Monday, April 24, 2017

The Cleveland skyscraper building-binge starts


Construction workers will begin building in August The Beacon apartment tower at Euclid Avenue and East 6th Street in downtown Cleveland. But that's just the start. Those of us who like to see construction cranes over downtown will probably enjoy the skyline view for the next decade or so.

The reason is that the 28-story Beacon apartments by Stark Enterprises is likely to be the first of many new large buildings to rise downtown. How many is "many"? It could be as few as three or four and as numerous as 10.

Why is this happening now? The Cleveland skyscraper building binge is due to the following factors:
Consider these large, older downtown office buildings that have, are being or will soon be converted to residential (post-conversion, some buildings include hotel, retail and/or office uses):
  • Cleveland Athletic Club, 225,000 square feet, 15 stories;
  • Halle Building, 392,000 square feet, 12 stories;
  • John Hartness Brown Buildings (4 buildings), 250,000 square feet, 6-7 stories.
  • Leader Building, 322,600 square feet, 15 stories;
  • 925 Euclid (was Huntington Building), 1.4 million square feet, 22 stories;
  • Residences at 1717 (was East Ohio Gas HQ), 340,000 square feet, 21 stories;
  • Scofield Residences (was Euclid-Ninth Tower), 140,000 square feet, 14 stories;
  • 75 Public Square, 150,000 square feet; 15 stories;
  • Standard Apartments (was the Standard Building), 350,000 square feet, 21 stories;
  • Terminal Tower, 584,000 square feet, 52 stories;
  • The 9 (was Ameritrust complex), 831,000 square feet, 29 stories;
  • Tower at Erieview, 750,000 square feet, 40 stories.
Other local factors are significantly affecting the downtown office market, including these recent or pending relocations:
  • Cleveland Police Department headquarters moving from its own building to 55 Public Square by 2018, taking 180,000 square feet;
  • Forest City Realty Trust headquarters moving from Terminal Tower to Key Tower in 2018, taking 148,000 square feet;
  • Millennia Companies headquarters moving from Valley View to Key Tower in 2017, taking 45,000 square feet;
  • New York Life Insurance moving from Lakewood to 200 Public Square in 2016, taking 110,000 square feet;
  • NRP Group moving from Garfield Heights to the Halle Building in early 2018, taking 43,000 square feet.
While those moves are tightening up Cleveland's downtown office market, perhaps even more exciting is the investment by national and international firms in the central business district -- and the reasons why. Cleveland’s relatively affordable cost of living compared with Chicago and especially coastal cities is attracting businesses to the metro area, fueling demand for office space.

"Many owner-users are snatching up space as prices remain relatively affordable compared with the national average, and as asking rents remain on the rise," said Ryan E. Moore, associate, Marcus & Millichap in RE Business Online. "Moving forward, upward pressure on rents and relatively higher returns compared with gateway metros will continue to motivate investors to inject capital into the Cleveland office sector, primarily in downtown Cleveland."

Consider these out-of-town investments and the reasons for them:
  • Turkish capital firm Alto Partners bought the half-empty 55 Erieview office building as well as the neighboring buildings at 65-75 Erieview and will modernize the combined 280,000 square feet of office spaces located between East 9th and East 12th streets south of Lakeside Avenue;
  • Alto is also buying the legally troubled quartet of John Hartness Brown office buildings at 1001-1101 Euclid Ave. that have seen their renovations stall, but Alto's project will likely be a mix of hotel/housing/retail and take roughly 250,000 square feet of office space off the market;
  • Those projects may be but a glimpse into Alto's big plans for Cleveland, as "Alto really likes the Cleveland area and is committed to acquiring and developing a few million square feet in that market," said Michael Sabracos, Alto's chief executive officer for U.S. operations;
  • Another out-of-town investor, Somera Road Inc. of New York City, bought the half-empty, 16-story, 45 Erieview office building at East 9th and Lakeside Avenue and will bring in back-office tenants from New York that are desperate to reduce their real estate and employment costs.
  • Somera founder and principal Ian Ross said "I think a lot of national companies in Los Angeles, New York, (Washington) D.C. (and) Chicago, are saying the cost of living in those cities has gotten astronomical. Attrition problems continue to be an issue. Companies are looking toward the Midwest. I do think there will be growth in the Greater Cleveland area in terms of new tenancy."
  • Ross added investing in downtown and other urban settings in Cleveland will retain and attract young people: "The millennial generation is what a lot of large American corporations are focused on, managing the attrition of that very fickle employment base. The suburban office concept, which you see a lot of in the Midwest and you see a lot of in Cleveland, specifically ... that's going by the wayside. That's not going to be the pull or the attraction for that highly sought-after employee."
Despite these new market trends, significant speculative office construction in Greater Cleveland remains non-existent. That could soon change. The historical average downtown Cleveland Class A office vacancy rate is 12 percent. But since early 2016, the vacancy rate dove below 11 percent and is projected to fall below 8 percent by 2020.

