Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Cuyahoga River's last grain mill to close; mill's fate uncertain

The Grain Craft Inc. flour mill located on the Cuyahoga River
and next to the Detroit-Superior Bridge is due to close in July,
leaving two dozen workers and the mill's fate in doubt (NPS).
The last grain mill left on the Cuyahoga River is due to close in July, leaving 24 workers to wonder about their employment future and the fate of the mill property. Those lost jobs include seven trucking and two railroad jobs who serve a mill that's stood in the 1600 block of Merwin Avenue for more than 150 years.

According to an article published at World-Grain.com, Chattanooga, TN-based Grain Craft Inc., the largest independent flour miller in the nation, informed employees on April 22 that it will close its Cleveland operation at mid-year. The mill primarily grinds hard winter and spring wheat. Company officials said the mill has seen its business decline in recent years.

Grain Craft, which will no longer have any flour mills east of the Mississippi River and north of Tennessee/North Carolina, blamed the closure on "challenging market dynamics and long-term supply chain obstacles," the World Grain article noted.

Specifically, the company said access to the mill has become difficult. A source close to the situation but who was not authorized to speak publicly about it said Flats Industrial Railroad notified Grain Craft that it will no longer serve the flour mill after July.
The flour mill is the last of a dozen grain mills and one of the
few remaining large industries still operating along the north-
ern part of the Flats near downtown Cleveland. The surround-
ing areas are being redeveloped with housing, restaurants and
active sports and recreational facilities (KJP).
But there may still be a glimmer of hope for the mill, the source said. Grain Craft representatives reportedly reached out to the Ohio Rail Development Commission for assistance in keeping the railroad operational.

Since railroads are a public service industry, similar to a utility, they operate under state or federal certificates of convenience and necessity. Thus a railroad is legally obligated to provide service if a customer requests it. A railroad cannot legally withdraw an unprofitable service on its own. However, railroads sometimes intentionally provide such bad service that a shipper closes or turns to trucks.

Flats Industrial Railroad provides grain in bulk and at a lower cost than trucks can provide it. Without railroad service and with declining business, the mill would no longer be cost-effective to operate, the source said.

Also, the rail access relies on significant, aging infrastructure including a massive, 72-year-old movable steel bridge over the Cuyahoga River, linking the Scranton and Columbus Road peninsulas. The latter is where the flour mill is located.
Looking west on Merwin Avenue, the Grain Craft mill at right
and its offices at left cover several city blocks (Google).
The flour mill is the railroad's dominant customer. The Flats Industrial Railroad also operates a sand transloading facility on Scranton Peninsula as a side business to switching cars to and from the flour mill.

If the mill closure goes through, the company said it will provide financial assistance and outplacement services for employees affected by the closing. The Cleveland mill has a daily processing capacity of 476 tons of flour, according to World Grain, but is producing far less.

The mill is located on a site with remnants of an 1856 buhrstone mill. A rounded buhrstone has "teeth" carved into it to aid in crushing grains into fine powder. This mill facility has been operating since the 1870s although the oldest existing structure, a seven-story brick building, dates to 1882 according to a 2013 National Register of Historic Places filing. The 5x9 concrete grain elevators built in 1937 are about 155 feet tall, equal to a 14- to 15-story-tall building.

The entire Columbus Road peninsula was registered as an historic place. It was originally envisioned 200 years ago as a mixed residential and mercantile development called Cleveland Centre. Today it is the site of increased real estate investment and redevelopment activity centered around active sports including indoor and river rowing as well as a skate park.
Flats Industrial Railroad lift bridge over the Cuyahoga River,
located along Columbus Road in the Flats (Google).
According to the World Grain article, an important chapter in the mill’s history took place in 1972 when it was purchased by Fred Merrill from International Multifoods Corp. The Cleveland mill was Merrill's starting point for the launch of Cereal Food Processors, Inc. (CFP) which eventually grew to become the fourth-largest milling company in the United States. CFP was bought in 2014 by Milner Milling and Pendleton Flour Mills and renamed Grain Craft.

Flats Industrial Railroad was started in 1996 by shipping investor Arthur Fournier Jr. of South Portland, ME. He acquired a former mainline track that became surplus under Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail). Previously, it was owned by Penn-Central Co., then New York Central Lines, which acquired the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis (Big Four) Railway.

The right of way, which runs from the Flats and through Walworth Run to the southwest, was Cleveland's first railroad. Its development was shepherded by Cleveland's first village president, Alfred Kelley who was also the father of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal established Cleveland as a major port city on the Great Lakes.
Map of Cleveland Centre in 1835 (WRHS).
But Kelley saw the future was in railroads and in 1847 he helped hand-build a stretch of railroad in Walworth Run in order to retain a state franchise charter for the proposed railroad that began operation in 1849.

