Other projects too! Dave, Al, and I acquired and rescued the Tiger Hotel, eventually selling it to the impressive hotel developer Glyn Laverick. I will never forget the night we turned on the refurbished iconic “TIGER” sign on top of the building after it had been turned off for about 50 years.
10. What’s your ‘why’? What inspires you to get up each day and make a difference?
We like to be involved in creating spaces that people enjoy spending time in — like places that have outlived some of their usefulness but can be made exciting again. Nothing gives us more satisfaction than seeing lots of people enjoy the spaces we helped create.
11. Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone:
We like to spend some time each year in Ely, Minnesota, a small town near the Canadian border. It’s the “Gateway to the Boundary Waters” and offers us a chance to get away and enjoy the outdoors. Also, we have a daughter, Mackenzie, an MU grad who has a career in apparel management in New York. Not sure if she’ll be joining the family business anytime too soon! Did I mention our 15-year-old Shih Tzu, Sophie?