Typically, a vacancy rate of 10 percent or less and rising rents will justify the development of a speculative office building. Downtown Cleveland office vacancies remain the highest in the metropolitan area, but are falling quickly due to residential conversions of older office buildings and most of their tenants remaining downtown.

"It would not be surprising, though, to see announcements for new speculative construction in the very near future," said Colliers International's first-quarter 2017 Cleveland office market report.

And then there's the issue of corporate growth and consolidations. Two stand out above all others:

1. Medical Mutual may soon announce a new office building to consolidate its 1,300 workers from downtown's 115-year-old, 380,000-square-foot Rose Building at East 9th and Prospect Ave. Medical Mutual also has 700 employees in Beachwood, Copley and Strongsville offices (leases expire in 2020), plus another 500 workers in Toledo that may be consolidated into a new tower downtown. The lease-expiration timeline means Medical Mutual must make a decision any day now.

How big might Medical Mutual's new building be? An average of roughly 200 square feet per employee could equal a 500,000-square-foot tower. With modern, open floor plates averaging about 25,000 square feet -- small enough to be illuminated with natural light -- perhaps 20 stories of offices may be involved (not counting parking, contingencies for growth, additional speculative office space, or vertically stacked mixed uses). It isn't known where Medical Mutual would build its new headquarters.

2. Sherwin-Williams in 2015 outgrew its headquarters in the 87-year-old, 900,000-square-foot Landmark Office Towers, 101 Prospect Ave., with some of its 2,800 workers spilling over into 50,000 square feet of the neighboring Skylight Office Tower. That was before the global coatings giant announced in 2016 it would acquire Minneapolis paint firm Valspar that could bring up to 600 more jobs to downtown Cleveland. That doesn't count another 300 workers in Sherwin-Williams' Breen Technology Center, 601 Canal Rd., next to where the company was founded 150 years ago.

The Valspar deal should be wrapped up by this summer and an announcement about a new headquarters building may soon follow. Using the same spatial assumptions from the Medical Mutual scenario, Sherwin-Williams may be looking at 740,000 square feet of offices contained in a 30-story tower (again, not counting parking, contingencies for growth, additional speculative office space, or mixed uses). The site of Sherwin-Williams' tower isn't known either, but it will be in or near downtown Cleveland. Sherwin-Williams' corporate charter says the company's headquarters must be located within 1 mile of the firm's founding location on Canal Road.

Both historic buildings currently containing Medical Mutual and Sherwin-Williams are obsolete as headquarters for major corporations. They have enclosed offices which don't facilitate employee interaction and creative collaboration. They are costly to light, heat, cool and maintain. But they are perfect for residential conversions. And both the Rose Building and the Landmark Office Towers are in dynamic areas of downtown with other residential buildings, shopping, restaurants, entertainment and transportation.

One more significant office building is planned and likely will be built downtown:

3. Cuyahoga County's Justice Center development appears to be moving forward. The Cleveland Police Department is selling its headquarters which is part of the old, decaying Justice Center complex to the county and moving its 180,000 square feet of offices to 55 Public Square (see above). Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish referred in his annual State of the County address on April 19 to an upcoming project that the county is going to be involved in that will be the "largest yet" though he gave few details.

