Thursday, August 29, 2019

Market Square tax abatement isn't the issue; it's about control

A $200 million development by Chicago-based Harbor Bay is
at risk, as are other spin-off developments in Ohio City. City
officials fear that a state tax exemption on buildings that don't
yet exist would hurt the schools. However the city had already
offered a 100 percent tax abatement to the project (HBREA).
With just 35 minutes to go before an Aug. 13 meeting of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority's (OAQDA) board of trustees, representatives of Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors thought their request for $150 million in 30-year bonds and a property tax exemption would be approved.

The bonds would finance most of the $200 million Market Square development, including a 10-story office building and seven-story apartment building, at Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street in Ohio City. The innovative project, using timber framing, would reduce emissions by 40 percent mostly from reduced heating and cooling, but also from avoiding the manufacture of steel and concrete.

That's what made the project attractive to OAQDA. That, along with 13 letters of support from the likes of Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack,  Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary David Wondolowski, Ohio City Inc. Executive Director Tom McNair, Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority CEO William Friedman, and economics professor Daniel Shoag, Ph.D. from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

But moments later, three letters of opposition arrived by e-mail. Their authors were the City of Cleveland's Chief of Regional Development Ed Rybka, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon and Cleveland Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman.

All complained bitterly about lost future property taxes -- taxes they would never get if Harbor Bay's development, being undertaken under the name Ohio City Legacy LLC., didn't win tax abatement.

OAQDA tabled Harbor Bay's request (click here for a draft of Resolution 19-47), not only putting the $200 million investment by the Chicago-based company in jeopardy, but also several other nearby proposed developments that were triggered by the Market Square project.

Among those catalyzed are a housing conversion of the closing Voss Industries, a new-construction transit oriented development by Carnegie Management, a tax-increment financed renovation of the West 25th-Ohio City Red Line rail station, plus several developments along West 25th that have yet to be announced publicly.

Voss Industries and its 300 employees, many of whom live in
the neighborhood or take transit to work, have vacated this site
for a new factory in suburban Berea. A proposed renovation
of the property into apartments by Chicago-based Bixby
Bridge Capital was instigated by Harbor Bay's project
across West 25th Street (LoopNet).
Without them, Market Plaza might still be razed or it could stay empty of retailers. A decaying West Side Market with fewer vendors would be denied a large source of new customers, the Metroparks' new Red Line Greenway would be denied a large source of users and the entire south end of Ohio City would decline with a possible recession looming.

Harbor Bay Project Director Dan Whalen noted that all of Market Square's office and retail tenants will be new to Greater Cleveland, bringing more than 1,000 jobs and nearly $11.8 million per year in new sales and incomes taxes to the city and county. More than 300 residents would live across the street from the West Side Market, the Red Line station and new greenway trail.

And just like the city's 15-year, 100 percent tax abatement which it routinely awards to similar developments, the state's exemption wouldn't apply to land -- only to buildings.

That means the Market Square project would increase the value of the land which currently pays only $85,000 in property taxes. The new development would double that amount of property taxes to the school district and the Metroparks while tripling the property's existing $17,000 contribution to the Ohio City's Special Improvement District, Whalen said.

"We're willing to be flexible on the duration of the tax exemption," Whalen offered. "And this exemption eliminates the need for tax-increment financing which the city routinely gives to new construction projects of this size."

Gordon and Zimmerman also offered to be flexible on the public financing, which Whalen said is necessary for Cleveland projects that cost as much as those in Chicago to build, but lack the high rents of Chicago.

"We are more than willing to work with all of the interested parties and believe it is important that the community as a whole be engaged in this discussion," Gordon wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to OAQDA.

Harbor Bay has an educational program called Project Classroom that uses skilled professionals to teach real estate development, design and construction while on the job. In Cleveland, Whalen says his company would partner with the school district, vocational schools and the union trade organizations to expand that program here. Each seemed excited at that prospect, he said.

The Market Plaza retail strip located at West 25th Street and
Lorain Avenue was bought by Harbor Bay earlier this year
for $5.85 million. Demolition permits were approved by the
city to clear land located inside the blue line, indicating the
boundary of the Market Square development. Soon, no
retailers will remain in the aging plaza (Google).
Zimmerman said he was troubled not just by the duration of the tax exemption, but also by the lack of public notice of OAQDA's Aug. 13 meeting agenda. Zimmerman said in an Aug. 13 e-mail to OAQDA that he was willing to accept a shorter bond and tax-exemption term of 20 years, or better yet, 10 years, with conditions including an annual audit of the project's performance measures.

"(OAQDA should) require Harbor Bay/Ohio City Legacy LLC to contribute a meaningful amount for (Red Line Greenway) trail enhancement/construction in the vicinity of their project," Zimmerman wrote.

Rybka made no offers in his Aug. 13 letter to OAQDA. Instead, he flat-out told OAQDA to deny the financing request.

Worse, just hours after a meeting Tuesday (Aug. 27) between Cleveland city officials and the Harbor Bay development team, a reporter was tipped off to the proposed exemption and the city's claims about the project, Whalen said.

That resulted in an article that was heavily slanted in favor of the city's position. It lacked any information about the new taxes that the project would bring in, or that no new property tax would be generated if the project never happened. In fact, less tax revenue would result after a demolition of the retail plaza, already approved by the city.