Today, that same line serves as an industrial switching operation for major railroad Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS). Flats Industrial Railroad owns and/or operates 2.5 miles of track but owns another 2 miles of unused right of way that parallels a busy NS freight line to the southwest side of the city, near to West 91st Street and north of the Clinton Avenue industrial area.

Flats Industrial Railroad founder Fournier passed away in 2013. Three years later, ownership of the railroad in the form of stock went to his widow and four children. One of his children won a lawsuit in a Maine court in 2018 to affirm his standing in determining the value of his ownership interest in the railroad.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Sherwin-Williams HQ can get state aid by reviving the past

Downtown Cleveland's largest parking crater is the site of the
new Sherwin-Williams global headquarters. A roughly 40-
story tower is proposed for square-shaped parking lot at
right, fronting Public Square. But what will be built on
the Superblock in the foreground and how will it re-
late to rest of the Warehouse District? (Google).
Some of Cleveland's most ornate architecture succumbed to the almighty car in a large plot of land called the Superblock. The Superblock is located in downtown's Warehouse District which, aside from the narrow river- and lakeside dock areas, was Cleveland's first central business district starting in the early-1800s.

But as Victorian-era architecture was frowned upon in the Modernist era after World War II and streetcars gave way to buses and cars, buildings in the Warehouse District and especially in the Superblock began to fall.

Today, the Superblock, bounded by Superior Avenue, West 3rd Street, St. Clair Avenue and West 6th Street, has only one building remaining -- a heavily modernized Gilman Building, 1350 W. 3rd. It is one of several in this block designed by famous architect John H. Edelman. Now, the Superblock is a mostly lifeless, windswept, 5.8-acre parking lot. It is downtown's largest parking crater.

Because of the new Sherwin-Williams (SHW) headquarters that will tower above several blocks west of Public Square, there is now a realistic opportunity to cover most of the Superblock with more than just asphalt for the first time in more than a half-century.

Seeing structures rise where only one remains will be a good thing for the Warehouse District. How those buildings are designed could be a great thing -- or a missed opportunity, said historic preservation consultant Steven McQuillin.

The Gilman Building, 182-184 Seneca St. (now
1350 W. 3rd St.), as seen circa 1900. It is the
only building still standing in the Superblock,
albeit covered in 1960s-era steel cladding
(McQuillin collection). Below is the same
building and how it looks today (Google).

"The Gilman's preservation will enhance the adjacent Warehouse District, and if combined with some innovative re-interpretations of lost landmarks by Edelman on the vast parking lots that comprise the balance of the site, could help make this new headquarters project highly innovative on a national level," he said.

McQuillin noted that SHW could attract many millions of dollars in state aid if the global coatings company acquired the Gilman and pursued an historic renovation of the building -- and borrowed from its architectural guidance.

Furthermore, he said SHW could raise much more state assistance if it built new buildings around the parking structures to look like the historic structures that were demolished decades ago. That could include a reproduction of Edelman's stunning Blackstone Building that stood just south of the Gilman until the early 1960s. He said original blueprints for the Blackstone are on file at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

"Retaining and rehabbing the Gilman could add millions in state funds," he said. "Reconstructing the Blackstone Building might be an innovative demonstration project that could qualify for state preservation funds. Then selling air rights for apartments or a hotel above the office tower might be a lucrative move and lessen the need for public funding. You can get a federal income tax deduction for donating air rights."

Those resources could be a way for SHW to make up for a $70 million state loan that the Ohio Development Services Agency put on hold a month ago due to revenue concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
McQuillin proposes restoring the Gilman Building to its former
glory and wrapping Sherwin-William's headquarters parking
decks with buildings designed like the architecture lost from
the Superblock decades ago. The purpose isn't merely senti-
mental or to respect the historical context of the surroundings
in the Warehouse District. There are financial incentives from
the state for pursuing this approach. An unsolicited site plan
for the Sherwin-Williams HQ appears below (McQuillin). 

Although much of SHW's new construction on the Superblock will likely be for a multi-level parking structure for potentially thousands of cars, there may be demands by the City Planning Commission to wrap parking structures in buildings or least facades that are designed to be respectful of their historic surroundings.

There is also the possibility that SHW may design the parking decks in such a way that will allow the company to more easily expand its headquarters in the future. The parking decks could be built atop caissons or on thick concrete pads so that taller buildings could be added atop the parking decks. Or the parking structure may be built in the center of the Superblock so that current and future buildings could be built around some or all of its perimeter.

The principal building for SHW's headquarters will rise on the former Jacobs Group-owned between Public Square's West Roadway, Superior and Frankfort avenues and West 3rd. As has been reported multiple times here on NEOtrans, while this 1-million-square-foot building may exceed 30 stories, it isn't likely to exceed the height of any of downtown's three tallest skyscrapers, all of which are located on Public Square.

