Thursday, October 19, 2017

Downtown Cleveland's next big building may surprise

The existing Cleveland Police headquarters at 1300 Ontario St.
is an eight-story structure with large floorplates. The police HQ
needs to move to a new site, as does a police garage/storage and
employee/public parking. Such a large structure(s), measuring
more than 500,000 square feet, may require new construction
downtown. And given recent events, that may be exactly
what's being considered by the public and private sectors.

Among three or four residential towers and a new skyscraper for a Fortune 500 headquarters, the next big building to rise in downtown Cleveland may surprise many. It grew out of a learning process by city officials that downtown didn't have more than 500,000 square feet of office and garage space ready-made for the needs of its police department. And a single real estate company holds the key to making a new building happen.

Early in spring 2017, the city agreed to sell to Cuyahoga County its police HQ and garage (for police and visitor's vehicles) at 1300 Ontario St. for $9.25 million. The county wanted to move departments (adult probation, corrections planning, substance abuse and other programs) from the Marion Building, 1276 W. 3rd St., to a vacated police HQ by Oct. 31. The reason is the county sold the Marion Building to Weston Inc. The 1913-built, seven-story, 100,000-square-foot building is ideal for conversion to housing using historic tax credits.

The county had hoped to move out of the Marion Building by Oct. 31 when its lease with Weston expires. So it pushed the city to find a new home for its police HQ and garage. The city issued a request for proposals last spring, hoping that owners of downtown buildings would jump at the chance to land a huge tenant like the Cleveland Police Department. But none could meet the city's requirements, including:

  • Both facilities located east of the Cuyahoga River, west of East 55th Street and north of I-490;
  • 180,000 square feet of office space for HQ operations;
  • 115,000 square feet of separate space for storage, garage and supportive offices;
  • Secure parking for 400 passenger cars separate from public parking (equal to a 160,000-square-foot parking garage);
  • Private elevators and secured stairwells if multiple floors in a shared building;
  • Ability to separate staff from the public portions of the operations;
  • Ability to install high-technology and work in an efficient, high-quality, healthy environment;
  • Occupancy by Dec. 31, 2017 or March 31, 2018 at the latest.

Those were the requirements. Its preferences were to find leased space for up to 20 years near the municipal and county courts as well as the city's Emergency Operations Center at the Justice Center. It also preferred lots of public parking, flexible office floor plans, plus back-up communications, power, water and heating systems. And if both the HQ and garage/storage could be co-located, so much the better.

Some real estate market observers speculated that the 55 Public Square building across St. Clair Avenue from the police HQ was the city's preferred site, but neither side could make that building fit the city's needs. In fact, no existing building did in the timeframe the city specified. So the city ended up hiring Colliers International to help it find a new police HQ and garage.

Weston graciously extended the county's lease at the Marion Building, even though it slows and complicates Weston's plans for converting the building into residential. The county has agreed to shift its offices to the lower floors while Weston rehabilitates the building's upper floors. The city, having already sold its police HQ, subsequently extended its stay at its current location for at least another two years for $1 per year.

The irony and coincidence in all of this is remarkable. Weston controls the clock for this game of real estate hop-scotch. Of course Weston was happy to extend the county's lease at its Marion Building. Why?

The reason is because the site that could best meet the city's requirements for a new, consolidated police HQ and storage/garage is at the NE corner of the Weston-owned Superblock in the Warehouse District, bounded by West 3rd, St. Clair, West 6th Street and Superior Avenue. The city's two-year-plus lease extension (in turn enabled by the county's extended lease at the Marion Building) buys Weston the time to develop a great proposal to the city.

Weston Inc. and Citymark Capital plan a massive development
of offices, residential and possibly a hotel on the Warehouse
District's Superblock, now just surface parking lots. This is a
view from the northwest of the Superblock masterplan. The
Justice Center complex is just out of view to the left.
What makes it so great? It can meet all of city's the requirements AND all of its preferences for a new, consolidated police HQ, garage, storage and parking facility. All of those features taken together require a structure of some 535,000 square feet (180,000-sf police HQ, 115,000-sf police garage/storage/office, 160,000-sf employee parking, and roughly 80,000-sf public parking). At $200 per square foot, a new building of this scale could cost $107 million, although given the building's need for extra security and communications technology, a higher cost wouldn't be surprising.

Guess what? The city already has most of the money to afford a new-build, consolidated police HQ-storage facility. Consider that the city now has $9.25 million from the sale of its police HQ and will save $5.1 million per year by closing the downtown municipal jail and paying the county to house its prisoners. That $9.25 million can be part of the upfront lease payment to a private developer (like Weston) to construct the building, with payments of $5 million per year over a term of 20 years, which is what the city is willing to do, per its RFP (noted above).

With separated public parking and employee parking/storage, a garage with up to 50,000 square feet per level is reasonable. That might mean that the parking structure could be about 6-7 stories tall. An ideal floorplate for offices for efficient heating, cooling and natural lighting is between 25,000 and 30,000 square feet. With about 200,000 square feet of offices for the HQ and storage administration, that would involve an office structure about 7-8 stories tall. If the offices were built atop the parking structure, the consolidated police HQ/storage/parking could measure about 15 stories high.

Site plan for the Weston/Citymark Superblock.
An ideal location for the consolidated Cleveland
Police HQ/storage/parking structure could be at
the northeast corner of the site (circled), closest
to the existing Justice Center complex.
The other benefit of building this structure on the NE corner of the Weston Superblock is that it could jump-start development on the rest of the Superblock. If the city expanded its public parking structure so it could also create a pedestal for another tower (ala 515 Euclid serving as a pedestal for The Beacon apartment tower), it could spur further Superblock development as Weston has envisioned.

Or, the consolidated police HQ/storage/parking could even set the stage for relocating the entire Justice Center complex to the Superblock, possibly in a trade with Weston to redevelop the old 26-story Justice Center tower and demolishing the jails for redevelopment or green space.

Who would have thought a consolidated police HQ facility could be so catalytic for downtown Cleveland's continued development? Based on circumstantial evidence, it appears that Weston did.



  1. So, what is the possibility of this actually happening? As we all know, new developments get off the ground quite slowly in this town. I'd love to see this jump-start the Weston super block, however.

  2. Time and time again we read about the potential development in this City and time and time again nothing comes to fruition. Now the City itself is in a quandary. Will this mistake be what it takes to finally see some new development happen? I guess only time will tell. Is the Weston Citymark site large enough to house Amazon HQ2? Is there a footprint of land in downtown that could house such development?