"We've already invested $10 million on the project in terms of buying the property, architectural fees, getting City Planning Commission approvals and so on," Whalen said on Aug. 19. "This (OAQDA) financing was the last piece. We have to commit in the next 30 days on whether to proceed. The project is 70 percent bid and we can hold those prices for only a limited time."

OAQDA has already approved significant financing requests this summer, including $100 million in bonds for a southern Ohio utility development project by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. and a $350 million bond issue and 30-year tax exemption for expansion of AMG Vanadium's industrial recycling center in Muskingum County that would create 100 jobs. Harbor Bay's project would create more than 1,000 jobs.

Ironically, the city seemed less concerned about "lost tax revenues" when it was willing to offer a 100 percent property tax abatement to the Market Square development before Harbor Bay investigated the state bonding opportunity. But apparently, city officials feel that only they should be allowed to abate tax revenues to the schools, Metroparks and others.

“We really think it’s overstepping,” Rybka said in the article.

OAQDA could take up Harbor Bay's request again at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 10.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Sherwin-Williams seeks builders for HQ + R&D project

A request for qualifications sent to a few construction manage-
ment firms in Greater Cleveland for building a new headquarters
and research center for Sherwin Williams may indicate that the
global coatings giant is taking a serious step forward. But is
there another message in the issuance of an RFQ to so few
Unless the economy does a crashing repeat of 2008 in the next 6-12 months, Sherwin-Williams (SHW) could make a significant announcement about its headquarters (HQ) as well as it research and development (R&D) facilities by the end of 2020. Even a modest economic downturn is unlikely to put a stop to a multi-year process that has already started.

That process suggests that SHW is on a schedule that could have them start construction on a new HQ and R&D project by 2022. And some aspects of the process point toward downtown Cleveland as the site for most, if not all of this massive project.

According to a source, a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) was sent to a small number of construction management firms in Greater Cleveland for the construction of a new headquarters and research center for Sherwin-Williams. The source didn't identify which firms received the RFQ, but it was reportedly sent by SHW's real estate broker CBRE.

An RFQ is intended to reduce the number of bidders on a project to only those with the expertise to qualify for the project. So then why issue it to so few firms to start with?

A logical assumption is that an RFQ was issued because SHW needs a highly specialized construction manager. Furthermore, considering that so few firms received the RFQ, it suggests that SHW apparently needs a level of expertise that few local construction management firms have.

What expertise? It isn't known for certain, but the temptation is point to firms that know how to build supertall skyscrapers, like those that reach up to 900 feet tall and require caissons excavated 200 feet down to Cleveland's bedrock.
Could the two tallest proposed buildings in this graphic be the
approximate size of a new Sherwin-Williams headquarters and
research facility over parking? Before this rendering gained a
new life and more buildings as part of Cleveland's promotional
efforts to attract Amazon's HQ2, it apparently was SHW's plan
in 2015 for a new HQ on Public Square (GCP).
The source says that the RFQ specifies the project will measure 1.8 million square feet. That's even larger than the last report of 1.6 million square feet, likely due to SHW's rapid growth.

Either number is large enough to mean that the project includes both the HQ and the R&D. It doesn't mean they'll be in the same building or even on the same property. But it does mean they could be part of the same construction bid.

Another source says that if an office campus of shorter buildings for an HQ+R&D near downtown or in the suburbs was under serious consideration, then the RFQ probably would have been sent to many more local construction management firms. It apparently wasn't.

That all leads to the next big question: where would the HQ+R&D be built? The RFQ apparently didn't identify the project's location except that it would be in the Greater Cleveland area and it would total 1.8 million square feet. The construction firm, when selected, will then presumably learn where the project will be built.

Vocon Partners, LLC is reportedly designing conceptual alternatives, including for different locations downtown. It isn't publicly known where those sites are. One site that is likely to be strongly considered is the site where SHW planned in 2014-15 to consolidate its scattered offices -- the Jacobs lot on Public Square.

The Jacobs lot on Public Square, as seen in 2014. This parking
lot has occupied the west side of the square for 30 years and
 measures 50,974 square feet or 1.17 acres. Another 6 acres
acres of surface parking on the Weston Group-owned lots
is visible beyond (Google).
Considering that more than one alternative site is in play downtown is also a good sign for those who believe SHW's HQ+R&D should stay in the central business district. And it's a good sign that the project would consolidate other offices and R&D activities from around Greater Cleveland and Minneapolis in downtown Cleveland.

Councilman Kerry McCormack, whose Ward 3 includes downtown Cleveland, didn't sound terribly worried about SHW leaving downtown Cleveland for the suburbs.

"We're in good communication with Sherwin-Williams," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes to keep them. But companies that want to attract talent are looking at moving into cities, not leave them."

While there are a lot of moving parts at work here, and based on the timeline of past projects, it is possible that facility conceptual designs, programming, infrastructure and other components could be ready for delivery to a city's planning commission in as soon as a year from now.

SHW representatives would likely request approval of conceptual plans, then refine them into more detailed schematic designs. Approval of the conceptual plans will first require releasing them publicly. That's when the public will probably get its first official notice of the project. The 6,000 SHW employees involved, as well as civic-minded Clevelanders, will have to wait until then.