Realife Real Estate Group is the latest owner of the Gilman. Realife bought it in 2018 from Stark Enterprises which had its headquarters there since 2004. The two parties got into a legal dispute earlier this year over nonpayment on a mortgage that Stark provided to Realife but the matter was resolved out of court.
The Blackstone Building, named after Sir William Blackstone,
a famous English jurist of the 18th century, was located at West
3rd Street and Frankfort Avenue from 1881 to 1961. It was one
of architect John Edelman's finest works but was demolished
for a parking lot. The blueprints for the building remain on
file at the Western Reserve Historic Society (WRHS).
The five-story Gilman Building with 14,632 square feet of office space and a 2,565-square-foot ground-floor retail space remains listed for lease with real estate brokerage Cresco, a division of Cushman & Wakefield.

The Gilman, built in 1882-83, is the only building still standing that was designed by Edelman. The structure was built at 182-184 Seneca Street for the A.S. Gilman Printing Co., publisher of the popular weekly American Sportsman.

The surrounding area was a veritable "printers row" including the offices and printing presses of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Press and other publishing and printing companies, according to 100-plus-year-old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.

In the early 20th century, the Gilman Printing Co. moved to a larger building at East 9th Street and St. Clair before relocating to the suburbs in the 1970s. It last building downtown was razed for the Bond Court office tower, now the AECOM Building, McQuillin said.
Downtown Cleveland and the Warehouse District, at right,
in the early 1950s (above, KJP collection) and as seen from
approximately the same angle today (below, Google).

The Gilman was modernized with steel cladding in the 1960s, as were other Victorian-era buildings in downtown Cleveland, like the Schofield Building at East 9th and Euclid Avenue. But the recent renovations of the Schofield and other buildings show that they can be restored to their former grandeur.

Edelman's fame among architects is a result of his service as mentor to Louis Sullivan, the Prairie School architect in Chicago who is known as the father of the skyscraper. Sullivan also coined the phrase "form ever follows function." His life and works are extolled in the book "Louis Sullivan and His Mentor: John Herman Edelman, Architect" by Charles E. Gregersen. Sullivan, in turn, was a mentor to 'starchitect' Frank Lloyd Wright.

Edelman, an avowed socialist and accused anarchist, designed other beautiful buildings in the Warehouse District. One of his most celebrated works was the Blackstone Building which was an office building for professional services, namely architects and lawyers. But development of the Superblock should start with saving the Gilman, McQuillin urged.

Realife Chief Executive Officer Yaron Kandelker could not be reached for comment. Historic Warehouse District Executive Director Tom Yablonksy did not return an e-mail and phone seeking comment.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Seeds & Sprouts VI - Early intel on real estate projects

This is the Sixth edition of Seeds & Sprouts - Early intelligence on Cleveland-area real estate projects. Because these projects are very early in their process of development or just a long-range plan, a lot can and probably will change their final shape, use and outcome.

Work is reportedly about to get
underway soon on converting
Cleveland's fourth-tallest build-
ing into 200+ apartments and
possibly even a hotel (KJP).
Erieview Tower conversion may be getting close

According to a high-level executive at Dollar Bank which has its headquarters in the Galleria at Erieview, work is about to start on the renovation and conversion of the 40-story office tower into residences and possibly a hotel. The bank executive said his firm was notified by Kassouf Company, lead partner of a group that recently bought the property.

However, no building permits have been filed with the city to confirm this development. A message left for James Kassouf through his Web site was not returned prior to publication of this article.

The only publicly filed document relating to the renovation of Erieview was a notice of commencement filed with Cuyahoga County by Scalish Design Build LLC for the renovation of Suite 1200 for tenant Alexander Mann Solutions. The designer of that work was Dimit Architects, the same firm that designed the apartments for Kassouf's partial building conversion.

The bank executive, who asked not to be named publicly, said he was aware that renovations are due to start shortly on the tower's lobby to create separate entrances for the office, residential and hotel uses. There will also be fountains in the lobbies and three separate elevator banks -- one for each building use, he said.

Kassouf in 2018 bought the 1964-built Erieview Tower and its associated 1987-built Galleria shopping mall/office condos property for $17.7 million, according to county records. Last year, Kassouf got plans approved by the city to convert the tower's upper 12 floors into 220 luxury apartment units.

Additional features include converting the closed Stouffers Cafeteria below the Galleria into 90 additional parking spaces. That would increase the number of parking spaces below the complex to accommodate more than 500 cars.

Dollar Bank relocated its headquarters to the Galleria in 2008, increasing its office presence there to 50,000 square feet in a two-story glass structure at the corner of East 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue. Dollar Bank also has a private banking center and a training facility on-site.