A new county courthouse tower could follow the cost-effective approach of the county's new administration building that was built and owned by a private developer to which the county pays rent. The courthouse tower project might involve a land swap in which the old Justice Center is given to the developer that builds the new courthouse tower. A new tower could be one of Northeast Ohio's largest real estate developments since the old, 2.3-million-square-foot facility was opened in 1976 and expanded in 1995. If built with slightly larger floorplates averaging 40,000 square feet, a 2.1 million-square-foot courthouse tower might climb upwards of 50 stories.

Considering all of these projects, downtown Cleveland's skyline will look different in the next few years, and possibly very different over the next 10 years. How different? Consider the photo comparison below.



The "tomorrow" Cleveland skyline picture shows labeled massings of buildings speculated, planned or under construction. These massings are identified and described below in the order of their possible likelihood:

  • Edge/CSU -- Edge CSU Student Living LLC is constructing an 11-story residential building on Euclid at East 18th Street. The project should be completed in summer 2017;
  • 515 Euclid -- Stark Enterprises is beginning construction on The Beacon apartments in 19 stories atop the nine-level 515 Euclid parking garage. It is due to open in late-2018;
  • nuCLEus -- Stark Enterprises and J-Dek Investments are wrapping up financing for the 1-million-square-foot development at East 4th and Prospect, including residential, offices, retail, hotel and parking in multiple structures, including a 48-story tower.
  • Hippodrome Tower -- Some believe a new Medical Mutual office building could rise on the Goldberg family-owned site of the Hippodrome Theater, now just parking in the 700-block of Euclid and Prospect. This is next to Medical Mutual's current headquarters in the Rose Building. 
  • Jacobs Lot Tower -- Ever since the 60-story Ameritrust Tower project died in 1990, Jacobs Group's parking lot has scarred Public Square. Some believe Sherwin-Williams will build its new headquarters tower here. Others believe this Public Square address is the perfect site for a new county courthouse tower.
  • Weston Superblock office tower -- Weston Inc. and Citymark Capital may build at the northwest corner of Superior Avenue and West 3rd Street a 37-story tower for whichever office user, between Sherwin-Williams or the courthouse tower, doesn't land on the Jacobs Lot.
  • FEB (Flats East Bank) Phase 3 -- Fairmount Properties seeks to build an 11-story residential tower atop retail and a movie theater on West 11th and Main Ave.
  • PHS (Playhouse Square) residential tower -- An unidentified national developer is seeking to build a 30-story residential tower including a 600-car parking garage pedestal, much like 515 Euclid. Playhouse Square Foundation sought $4 million from the state in 2016 to help build the parking pedestal but won only $1 million.
  • Weston Superblock residential tower1 -- A 25-story residential tower is proposed on the southeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and West 6th Street. This was to be the first phase of Weston's Superblock development but the office market may change that.
  • Weston Superblock hotel tower -- A later phase of the Weston/Citymark Superblock development in the Warehouse District is to include a roughly 20-story hotel. No hotelier has been publicly identified, however.
  • Weston Superblock residential/office tower2 -- Someday, the final phase of development of the superblock development may be realized, with this structure being an residential and/or office building.
With all of the moving parts of the coming downtown Cleveland skyscraper binge, it will be interesting to see what end-users and developers bring their projects off the drawing boards first and where they will land. Keep tabs on Cleveland's building binge as things could move quickly toward the end of this year.



  1. Fascinating post! Thanks for putting it all together, especially the potential future skyline photo. I'm definitely hoping ALL of these projects happen, but I'd be OK with even half of them, especially nuCLEus.

  2. The migration of corporate offices from the twin coasts is a factor for economic reasons, the urge of young people to live in an urban environment is a factor, especially for those who have relocated here. A big limitation is that in the past, young empty nesters have flown to the suburbs as soon as they have had children. That will continue to be the case until and unless Cleveland develops high quality private secondary schools roughly comparable to those in Manhattan. (My cousins went to Miss Pruitt's school for Girls in the 1960's and -70's.)

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