Thankfully, at least SHW is no longer officially denying that there may be an HQ+R&D project on the horizon. They've confirmed they are analyzing their HQ space needs, but are peddling the theme that they do such analyses regularly. That's pretty unlikely considering the last time SHW moved into a new HQ building was 1930.

Sherwin-Williams' Center of Excellence is located inside its
existing headquarters building, the Landmark Office Tower.
The flags represent each country in which SHW has at least
$1.5 million in annual sales. The center has displays on the
company's 153 years of business, all of it headquartered in
downtown Cleveland (WKSU News).
It's also unlikely based on the post-2014 spread of SHW offices to several facilities beyond its aging, 900,000-square-foot Landmark Office Tower HQ where employees have complained of uncomfortable climate controls, lack of open floor layouts and even roaches. SHW's apparently random leasing of additional offices since 2014 doesn't scream "coherent plan."

Offices are located among three non-contiguous floors totaling 51,810 square feet in the Skylight Office Tower, a remodeled 151,830-square-foot flex space at 4780 Hinckley Industrial Parkway in Cleveland, as well as in 30,000 square feet of the Automotive Finishes Corp. facility, 4440 Warrensville Center Rd. in Warrensville Heights.

That doesn't include the 140,293-square-foot Breen Technology Center in downtown Cleveland and the former Valspar Applied Science & Technology Center in downtown Minneapolis. That complex includes several renovated historic structures and totals more than 170,000 square feet.

If combined into a new facility that offered more elbow room plus space for future expansion, it could mean an R&D center of 330,000 square feet or more. Parking for thousands of employees and visitors would add roughly 350 square feet per parking space in a multi-level structure. It isn't publicly known if the 1.8 million square feet figure for the HQ+R&D includes parking.

What is known is that SHW's debt burden from the 2016-17 Valspar acquisition is shrinking at an increasing rate. Six months ago, SHW had been on a glidepath to get its long-term debt-to-equity (D/E) ratio down to 2:1 by December 2019.

But it's already five months ahead of that pace. Last year, SHW looked like it would reduce its long-term debt to $8.12 billion by June 30, 2019. Instead, it fell to $7.2 billion. Shareholder equity is only slightly below where it was destined to be on June 30. It was on target to be about $3.77 billion. Instead it was at $3.75 billion at the mid-year point.

SHW debt-to-equity ratio on June 30 was already below 2:1 -- at 1.92:1, thanks to strong cash flow from the Valspar acquisition.

According to second-hand sources, SHW officials have said that the company wouldn't consider building a new HQ until its debt was down to reasonable levels. "Reasonable" may well mean the coatings industry average of a 1:1 D/E ratio.

Last year, it appeared SHW was on a glidepath to hit that 1:1 D/E ratio at the end of 2022. But if cash flow continues to be strong and shareholder equity continues to rise steadily, SHW should get its D/E down to 1:1 in a little more than two years from now.

That's roughly when the planning, programming, design and procurement should allow for construction of the HQ+R&D facilities to begin. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

NuCLEus development stalls -- again?

The nuCLEus development, as seen from Huron Road at East
4th Street and next to the expanded Rocket Mortgage Field
Sources at two companies that do business with Stark Enterprises say that the $350 million nuCLEus development in downtown Cleveland isn't going to be moving forward anytime soon.

One source says the project is on hold. The other says the project is dead. The reason why the project apparently has stalled isn't completely clear.

However, according to one rumor, it appears that there may be differences of opinion between the city and Stark as to how helpful one has been to the other. Some of that was suggested by recent events.

On Aug. 15, and at the request of Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack, the Downtown/Flats Design Review Committee tabled a request by B&B Wrecking Inc. to demolish a condemned, four-story building at 310 Prospect Ave.

B&B Wrecking is a Stark contractor. Stark owns the property and the structure, called the Herold Building, through an affiliate Herold Building LLC. The structure was built in 1900 and measures 15,720 square feet, according to Cuyahoga County records.

Stark and its nuCLEus partner, J-Dek Investments Ltd., own the neighboring 16-space parking lot property through a partnership Gateway Huron, LLC. Both properties would reportedly serve as a single staging area during the construction of nuCLEus.

The Herold Building is within a National Historic District and is a designated National Historical Landmark. The previous owner, Los-Angeles-based L&R Group of Companies, tried to demolish the Herold Building for a new but smaller building. It was rebuffed by the city. Stark pledged to refurbish the building when it bought the property in 2014. Since then, however, the building has only decayed further.

Outlined in green, the Herold Building at 310 Prospect Ave.
is proposed for demolition, apparently to help create a staging
area for the construction of nuCLEus (Stark).
McCormack said he urged tabling the demolition request because neither Stark nor B&B Wrecking provided the city with a required plan for the property post-demolition. It should be noted that downtown buildings cannot be demolished for surface parking lots except in hardship cases, such as the building being declared unsafe or the owner not having the resources to develop it.

"The city is looking for a detailed plan," McCormack said in an Aug. 19 interview. "I have not been briefed on what the plan is. In general, if you're going to demolish a building, the last thing we need is a surface parking lot. I don't know if that's what they propose. We just want to see a plan."

In an interview several weeks ago, following an article reporting that demolition for nuCLEus was scheduled to start in mid-August, Stark Enterprises' Chief Operating Officer Ezra Stark declined comment about the possible demolitions that could also include a 418-space parking deck at 611 Huron and an historic building at 618 Prospect featuring Mr. Albert's Men's World clothier.