Schofield Building to get new & renewed ground-floor uses

According to a source close to the situation, Citizens Bank will open a branch location on the ground-floor of the historic Schofield Building. Despite the high-profile location at the southwest corner of East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, also dubbed "Main and Main," the corner retail space has remained largely vacant ever since the renovated 1902-built structure reopened in 2016.

The new Citizens Bank branch will reportedly not affect the next-closest Citizens Bank branch, several blocks away at Superior Avenue and East 12th Street. That branch is on the ground floor of Citizens Bank's regional headquarters building. Citizens Bank's main headquarters is in Providence, RI.

Since 2016, the Schofield's corner space has hosted only a Christmas store at the end of each year and other special-event retail and displays. Like many downtown retail spaces, this was spot was over-priced for mom-n-pop merchants. Only national chains could afford them, but most chains want to see a downtown population above 20,000 -- a threshold downtown Cleveland is approaching but not yet reached.

Also, Parkers Downtown restaurant is reportedly getting a minor facelift during the downtime forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to serving fine food and drinks to the general public, it is the hotel restaurant for the Kimpton Schofield Hotel, which also temporarily closed during the crisis. The 128-room hotel is on the lower seven floors of the building while 52 apartments are on the upper seven floors.

The 14-story Schofield Building was renovated from 2011-16 that included the removal of 1960s-era steel cladding in attempt to modernize the building that was designed by noted architect Levi Schofield. The cladding covered up and damaged much of the building's original terra cotta ornamental fixtures which were repaired or rebuilt during the recent renovation.

75 Public Square renovation to start in May

Last November, NEOtrans broke the story that Millennia Companies would start work in early 2020 on renovating 75 Public Square into Public Square North -- a 119-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail. Now, NEOtrans can report that Millennia and its general contractor Cleveland Construction Inc. will commence renovations within 30 days.

The 15-story building, built in 1915 as the headquarters of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., will be rehabbed for $40 million. Cleveland Construction has experience in renovating historic structures, including the Schofield Building (see previous story). The same firm also is being tapped for the construction of One nuCLEus Place which could start in summer (see the story that NEOtrans broke here and a followup story).

Located on the northwest corner of Public Square, the historic Public Square North building also features two commercial spaces available for lease on the ground floor -- one measuring 1,200 square feet and the other 3,000 square feet. A newsstand and restaurant have operated in those spaces at various times in the past.

Lastly, because Millennia also owns Key Tower located nearby on the northeast corner of Public Square, residents of Public Square North will be able to use amenities in Ohio's tallest skyscraper. Those includes the new fitness center Vedas Fitness and Key Tower's underground parking, according to promotional materials.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

Cleveland city meetings to resume, construction industry cheers

City Planning Commission meetings are due to resume in May
but not at Cleveland City Hall. Instead, they will do so digitally
with live public viewing and public input by e-mail (WKSU).
After a 40- to 90-day hiatus forced by the COVID-19 crisis, Cleveland's City Council and City Planning Commission meetings are due to restart. The first meetings are likely to be held in May.

That's good news for Greater Cleveland's real estate and construction industry whose projects and thousands of local jobs often depend on city reviews and the approval of incentives before they can proceed.

Although Cleveland's City Planning Commission hasn't announced anything formally, City Council members and local offices of architectural firms said they were aware of the city's plans to restart the planning meetings virtually. City Council will also begin meeting live virtually via Zoom as well as by other public media.

"The goal is to have council meetings running next week or the week following," said Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack. "It will be broadcasted live on other platforms as well."

"It will be broadcast live and it will be public," Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli said.

Similarly, the goal is for Planning Commission to start meeting remotely by mid-May.

"That's my understanding," said Ward 15 Councilman Matt Zone.
Cleveland City Planning Commission Web page (CPC).
However it is taking longer to set up a virtual meeting process for the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and Board of Building Standards (BBS) because of legal issues of having to swear-in witnesses and stakeholders. For that reason, BZA and BBS meetings may not re-start until mid-June.

Getting the meetings, and thus new construction projects restarted is critical for the region's economy. Cleveland accounts for more than one-fourth to one-third of all new residential units built each year in Cuyahoga County, according to a recent housing study.

Major projects still awaiting planning review include a roughly 40-story Sherwin-Williams headquarters tower on Public Square, the 24-story Circle Square tower at 10600 Chester Ave. (the parking deck was already approved), the 25-story One nuCLEus Place downtown, Azure on Cleveland's lakefront, the first phase of Chester75 in Hough, Bridgeworks in Ohio City plus numerous not-yet-announced projects awaiting property sales to close.

