Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sherwin-Williams' HQ on Public Square? Yes. A supertall? Don't count on it.

In May 2008, just as the Great Recession was
knocking, the Jacobs Group and Hines Inc.
proposed a 21-story office building on the
west side of Public Square (Jacobs/Hines).
Public Square is a fascinating mix of old and new, small and tall buildings.

It's oldest building is also the oldest still standing in downtown Cleveland -- the Old Stone Church. It dates from 1855 although its Presbyterian congregation goes back to 1820 when locals still thought of themselves and their land as a part of Connecticut. The church's interior has the appearance of an unpretentious New England town hall.

Back then, the tallest buildings in any East Coast or European city were churches. They spoke to the importance of the church in our communities. The Old Stone Church's steeple stands 250 feet high.

Today, the tallest buildings in our cities are commercial structures. Just across Ontario Street, also on the north side of Public Square, is the tallest building in the state of Ohio and the tallest between Chicago and East Coast -- the 57-story Key Tower. It stands 890 feet tall but the tip of its antenna is 947 feet above Public Square.

On the other side of Public Square are Cleveland's second- and third-tallest towers. Terminal Tower, named for the railroad terminal below it, was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City when it opened in 1928 (Cleveland Union Terminal opened two years later). The ornate 52-story, 708-foot-tall spire makes her the grand dame of Ohio's skyscrapers.

It was challenged for height and certainly for mass when Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) opened its headquarters in 1985 at 200 Public Square. That address is the current name of the 46-story, 659-foot-tall building, after BP America swallowed up Sohio in 1986 and steadily reduced its corporate footprint here over 13 years until nothing was left.
The largest building in Cleveland would have been the 1,200-
foot-tall Ameritrust Tower, at left. Two buildings were razed
for it in 1990 on the Jacobs lot on the western side of Public
Square. But Society Bank, for whom Jacobs had just built a
57-story tower on Public Square, merged with Ameritrust
Bank and canceled the project. The other two towers pic-
tured are Terminal Tower and 200 Public Square (Jacobs).
BP's departure continues to fuel a robust cynicism today about Sherwin-Williams' (SHW) future headquarters presence in Cleveland. But there is no indication among many substantive actions taken by SHW during its year-plus-long headquarters-related efforts that it is leaving Cleveland -- aside from a throwaway sentence in a press release that it was considering sites outside Northeast Ohio.

There is every indication that SHW is going to be the next edifice to grace Public Square, by action of adding its HQ to the west side of Cleveland's New England-style commons. Those actions in recent months are numerous.

Consider that SHW has had a purchase contract on the properties, owned by the Jacobs and Weston groups since March. There is no information to suggest that SHW has a purchase agreement with the owners of any other sites, however Bedrock has proposed to build a tower for SHW to lease behind Tower City. But that move would add to SHW's long-term debt rather than to its equity.

Less than a month after SHW and its facilities consultant Welty Building Co. hired construction management firm Gilbane Building Co., geotechnical (soil, water, etc) sampling and surveying work has occurred on the lots every week in November.

A title company on behalf of SHW filed 12 certificates of disclosure with the city for the Weston lot properties, bounded by Superior and St. Clair avenues as well as West 3rd and West 6th streets. The certificates are filed before land is transferred to a potential buyer to get legal use information and to determine if there are any property violations or condemnations.

There's a missing tooth on Public Square, filled only by a
surface parking lot for the last three decades. This is where
SHW proposes to build its new headquarters tower (Google).
SHW won't find any condemnations because the Weston lots have been used as parking lots for decades. And even if SHW did find any property violations during their use as parking lots, the properties would not remain as parking lots anyway. No certificates have been filed as yet for the Jacobs Group-owned lot on Public Square.

However, subcontractors have drilled wells on the Jacobs lot in the past week and removed groundwater samples in coolers for lab analysis. It should be noted that the wells were capped.

That suggests more sampling could be done or, just as likely, the groundwater could be removed over an extended period of time in preparation for excavation work and foundation construction in a little more than a year.

Groundwater removal is less important for the digging of caissons to bedrock 200 feet below the surface than it is for constructing a concrete mat foundation. Caissons are typically dug for towers rising above 400 feet. Mat foundations, or "floating mats," are for shorter towers.

And that sounds like what SHW is doing here. It sounds like they are testing and preparing the 1.17-acre Jacobs lot on Public Square for a mat foundation.

Groundwater survey crews on Nov. 18 retrieved samples
from newly drilled wells in the Jacobs Group-owned lot
on Public Square and placed the samples into coolers for
transport and lab analysis (
The rest of the site, including the 6.76-acre Weston lots, would feature additional offices, research and development facilities plus parking decks. It could also host some diverse public uses like restaurants, shops (how about a flagship Sherwin-Williams store?), and possibly even a hotel for the thousands of employees visiting for training purposes.