However, Stark said the reason why he declined comment on the demolitions was due to a delicate "political" matter. He offered no further details.

The Herold Building is seen at left with a small red X sign on
the facade, indicating that the building is condemned. The
building was condemned by the city before Stark bought
it in 2014 for $1 million (KJP).
McCormack laughed when asked if he knew whether nuCLEus was still an active project or not.

"I don't even know how to answer that question anymore -- I hear it a lot," said the councilman whose ward includes downtown. "My understanding is it's still alive."

Stark first announced nuCLEus five years ago, long before it or J-Dek had most of the financing in place to develop the project. That was when nuCLEus was planned to be a 54-story skyscraper.

The current plan for NuCLEus is that it would feature two 24-story towers atop a pedestal of retail and parking between Prospect Avenue and Huron Road at East 4th Street. One tower would feature 400,000 square feet of offices; the other 250 residential units.

While it was reported in late June that nuCLEus now has most of its financing in place, others in Cleveland real estate circles dispute this. Some believe that nuCLEus is far from finalizing its capital stack.

In yet another of the rumors surrounding nuCLEus, Stark apparently is redirecting capital resources -- including Opportunity Zone program funds which have time constraints on their use -- to projects in other cities including Pittsburgh.

"I think we have a solid economic development package" that's been offered by the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio to aid nuCLEus, McCormack volunteered.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Midtown property sale designed to spur new development

This a conceptual masterplan of the Penn Square area of
Cleveland's Midtown, with the Greater Cleveland Regional
Transit Authority's property outlined in blue (Pennrose).
On Aug. 20, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's (GCRTA) Board of Trustees is expected to approve selling a chunk of Euclid Avenue land in Midtown to a Cleveland Foundation affiliate for future development.

The sale is the latest example of intensifying interest in rejuvenating this once-vibrant neighborhood that's been relegated to pass-through status for more than 40 years.

GCRTA has a tentative deal with Civic Property Development LLC to sell seven parcels totaling 2.38 acres at 5508-5810 Euclid Ave. for $550,000. The Cleveland Foundation will also contribute $50,000 to aid in the planning of a transit oriented development (TOD) project or projects on the site, in partnership with GCRTA.

The foundation created Civic Property Development, filing incorporation documents with the state on May 15, to support this development site and possibly others in the future. The Cleveland Foundation has for years supported programs and projects to boost Cleveland neighborhoods, especially Midtown.

The Cleveland Foundation's conceptual plan for its new head-
quarters (at right) and a new Center for Innovation. This view
looks north up East 66th Street from Euclid Avenue (CF).
In fact, the foundation announced on June 28 its intention to relocate its headquarters from the Hanna Building in downtown to alongside the Dunham Tavern on Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street in Midtown, despite a pending lawsuit.

The Cleveland Foundation proposes a three-story, 50,500-square-foot headquarters building on the northeast corner of of Euclid and East 66th. On the northwest corner, the foundation proposes a future Center For Innovation measuring 100,000 square feet.

While the immediate vicinity of Midtown and Hough has seen more than $400 million worth of development in the last decade, 40 percent of area residents and 66 percent of children live in poverty, according to the city.

It isn't known yet what would be planned for the GCRTA property, but TOD typically features dense, mixed-use residential and commercial development with less emphasis on parking and more attention to walkability and, thus, transit access. The site is next to the East 59th Street station stop on GCRTA's HealthLine bus rapid transit.

Looking east on Euclid Avenue in September 2018 from below
the Norfolk Southern railroad overpass. The vacant, GCRTA-
owned property is visible at right (Google).
Some conceptual masterplan work for the area, called Penn Square, was done in recent years. It helped developers like Pennrose Properties, LLC and Berusch Development Partners, LLC map out emerging developments along East 55th Street between Euclid and Carnegie avenues.

The Euclid-East 55th area was called Penn Square for more than 100 years because the main Cleveland railroad passenger station for the Pennsylvania Railroad was located here. Travelers could board and alight 24 daily passenger trains to/from places as far west as St. Louis and as far east as New York City.

Two busy streetcar lines also crossed here, carrying as many riders as all of Northeast Ohio's transit agencies combined do today. The neighborhood once had the density and activity of a 24-hour, satellite downtown, with large apartment and commercial buildings, shops, cafes and theaters.

Looking east on Euclid Avenue circa 1980, from atop the same
railroad overpass as above. The property at right, once part of a
vibrant satellite downtown area, had fallen into decay. It wasn't
to be demolished for another 20 years. All but two buildings
 on the north side of Euclid, at left, were also razed (TPH). 
Prior to being bought by GCRTA, the land was home to multiple users over the last two centuries, including a country estate, mercantile businesses, wholesalers, warehouses, light industry and second-hand furniture stores into the 1980s. But as Midtown declined after World War II, the properties fell into neglect. GGF Inc., a real estate arm of the George Gund Foundation took over the property nearly 50 years ago in the hopes of spurring revitalization.

It was sold in 1977 to the DiGeronimo family, doing business as Ace Realty, and leased it to several tenants. The properties continued to decline. DiGeronimo, in turn, sold the land in 2002 to Lassi Enterprises, LLC, a subsidiary of MidTown Cleveland Inc., a community development corporation.