Developers say the residential projects are needed to address a housing shortage in the city. Office developments are needed for growing companies that continue to need more office space long-term, despite the pandemic. All are on hold without the city's planning meetings.

"We are just hoping it starts as soon as possible," said Bo Knez, founder and president of Knez Homes, one of the largest residential developers in Greater Cleveland. "We have a lot of projects in the pipeline that are sitting and waiting."
In Miami, Florida, a city commission meeting proceeds as
scheduled on March 25 despite some commissioners self-
isolating. That was because the City of Miami had already
used technology to simplify permitting and enhance public
access by live-streaming city meetings (Mike Sarasti).
"It’s a good thing," said Dan Whalen, vice president of design and development at Chicago-based Harbor Bay Realty Advisors LLC. His firm is building the $175 million Market Square development at Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street in Ohio City.

"They want to keep things moving as much as possible during this abnormal time," Whalen said. "Presentations are given via PowerPoint presentation anyway, so there’s no reason not to try and accomplish things remotely, so long as everyone gets a chance to state their case."

Although the technological method of citizen and stakeholder participation at these meetings is not yet known, other cities and public agencies have used e-mail as their choice of input. That required having a deadline for e-mail submissions several hours before the meeting so that the e-mails could be received and presented for inclusion in the public record.

Cleveland Planning Director Freddie Collier didn't respond to questions e-mailed to him prior to publication of this article.

Some building permits that do not require new or additional design/zoning/building code reviews or appeals can be obtained through Cleveland's online portal. Also, rental registrations and certificates of disclosure/occupancies for residential properties can be obtained by contacting the city, by mailing them to the city, or by dropping off applications (not checks/money) at the drop boxes at the front/rear entrances to City Hall, 601 Lakeside Ave.

Virtual meetings by city council, boards and commissions offer some positives and negatives.
City of Miami's multi-media desk for managing the live-
stream of public meetings as well as communications so the
public can interact with those meetings (Mike Sarasti).
"I bet we will have many more viewers (for upcoming city meetings) than we normally would, which is good," McCormack said.

Last month, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) held its first-ever virtual meeting via Facebook with public comments e-mailed beforehand. A total of 1,213 people viewed some or all of the live GCRTA board meeting, according to Facebook's statistics.

GCRTA board member Justin Bibb said that's many more people than the agency could have fit in the transit authority's board room at 1240 W. 6th St. in downtown Cleveland. That's also far more people than could fit in their schedules to attend the meeting, even under normal circumstances.

But virtual meetings also have their drawbacks.

"I remember nothing beat the democracy of live citizen engagement at the Planning and Landmarks commissions and the BZA," said Chris Ronayne who was the city planning director under Mayor Jane Campbell in the early 2000s. He has served as president of University Circle Inc. since 2005.

"When a crowd lined up outside the door of the commission board room, at least you knew where the community stood," he said. "I'll never forget the drama of petitions stacked up to save important places like Whiskey Island or the Coast Guard Station."
Cleveland City Hall, where Planning Commission meetings
are normally held on the fifth floor. For the foreseeable fu-
ture, meetings will be held digitally (ThisIsCleveland). 
Ronayne acknowledged that virtual meetings are a necessary course of business to keep government going now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said nuances can get lost in the digital world. That includes losing the tone and tenor of community opinion in each case, or even the chance to touch and feel the texture of proposed building materials.

"Access to digital public meetings is a double-edged sword," Ronayne said. "For some it's easier and more convenient. For others there's a digital divide (due to a lack of Internet access at home). For now digital meetings are the best we have. But I do look forward to the return of face-to-face planning meetings."

The last City Council meeting was held on March 23, when council approved city incentives for the Sherwin-Williams headquarters development. Council meetings are normally held weekly. March 23 was also the last BZA meeting which are held weekly, too. BBS meetings are scheduled every two weeks; BBS last met March 18.

March 12 was the last Landmarks Commission meeting, which are typically held every other week. So are Planning Commission meetings, but it's last meeting was March 6. Neighborhood-level design-review committees are held on an as-needed basis, and most of them had their last meetings in early- to mid-March.

"I do believe planning is still a people business, best conducted between people face-to-face who are able to bounce thoughts off of each other and improve our communities through the live iterative exchange of ideas," Ronayne added. "Innovation happens in proximity more so than in distance."


Friday, April 24, 2020

How nuCLEus and Herold got their lives back

A 25-story office tower on a pedestal of parking and
ground-floor retail appears to have more than enough
capital to afford its construction cost just above $200
 million. That doesn't include the potential renovation
and expansion of the Herold Building which is just out
of view at the bottom-center of this image (Cresco).
As a follow-up to last week's article in which NEOtrans broke the story about the new nuCLEus and Herold Building plans, there is an interesting back-story behind the new approach. It all centers on addressing the difficulty of constructing new office buildings in Cleveland.