The possibility that SHW won't be constructing a building to challenge the other three skyscrapers on Public Square was revealed by a source close to SHW CEO John Morikis who said that the CEO wasn't interested in an iconic headquarters tower, at least when it comes to height. However, the design could still be quite striking and unique, as one source suggested.

Another source involved in SHW's HQ project indicated that the main tower likely would not exceed 30 stories. There would be lesser, but still large buildings scattered throughout SHW's HQ+R&D setting.

Yet another source said SHW was very excited about the possibility of developing an urban HQ+R&D campus on the Jacobs and Weston lots. An announcement could come next month, city sources said.

Many urbanists lament the 1990 termination of the Ameritrust tower construction project on the Jacobs lot. That project would have put a 60-story tower reaching 1,200 feet above Cleveland.

It seems just as many urbanists cheer that a 21-story office building proposed by Jacobs/Hines tower didn't materialize on the west side of Public Square in the months before the Great Recession began in 2008.

So the work using the newly drilled groundwater wells on the Jacobs lot seems to align with the information from sources that SHW is unlikely to scrape Cleveland's sky. But SHW will offer a substantial physical presence with thousands of new jobs that eradicates the largest single parking crater in downtown crater.

That's a lofty goal that's well within reach of achieving.



  1. Extremely disappointing. Wanna know why Pittsburgh has outpaced Cleveland the last 30 years? A lengthy series of decisions like this. Coatings leader PPG builds an iconic tower in Pittsburgh. Second place Sherwin Williams builds a low rise in the prime building lot in our city. Oh well, that's what Cleveland is. Low rise.

    1. My understanding as a layperson is that there are significant logistical challenges to running a supertall. What's the net value of a "tall" building versus a unique, modern complex at the center of downtown? Also, you're aware that PPG is the anchor tenant but not the owner of that complex?

    2. PPG Place exists because of PPG. Some developer wasn't looking to build a skyscraper and managed to sign up PPG. PPG instigated the whole project.

  2. Skyscrapers are often codpieces. They have zero bearing on the success or failure of cities. You build skyscrapers because your city is successful and has run out of cheap, easily available land where the development is desired. Building a skyscraper doesn't make a city successful, especially when it still has 60 acres of desolate, windswept surface parking lots in the central business district. Some of the most vibrant cities I've visited on this planet didn't have any buildings taller than 15 or 20 stories (central Washington DC; Dublin, Ireland; York, England; etc). Those cities aren't insecure or shallow to pine for placebic skyscrapers. BTW, Pittsburgh should be a lesser city than Cleveland based on your codpiece scale since its tallest is shorter than Cleveland's. There are some substantive, quality-of-life things that Pittsburgh does better than Cleveland, but you didn't point them out (hint: it has nothing to do with the size of buildings).

    1. "You build skyscrapers because your city is successful and has run out of cheap, easily available land where the development is desired. Building a skyscraper doesn't make a city successful ..."

      Dubai (and quite a few other modern cities) would disagree with you. Prestige matters, no matter how nice it would be if it didn't.

      In some ways I think you're arguing against yourself here (again I think). I'm pretty sure you appreciate that physical development is in fact a driver of migration, tourism, and other economic factors for a city. No, it's not the biggest, but it does matter. Otherwise, why the blog?

      For certain Pittsburgh has made a lengthy series of decisions, not related to buildings, that have improved their economy, environment, and livability. I agree, and was implying as much.

    2. By the way, I would be ecstatic if Cleveland resembled Bath. :) Alas no Roman or Georgian history here. Just Standard Oil.

  3. "Today, the tallest buildings in our cities are commercial structures. Just across Ontario Street, also on the north side of Public Square, is the tallest building in the state of Ohio and the tallest between Chicago and East Coast -- the 57-story Key Tower. It stands 890 feet tall but the tip of its antenna is 947 feet above Public Square."
    Sadly this is no longer true. Comcast Center, completed in Philadelphia 2008, is 974 feet, and the recently completed Comcast Technology Center is 1121 feet.

    1. I suppose I can cede that Philadelphia is "the east coast," though the old description I had heard was that Key Toer was the tallest "between New York and Chicago" :)

  4. Seattle Area November market update? Today I’m bringing you the latest updates and my predictions for our coming market. I’m sharing two helpful charts of Seattle housing market forecast that will help you visualize our market. For example, as was expected, the number of homes on the market has been slowly dropping since June. To find out more, watch this short video.
    Seattle Housing Market