Midtown transferred it to GCRTA in 2005 so that it could demolish the handful of decaying buildings remaining on the property. Here, GCRTA established a construction staging site for its $200 million Euclid Corridor (later called HealthLine) that was completed in 2008. The properties have remained vacant ever since. GCRTA put the land up for sale in 2017.


Condos to rise at Avenue District this fall

** UPDATED SEPT. 4  **
Rising along East 12th Street, north of the existing, 10-story
 residential building (Phase I), will be Phase II of the Avenue
District. It will be a new condominium building that will serve
downtown Cleveland's market while testing it for more condos
in the near future (GLSD). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE
Geis Companies reportedly is on an aggressive timetable to build a five-story, 31-unit condominium building in downtown Cleveland, eyeing a possible fall groundbreaking if it can get city approvals in a timely manner.

The working title for the project is The Avenue Condos-Phase II, because it would be located at 1325 East 12th St. It is in the area where Zaremba Group planned and began building a multiple-structure, multiple-phase development along and between East 12th and 15th streets, as well as St. Clair and Superior avenues on the northeast side of downtown Cleveland.

Like Zaremba before it, Geis plans a shorter building just north of the first phase. The reason why this site was chosen is because the existing foundations for phase II that were built in 2008. However, they cannot support a larger structure.

Site of the Avenue District Condos-Phase II as seen from the
construction site of the phase I building in February 2008. As
one can see, foundations for Phase II already exist (KJP).
Zaremba in the late 2000s built a 10-story Avenue District condominium building, which since has offered units for rent, and 20 for-sale townhomes. Another 16 for-rent townhomes were built along East 15th, called the Milton Townhomes. All are now Geis-managed properties.

More for-sale townhomes are being built in the Avenue District by Knez Homes. They are selling quickly despite listing at prices near $500,000, or $250 per square foot. The 12-unit first phase sold out as construction continues, with a second phase of up to 24 homes approved by City Planning Commission. Knez is easily exceeding its 50-percent presale goals for each phase.
Geis proposes to build at 1325 East 12th Street the Avenue
District Condos Phase II, to be located next to and to the north
of the Phase I building seen here. This view looks from the
north side of St. Clair Avenue at East 12th (GLSD).
Prices for condos in Geis' Phase II of the Avenue District are expected  to start at upwards of  $400,000. The project builds off of Knez's success. And it builds off of Geis' success at the high-rise Metropolitan at The 9, a rehab of the 29-story, 383-foot-tall former Ameritrust Bank headquarters into apartments, a hotel, grocery store and two restaurants.

Rumors about the new condo building have circulated for a while, but became official when the project appeared on the city's Design-Review docket. Planning documents were submitted to the city in July and meetings were held with top city officials to move the project forward. GLSD, Geis' in-house architect, designed the project.

Geis representatives were not prepared to comment publicly at this time.

Site plan for Geis's Phase II of the Avenue District.
North is at the top of this image (GLSD).

This is Zaremba's original site plan for the Avenue District
from 2006. The top of the map is east and left side north.
Most of the development was proposed along East 12th
Street, from Lakeside Avenue on the left to Chester
Avenue on the right (City Architecture).
Knez's success with selling townhomes at the Avenue District combined with strong occupancy rates at Geis' Metropolitan at The 9 prompted Geis to pursue the new condo building. In addition to its Sky, Luxury and Boutique apartments, The 9 also features a Metropolitan at The 9, Autograph Collection Hotel, full-service Heinen’s grocery store in an attached, soaring Gilded Age bank rotunda, wine cellar and restaurant along with a rooftop restaurant and bar.

The tower is the favored address of Cleveland professional sports stars, business executives, medical specialists in Cleveland’s globally regarded health care field, and others seeking the best in luxury downtown living.

This was Zaremba Group's vision for the Avenue District
when proposed in 2006. However, only the building at the
center of this view (looking north on East 12th) was built,
along with several dozen townhomes. (City Architecture).
The Avenue District condos may be Geis' introduction into new-construction condominium offerings in downtown Cleveland. There are rumors that Geis may be interested in building a new condo tower on East 9th Street at Bolivar Road.

Downtown Investment Group LLC, a Geis Companies affiliate, bought the former New York Spaghetti House and razed it for future development. Although there is not yet a timeline for this project, the city in 2015 gave Geis permission to use the property for a parking lot for up to five years.

Geis representatives aren't commenting on that project either.


Monday, August 12, 2019

It's official: Westinghouse redevelopment fizzles

The Westinghouse plant is probably best known for its land-
mark eight-story tower overlooking the West Shoreway. But
most of the plant's square footage is in lower buildings with
odd floor plans and possible environmental issues (Google).
A principal of the real estate development firm that was pursuing renovation and redevelopment of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., 1200 W. 58th St., confirmed that the firm has decided not to go forward with the project.

NEOtrans broke the news about the renovation in January, and it again broke news on Aug. 9 that the project to convert the 303,000-square-foot vacant industrial complex into residential, parking and perhaps other uses might not happen.

However, no official reason was available at the time. There were rumors that the project, located in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, had floorplans that were too complicated or that there was on-site pollution left over from prior users that had to be cleaned up.

"It is the case that we are not moving forward," said Josh Rosen, a principal at Sustainable Community Associates, at UrbanOhio in response to a posting of the NEOtrans article on its public forum.