Granted, putting up office buildings for tenants in Cleveland isn't Mission Impossible. It's more like Get Smart. Titles for those 1960s-era spy TV shows summarize Stark Enterprises' plans for One nuCLEus Place and its "Mini-Me," a renovated/expanded Herold Building.

The reason for creative approaches? Greater Cleveland is the nation's 15th-most expensive metro to build an office building yet the region has the nation's third-cheapest office rents, eclipsed by only Albuquerque and Louisville.

According to EVstudio.com and adjusted for inflation, it costs more to build a 5- to 10-story office building in Cleveland than in Washington DC, Denver, Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.

The last new-construction office building to hit the leasing market was seven years ago -- the Ernst & Young Tower at 950 Main St. in the Flats East Bank development. Constructed was a 21-story, 487,000-square-foot, $145 million building. Even though it is 90+ percent leased and considered a "trophy-class" building, commanding some of the highest rents in Greater Cleveland at $30 per square foot, it couldn't be built without massive subsidies.

One of those subsidies -- the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa -- pumped $30 million into the capital stack for the Ernst & Young Tower. That program was since scaled back due to a number of problems, although President Donald Trump proposed last month to greatly increase the number of available visas and reduce the individual investment threshold necessary to get one.
Conceptual rendering for the interior of a renovated and
expanded Herold Building, 310 Prospect Ave. (NBBJ).
There are few other subsidies available to push more office developments into central business districts even though there is a clear public benefit in doing so. Downtowns offer accessible jobs to more socioeconomic groups because downtowns are located at the centers of highway and public transit networks.

Office tenants prefer new, Class A buildings but the only new-construction inventory being added is on less expensive suburban properties that are less accessible to minorities and the lower-income labor force. Suburban offices are also less favored by young professionals, making it more difficult to recruit them.

Yet the City of Cleveland doesn't offer tax abatement for office developments as it does for residential. Although the state does offer them, the City of Cleveland recently blocked an attempt by Harbor Bay Realty Advisors from getting a state-authorized property tax abatement.

After the city blocked it, Harbor Bay was able to regroup and get property tax abatement from the city for the housing component of the project. So while the residential portion is moving forward, the office component was set aside for a later phase.

Until recently, the only office developments getting any traction in downtown Cleveland involved redevelopments of historic properties. These office redevelopments can get the most subsidies -- namely a variety of state and federal historic tax credits, as well as new-market and job-creation tax credits.

Relying on historic restorations to add new office inventory will change with the new Sherwin-Williams (SHW) headquarters on Public Square. The 1-million-square-foot first phase of this development, not including parking, is unlikely to include any for-lease space.

Future growth of SHW's headquarters won't be accommodated by overbuilding the Public Square tower and temporarily leasing out the remainder. Instead, SHW parking structures built on the Superblock bounded by Superior-St. Clair-West 3rd-West 6th will reportedly be designed with the ability to add future phases on top of them or next to them.
New site plan for nuCLEus which also shows the ground-floor
plan for the Herold Building at the upper-left (Cresco).
That brings us to nuCLEus and the Herold Building.

In 2014, Stark Enterprises acquired from Los Angeles-based L&R Group of Companies two basic agglomerations of downtown properties for $26 million. One was a 2.33-acre parking crater at West 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue in the Warehouse District. The other was 2.3 acres of land that included a parking crater and several neighboring structures. J-Dek Investments Ltd. joined Stark in a partnership called Gateway Huron LLC in acquiring the latter group of properties.

The exception in the latter group was the Herold Building, 310 Prospect Ave., constructed in 1906 and expanded in 1908 to 300 Prospect by Oscar and A. B. Herold, owners of the Herold Brothers barber supply store on Public Square. The Herold housed the American Federation of Labor headquarters over Wilson's bird store and the Pilsener Brewing Co., according to its 2013 landmark registration,

Kurtz Furniture acquired the Herold in 1920 and modernized the facade with structural glass panels in 1948. Kurtz closed its downtown store in the 1970s. The building has since housed two ground-floor restaurants -- the Clock Restaurant and Downtown Eddie's -- but the upper floors have remained largely vacant for decades. The city condemned the building in 2010.

L&R had hired Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff and filed suit to overturn the city's denial of its demolition request. The case was withdrawn when Stark acquired the Herold. L&R was only too happy to get rid of the Herold, pocketing $1 million in the process. Stark pledged to renovate the Herold, only to change its mind after five more years of structural decay.

Stark and its demolition contractor requested approval in August 2019 from the Downtown-Flats Design Review Advisory Committee to raze the Herold. It had no post-demolition plan for the site, so Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack urged the request be tabled until Stark could come back with a plan.

