Monday, June 30, 2014

Downtown Cleveland apartment conversions may drive demand for constructing a big office tower -- or two

Many older office buildings in downtown Cleveland are getting converted to apartments and other uses. How many? So many that ALL of the vacant office space may soon be gone -- and then some. So many that the time for constructing one or more major new office towers in the central business district is fast approaching.

In fact, by 2017, assuming that existing tenants in the older office towers relocate within downtown, there could actually be a shortage of leasable office space downtown. Typically, market pressure for a constructing a new office tower reaches a critical point when Class A (the most modern buildings) office vacancies drop below 10 percent and rents are rising.

In 1990, buildings on the west side
of Public Square were leveled for a
60-story office tower that never was
built due to Ameritrust and Society
Corp. merging. The cleared land,
owned by the Jacobs Group, has
remained a parking lot to this day.
At the start of 2014, Class A office buildings in downtown Cleveland were only 12.5 percent vacant, according to a market report by real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. This includes absorption of space by office users at the new 21-story, 550,000-square-foot EY Tower at Flats East Bank. A second, but smaller office building measuring 220,000 square feet will soon rise across Front Street from the first tower. But that won't be anywhere near large enough to relieve the coming pressure for more office space.

  • There is currently nearly 14 million square feet of Class B (older buildings) and Class C (obsolete) office space downtown. Of that, 9.3 million square feet is Class B and 4.64 million square feet is Class C. Between Classes B/C, there is about 3.36 million square feet of office space that's vacant, or 24 percent. That's about 10.64 million square feet of tenants occupying Class B/C offices downtown.
  • Between now and 2017, all the residential conversions on the books will reduce the downtown Class B/C office building supply to 9.34 million square feet (7 million in Class B, 2.34 million in Class C). 
  • That leaves about 1.3 million square feet of downtown office users looking for new digs. If they want to stay downtown, there's almost enough available space in the existing and planned Class A buildings (about 1.2 million square feet, which includes a second Flats East building) to accommodate them. Almost.
More residential conversions are possible that could tip the downtown office market over the edge. Weston Inc. may buy the Standard Building, a beautiful, 90-year-old, 21-story, 350,000-square-foot office structure at St. Clair Avenue and Ontario Street which is half full. Even larger is the old Huntington Building, a 1.3-million-square-foot edifice at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue that was the second-largest office building in the world (only Chicago's Merchandise Mart was larger) when built in 1924. It is 90 percent vacant.

If those two buildings were renovated into residential (even partially), they would represent the fourth and fifth buildings downtown of 20 stories or taller to be converted since the Great Recession. The previous three were the Embassy Suites, old Ameritrust Tower, and the East Ohio Gas building. Embassy Suites was recently converted while the first apartments at Ameritrust Tower (will also include a Metropolitan Hotel) and East Ohio Gas Tower are almost ready for occupancy. Three vacant Class C office buildings of 10-19 stories (Schofield, 1010 Euclid and 1220 Huron) are also being renovated mostly for apartments.

Staff at the old Huntington Building say representatives of owner Optima 925 LLC have toured developers and investors through the building, including its world's largest bank lobby, with an eye toward adding apartments to a mix of office and retail uses. The amount of space that could be devoted to each use isn't yet known.

Furthermore, additional older Class C office buildings may be converted to apartments, soon. K&D Management LLC, Northeast Ohio's largest owner and manager of apartments, is finding the conversions of downtown office towers to housing so profitable that they are selling suburbans properties to buy more downtown buildings.

So if my math is correct, this could mean there will be more office users than office space left downtown -- assuming that all downtown office users relocate elsewhere within downtown. And it assumes there are no changes in absorption. Admittedly, those are both big "ifs."

But what isn't an "if" is that downtown's office market is about to become extremely tight, perhaps more than it's ever been. And the need for constructing one or more office towers downtown is about to reach a critical point.

Of course, the most visible location for an office tower is the west side of Public Square where a 60-story Ameritrust tower and hotel was to be built by the Jacobs Group. Buildings were leveled for the tower in 1990 but construction never started as Ameritrust merged with Society Corp. and moved into its new tower on the north side of Public Square. Society later merged with Key Corp. The west side of Public Square has remained a parking lot ever since. However there are rumblings that the Jacobs Group is rekindling plans for a new tower here.



  1. Conversion of old buildings into usable space means that business is picking up. The space taken up by Class C buildings would have to be dealt with eventually. If the economy improves to a level that there's a dearth of usable space, they would have to be converted, if not rebuilt. Seeing that three Class C buildings are already being renovated is a sign of a vibrant economy. Would these lead to more new buildings? Let's hope so!

    Sheldon Ward @ Brett Halvorson & Associates

  2. Working in the moving industry get to see the inside of a lot of these new conversions and to tell you the truth, they're not what they're hyped up to be. Most of them are overpriced; I'm talking $1400 for a one bedroom! Also, moving into these apartments can be a nightmare. The freight elevators are either to small or far away from where you can park the moving truck. There's always a ton of traffic to navigate.... I wouldn't move down there.

  3. What does this have to do with the article?