"It (is) not for a specific reason or anything speculated (in the Aug. 9 NEOtrans article) -- it is just as simple as we hard time matching up our sources and uses," Rosen added. "It is an awesome set of buildings and we hope a catalytic project emerges."

Part of the Westinghouse plant was demolished for a parking
lot for the newly built Edison apartments. But most of the rest
of the Westinghouse plant remains intact (LoopNet).
A major issue with the site, according to a source, was that the developer hadn't identified a use for the lower-level buildings in the Westinghouse plant. By contrast, reusing the eight-story, 122-foot-tall, 112,000-square-foot, 1915-built tower as residential was a no-brainer.

The tower has great views of Lake Erie, Edgewater Park and downtown Cleveland. The surrounding neighborhood is rapidly developing with new housing including the Edison apartments, Battery Park, plus many smaller townhouse developments.

But the source said a major question was what to do with the low-level structures, measuring 191,000 square feet and dating to 1882. Those structures are 1-3 stores tall, some with high, truss-supported ceilings and unconventional floor plans.

A mere 50,000 square feet might be needed for indoor parking to support about 100 apartments that could fit in the tower, leaving roughly 140,000 square feet among the low-level structures without an identified use.

Converting the remainder of the low-level structures to residential or offices could also require environmental clean up. During the decades that Westinghouse owned the plant, those structures were full of heavy machinery such as drop forges, foundries and presses as well as polishing, annealing and anodizing processes, according to a former employee.

One thing is for certain, Westinghouse would have been the largest redevelopment project, by far, undertaken by Sustainable Community Associates. Crain's Cleveland Business reported in February that Midwest Development Partners was considering joining forces in the project in an apparent attempt to increase the endeavor's access to capital sources.

The property remains available for sale, listed at $6 million.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Westinghouse, Blanket Mills conversions face adversity

Redeveloping old, vacant warehouses with new uses such as
residential or offices is often a drawn-out process that never
guarantees success. But persistent developers can eventually
deliver. This is the interior of the Westinghouse plant near
 Edgewater Park (LoopNet). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE
Many of us don't get to see the behind-the-scenes activity that developers go through in renovating old buildings. We get to see the work being done on the outside of buildings and, if we peer through the windows, we can see the construction work being done inside.

But we don't see the arduous environmental analyses, the endless paperwork, the frequent meetings and, of course, the stumbles. If we did, many of us would probably have no desire to become a real estate developer -- if not for the joy of seeing the finished product. And if he or she is lucky, a developer will deliver a finished product more than half of the times he or she tries.

So the situations involving the residential conversions of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co., 1200 W. 58th St., as well as the Northern Ohio Blanket Mills, 3160 W. 33rd St., offer some similarities. But they are at different stages of stumbling, er, development.

Conversion of the 303,000-square-foot, mostly vacant Westinghouse plant next to the West Shoreway is apparently going to take longer and cost more than some originally had expected. And it may not be purchased and renovated at all by Sustainable Community Associates as its principals Josh Rosen, Naomi Sabel and Ben Ezinga likely had hoped.

The Westinghouse plant is probably best known for its land-
mark eight-story tower overlooking the West Shoreway. But
most of the plant's square footage is in lower buildings with
odd floor plans and possible environmental issues (Google).
That's the rumor, according to a source. Attempts to seek comment from Rosen and his colleagues by e-mail and through instant messenger were not returned.

Jeff Ramsey, executive director at Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, said he also heard the rumor but hasn't be able to confirm it with Rosen et al. That may suggest that Sustainable Community Associates isn't yet ready to declare defeat.

News of this project was broken by NEOtrans last January.

A major issue, according to the source, is that the developer hasn't identified a use for the lower-level buildings in the Westinghouse plant. By contrast, reusing the eight-story, 122-foot-tall, 112,000-square-foot, 1915-built tower as residential is a no-brainer.

But what to do with the low-level structures, measuring 191,000 square feet part and dating to 1882? Those are 1-3 stores tall, some with high, truss-supported ceilings and unconventional floor plans. A mere 50,000 square feet might be needed for indoor parking to support about 100 apartments that could fit in the tower.

Part of the Westinghouse plant was demolished for a parking
lot for the newly built Edison apartments. But most of the rest
of the Westinghouse plant remains intact (LoopNet).
Using the remainder of the low-level structures for residential or offices could be very expensive. During the decades Westinghouse owned the plant, those structures were full of heavy machinery such as drop forges, foundries and presses as well as polishing, annealing and anodizing processes, according to a former employee. A lot of environmental remediation is probably required.

One thing is for certain, Westinghouse would be the largest redevelopment project, by far, undertaken by Sustainable Community Associates. Crain's Cleveland Business reported in February that Midwest Development Partners joined forces on the project, likely to increase the endeavor's access to capital.

By contrast, redevelopment of the Northern Ohio Blanket Mills in the Clark-Metro neighborhood appears to be moving forward after years of hopes and disappointments. Redevelopment of the 2.2-acre property, owned by Derek Ng, has been proposed for 10 years.

Part of the Northern Ohio Blanket Mills was redeveloped more
than a decade ago for the Lin Omni Center, at left, 3167 Fulton
Rd. The building in the center is the part that has redevelopment
plans pending with the City Planning Commission. At far right
is a portion of St. Rocco Church (Google).
Now, a plan to redevelop the 120,000-square-foot woolen mill complex with more than 70 income-restricted apartments is moving through the city approvals process at the City Planning Commission. If successful, Ng's persistence will have paid off. That persistence may also inspire backers of the Westinghouse project.