But Stark merely wanted the condemned Herold gone. It was proposing the $353 million nuCLEus mega-development next door and needed a construction staging area for it. So Stark came back to the design-review committee on Sept. 5, 2019 with a site plan showing a grassy lot. The committee wasn't impressed. It blasted Stark for not coming up with a more creative outcome for the property.
Office stacking in the revised plans
for the nuCLEus development (Cresco).
Apparently Stark felt it should get a pass from the city because Stark was planning 1.2 million square feet of development on one of downtown's largest parking craters. But the city wasn't about to ignore its own laws in accepting or rejecting a proposed demolition of an historic building with a landmark registration, located in an historic district.

Rebecca Molyneaux, vice president of development at Stark Enterprises, told the committee it would cost $6 million merely to address the code violations and remove the Herold Building's condemnation. It could cost another $1 million to mothball the structure or millions more to renovate the building into a marketable property.

Tom Yablonsky, executive director of Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corp., asked Molyneaux if Stark had considered a myriad of tax credits available for the Herold. If Stark had, it didn't apply for them. So the committee voted 7-3 to reject Stark's demolition request.

The committee's vote wasn't binding. It serves as an advisory panel to the full Planning Commission where decisions are legally binding. Stark was on a path to get its demolition request formally shot down by the commission on the following day.

Right after the design-review panel advised against Stark's request, Yablonsky made a bee-line for the Stark reps and reportedly reached out to them with a way to save the Herold. But it ended up doing more than that. It may have saved nuCLEus as well.

The megaproject next-door had been languishing for six years. It began as a $500 million, 54-story structure with a hotel bridging between office and residential buildings, above a pedestal of parking and retail. It was succeeded by second version that retained the retail/parking pedestal but perched atop it two separate 24-story towers of office and residential, costing $353 million.
This was the old floor stacking plan for nuCLEus, with
the office building at right and the residential building
to the left of it (Stark).
But because of Cleveland's high construction costs and low rents, Stark tried a variety of creative public funding schemes to bridge the gap between its design and available capital. None were embraced. The schemes were too innovative for Cleveland's reactive, parochial public entities to wrap their heads around.

So Stark went to state legislators in Columbus with a new public funding idea -- the Transformational Mixed Use Development (TMUD) tax credit. It won support from state-wide economic development organizations and other developers, but was amended multiple times by legislators to win more political support from around the state.

After two years of bouncing around the statehouse, the TMUD tax credit bill appeared in February to be weeks away from moving out of the Ohio House of Representatives and onto the governor's desk for his signature. However, the COVID-19 crisis put a stop to that, and now the fate of the bill is unknown.

Before the TMUD legislation got put on the shelf, rumors were emerging that nuCLEus had more than just a pulse. It might even be a fully funded project without the TMUD tax credit and could see construction start as early as this summer.

Then, earlier this month, new plans for nuCLEus were released publicly. They showed that Stark was willing to do some creative value engineering to build something that aligned with the capital in hand. The rumors about Stark having the resources to move forward on a slimmed-down nuCLEus were confirmed by two high-level sources who were not authorized to speak on the record.

COO Ezra Stark declined to comment.

Stark eliminated or delayed the 24-story apartment building, estimated to cost more than $100 million, from the project while hanging on to the office building. Although the office tower will remain at 350 feet tall, its floor count will grow by one story to 25 stories. Stark will add two more levels of offices by adding that floor to the tower and by shrinking the amenity deck on the roof of the eight-story parking-retail pedestal.
Location of nuCLEus in the central business district (Cresco).
Stark is also shrinking the size of the floorplates in the office tower by about 500 square feet. A skinnier office tower will offer 60,000 fewer square feet compared to what Stark had proposed previously. At about $300 per square foot, that's a savings of roughly $18 million.

Stark has commitments from potential office tenants for about 250,000 square feet of space in the skinnier building. In other words, roughly 73 percent of the building is already spoken for. The anchor tenant is the fast-growing law firm Benesch which would take about 180,000 square feet. Stark Enterprises' headquarters would also be a tenant. Other office tenants are unknown.

Benesch needs that space to become available by the summer of 2022. That's when its current lease at 200 Public Square runs out. Benesch and its timeline are why the developer wants shovels in the ground for nuCLEus by fall. They're why Stark shed the apartment tower from nuCLEus and retained the office tower.

At the same time, the developer is increasing the amount of ground-floor commercial use in the parking deck by 25,180 square feet to 103,000 square feet, adding several million dollars more in costs there.

The end result of all of these changes is that Stark could be saving anywhere from $115 million to $140 million from the cost of nuCLEus, potentially bringing the project's cost down from $353 million to as low as roughly $210 million.