The Northern Ohio Blanket Mills was listed in 2014 on the National Register of Historic Places because the factory was the largest manufacturer of woolen horse blankets and carriage robes in the world.

It was founded by Herman Beckman Sr. in 1880 on West 33rd, then-called Pleasant Street. The original structure was destroyed by a fire in February 1888 but rebuilt just a year later. The factory was expanded in the 20th century as the company diversified its woolen product lines.

The eastern portion of the Northern Ohio Blanket Mills, along
West 33rd Street, has been the subject of renovation plans for
a decade. But a persistent developer like Derek Ng can
eventually deliver a complicated project (Google).
While further details of the current redevelopment effort are not available, Ng's earlier plans included demolishing an 8,000-square-foot structure on the site. It also included a small commercial space on the ground floor of the former factory. Renovation costs are expected to be far less than that of the Westinghouse conversion, but rents will be less, too.

A portion of the factory was renovated more than a decade ago as the Lin Omni Center, 3167 Fulton Rd. In 1912, the Lin Omni was the last building built as part of the Northern Ohio Blanket Mill. St. Rocco Church is immediately south of the old factory. Ng also owns the 650,000-square-foot, vacant Richman Brothers factory, 1600 E. 55th St.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

City Club tower nearly ready to rise on Euclid Ave.

A new 22-story apartment tower on Euclid Avenue in downtown
Cleveland is due to be announced soon by City Club Apartments
The Michigan-based chain of City Club Apartments is nearly done amassing its capital stack for a proposed 22-story residential tower at 720 Euclid Avenue. The firm reportedly feels confident enough that it can close the small, remaining gap in financing to target "early 2020" for a possible groundbreaking date, according to two sources.

The new apartment tower, proposed to be located on a surface parking lot where the Hippodrome Building and Theater stood until 1981, will fill the last major "missing tooth" in the Euclid Avenue streetscape. It just so happens that the site chosen by the City Club chain is next to the historic City Club Building, 850 Euclid Ave.

City Club has apartment properties and development projects in Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. The chain owned an under-performing, 400-unit apartment building in St. Louis but sold it last year to New York-based Emerald Equity Group for $48 million.

“We appreciate and respect the city of St. Louis and its leadership, but have made the decision to focus the growth of our portfolio on other Midwest and East Coast markets,” said Jonathan Holtzman, chief executive officer of City Club Apartments in RE Journals. “We have a responsibility to our investors, lenders and partners to perform at the highest level and we are reallocating our financial and human capital to several accelerating markets including Cleveland.”

Geotechnical drilling to gather soil samples was conducted
March 2 below a parking lot at 720 Euclid Ave. prior to the
engineering work for a 22-story apartment tower that could
offer 250 to 300 residential units (
Additional details about the Cleveland project are sketchy, as no project documents or renderings have been publicly released. However, the word is that planning documents are due to be submitted to the city "very soon."

A cursory review of new 22-story residential buildings throughout the USA shows that the number of apartments in those towers range from 170-350 units, but most are in the 250-300 apartments range. Two Cleveland apartment towers of comparable size -- the nearly completed Beacon and the planned nuCLEus apartment building -- offer deceptively small residential components.

The Beacon's residential component is only 19 stories tall but is built atop an existing, nine-story parking garage. Its floor plates are about 12,350 square feet. Thus, it offers only 187 apartments. Similarly, nuCLEus' 24-story apartment tower has 250 units in just 16 floors of residential, built atop a planned eight-story pedestal of retail and parking.

City Club's tower could be similar. It will reportedly feature ground-floor commercial spaces and parking above, topped by residential. The 70-space parking lot on which the City Club Apartments would be built measures about 25,000 square feet.

A 22-story, 457,575-square-foot, $70 million
apartment high-rise proposed in the St. Louis
suburb of Clayton shows a comparable scale
for City Club's tower (Flaherty & Collins).
That footprint could allow about 300 parking spaces spread among four or five levels of a roughly 125,000-square-foot pedestal. Another 50-100 spaces could be shared in the existing six-story, 540-space parking deck that's already on the property but is mostly empty at night. City Club secures shared parking opportunities in some of its developments.

About 17 stories might be left for residential in the new City Club tower. The Beacon tower averages 1,255 square feet per apartment. If City Club is comparable, at 250 units, its residential component could be about 313,703 square feet or 18,500 square feet per floor. At 300 units, its residential component could about 376,444 square feet or 22,144 square feet per floor.

The City Club tower development appears to be a joint venture with property owner David Goldberg, as no property has yet changed hands. Not having to buy land will help reduce City Club's development costs, as will the shared parking opportunity in the existing deck. Thus it possible that the project, measuring 440,000 to 500,000 square feet, could be delivered for less than $100 million.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

HQ, R&D search shrouded in a fog of Sherwin-Williams rumors

Although this was the graphic used to try to lure Amazon's
HQ2 to Cleveland, sources say the two largest towers were
actually drawn originally for Sherwin Williams' proposed
new HQ and R&D facility in 2014-15 (GCP).
If you try to go whaling in the ocean of rumors for Sherwin Williams' (SHW) headquarters and research/development facilities, bring two things with you: hip waders and a fog lamp. Unfortunately, at this early stage, neither of those are going to help you make much sense of so much conflicting, disorienting information in trying to catch The Whale, aka SHW's HQ and R&D facilities.

Apart from Amazon's HQ2, which Cleveland didn't seem to have a strong chance at winning, it's been a long time since Cleveland real estate firms had a shot at The Big Get, or what's called in real estate circles "A Whale."

"The City of Cleveland made an incredibly generous offer for them (SHW) to build on Public Square. If they turn it down, then it is on them for leaving Cleveland," Ward 12 Councilman Tony Brancatelli apparently wrote to a constituent about keeping SHW downtown.

If true, the details of the incentive package will be very interesting to learn. That's just one part of this whaling expedition that's shrouded in fog.

But the first bit of conflicting information is that SHW's request for proposals (RFP), allegedly written by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP and issued by real estate broker CBRE Group, is to clarify what it includes.

Sherwin Williams' 89-year-old HQ in the Landmark Office
Tower at Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland (KJP).
One version is that the RFP was split into two releases, with the first one now out on the streets for a 350,000-square-foot R&D facility. In that rumor, the HQ RFP reportedly will come out later this year, suggesting that SHW already knows where it wants to build its new HQ. It merely needs to learn who should build it, how it should be built, at what price, and so on.

In that rumor, the R&D facility to replace the overcrowded Breen Technology Center and consolidate former Valspar researchers here could end up getting built in the suburbs. Meanwhile, a new HQ tower downtown would consolidate thousands of office workers from the 89-year-old Landmark Office Tower, the scattered suites of the Skylight Office Building, from the swing-space on Hinckley Industrial Parkway, and perhaps other facilities.

But another source says both the HQ and R&D RFPs were released together because they will be built together in the same place, be it downtown, somewhere else in the city of Cleveland or in the suburbs.

SHW's Breen Technology Center along Canal Road and the
Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, roughly the same spot where
the firm was founded 153 years ago (Google).
In this rumor, it's a high-stakes game where downtown could get a 1.6-million-square-foot HQ+R&D facility with 6,000 well-paying jobs in the tallest, most dominating skyscraper to rise between Chicago and the East Coast. Or the city could lose everything to the suburbs -- the jobs, the corporate visitors and clients, not to mention the prestige of calling this Fortune 500 firm one of its own.

Sources say DiGeronimo Companies and the city of Brecksville are greasing SHW's skids, hoping it will slide into their Valor Acres redevelopment of the former VA Hospital. That suburb, by the way, is where SHW CEO John Morikis resides. And, as we have seen with the downtown HQ relocations of Eaton, Ferro and others, where the CEO lives can often determine where their HQ workers will have to work.

But SHW's HQ and R&D facilities may not be going anywhere but to a new address in downtown Cleveland, if the Greater Cleveland Partnership and other big shots in Cleveland's corporate community have anything to say about it.

SHW's swing space office facility on Hinckley Industrial
Parkway in Cleveland, where more the 400 workers are
employed with many coming from Valspar (LoopNet).
They are reportedly working to convince SHW top brass to stay in the city where it has matured into a global coatings giant ever since Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams began mixing paint together in 1866. That was about the same time John D. Rockefeller was starting to corner the market on oil refining with a little Cleveland firm called Standard Oil. The big difference is that SHW is still headquartered here and does most of its research here. It is still a growing, vibrant, global company in Cleveland.

Architectural firm Vocon is apparently developing concepts on where to put the new HQ and R&D facilities, be they combined or separated, at several locations downtown. But yet another rumor says there is only location that SHW is considering for its HQ -- the Jacobs lot on Public Square.

That's the site where civil engineering giant AECOM has already designed much of SHW's HQ in 2014-15, before SHW went in a different direction to acquire coatings competitor Valspar. With debt from the Valspar acquisition on a path to be paid down by 2023, SHW is seeking its home for the future.

If it's in a skyscraper on the Jacobs lot, perhaps the R&D facility might be included within the tower or it might be placed across West 3rd Street on the Weston Inc. lots along with a huge new parking deck.

A rendering of Valor Acres, the proposed redevelopment of the
former VA Hospital property in Brecksville (
Of course, the other rumor is to try to make everyone happy. How? By building the new HQ tower downtown and by building the new R&D facility in the suburbs. That could put some 4,500+ HQ jobs in a shiny new skyscraper downtown and another 500 or so workers in a new R&D facility in the suburbs.

But that would mean a loss of hundreds of jobs to Cleveland. And there are reports that SHW executives like having its R&D close by -- as in walking distance. There is also the issue of employee attraction and retention, something at which a downtown location might excel, especially when attracting young and bright executives, salespeople and researchers. That's especially true as downtown continues to add new residential, retail, restaurant and entertainment offerings.

But DiGeronimo executives counter that their Valor Acres project is being designed with New Urbanist principles, much like Crocker Park in Westlake, Legacy Village in Lyndhurst or Pinecrest in Beachwood. Will those walkable oases in car-dependent suburbia be enough to win SHW's war for young talent?

And perhaps all of this conflicting information is part of the strategy of the different sides and interests as they venture out into that fog-shrouded ocean to hunt for that once-in-a-career whale. Some of these rumors are invariably put out by them as they try to catch The Whale, or perhaps to avoid becoming Cleveland's Jonah or Captain Ahab.