In mid-2019, the developer publicly released a simplified breakdown of its capital stack, showing that it had about $294.5 million in private debt and equity. A previously established tax-increment financing arrangement with the city adds another $19 million. Publicly funded loans and aid, already committed, brings another $26.5 million. In its previous plan, Stark had a nearly $15 million gap in its capital stack which it had hoped to fill with a TMUD tax credit.
The Herold Building is in the middle of this view, looking east
down Prospect Avenue. The former Record Rendezvous, 300
Prospect, is at the right (Google).
In other words, the developer now apparently has more than enough resources to move forward on the slimmed down nuCLEus. But let's not ignore the Herold Building's role in all of this.

A future Herold Building project is allowing Stark to reduce the size of his nuCLEus office building, and thus reduce its construction costs. It is also allowing Stark to deliver brand-new Class A office inventory in One nuCLEus Place that is about 73 percent pre-leased before shovels hit the ground. Lenders have to love that.

There are some public incentives that Stark can get by repairing and renovating the condemned Herold Building, but the developer risks losing them if it expands the Herold Building as shown in a rendering in a recent marketing piece.

There are ways of working around the incentives' restrictions, but they involve more complications than a basic historic renovation project. The complications are likely why Stark isn't aggressively marketing the Herold Building right now.

Consider the land area of the Stark-owned Herold Building at 310 Prospect and a neighboring vacant lot at 320 Prospect. The latter is owned by the same Stark/J-Dek partnership Gateway Huron LLC that owns the land on the other side of East 4th Street where nuCLEus is planned. Together, their combined land area is 8,000 square feet.

If the Herold is repaired, renovated and expanded as shown in the marketing piece -- as an eight-story building with 8,000-square-foot floorplates except for the top floor which is about half as large and set back from the street facade -- it would measure about 60,000 square feet. That's the same amount by which Stark had reduced the size of its One nuCLEus Place office tower.

Such a building could cost about $25 million to repair, renovate and construct. Stark may have the resources to do it now, based on the cost savings and capital stack from nuCLEus. But the developer may not be able to expand the Herold as shown in the marketing piece.
Rendering of the expansion of the Herold Building as an
eight-story office building. The nuCLEus development
is just out of view to the left (NBBJ).
The reason is that, even with structural repairs, the Herold was designed to accommodate only two more stories above its existing four stories, according to its historic registration. Internal structural supports would have to be added to the building. And, if historic tax credits are used, they limit how the existing building can be altered, said historic preservation consultant Steve McQuillin.

"While I don’t hate plans to add floors to the top of (the Herold Building), it’s hard to see how that will meet the (historic) standards and thereby qualify for state and federal preservation incentives," he said.

For example, a non-competitive federal historic tax credit would likely require any vertical expansion of the Herold Building to be set back from the original facade so as to not be visible from the street.

There is a post-construction review and inspection by the National Park Service. If the building is changed in any way within five years after completion so that it doesn't meet federal standards, the project could lose the tax credit.

State tax credits, which have no post-construction review and pull-back provisions, could be used instead. But they are competitive and therefore more difficult to get, McQuillin said. If the state tax credit was used to repair and renovate the Herold Building, Stark could then sell the air rights post-renovation to Huron Gateway LLC for $1 for an expansion of the Herold.

While the National Park Service reviews projects seeking federal historic tax credits, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission reviews projects seeking state historic tax credits. That's another reason why Stark may want to apply to the state even though it wouldn't be guaranteed to receive its state tax credits, McQuillin said.
View and summary of One nuCLEus Place office tower and
its parking/retail pedestal (Cresco).
"Unfortunately the Landmarks Commission isn’t that strong," he said. "It’s true they did oppose demolition (of the Herold) in 2014 by a different, less connected developer. But they’d be flexible with Stark. The National Park Service won’t be."

Just west of the Herold Building are several more decaying, low-level buildings. One of them, 300 Prospect, is listed for sale. It was the 1908 expansion of the Herold Building and, up until 1920, was connected internally through to the Herold Building.

The owners of 300 Prospect, a joint venture between the Weston Group and Bobby George, reportedly would take the building off the market and redevelop it if nuCLEus goes forward, said a source who spoke off the record because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about it. The vacant building, once home to Record Rendezvous, served as one of the cradles of Rock n' Roll.

Although Stark wants to move forward on nuCLEus before fall, that will depend on when the City Planning Commission's review panels can meet again -- either in person or virtually.

The COVID-19 crisis and the City of Cleveland's lack of virtual meeting technology is preventing design-review panels from meeting and acting on submitted plans. When those review panels do meet again, they will be asked to approve nuCLEus' revised conceptual, schematic, landscaping and signage plans. The latter two can wait until after construction starts, however.

But it looks like Stark has turned what seemed like Mission Impossible into a smarter match among resources, rents, renderings, renovations and reality. And those just might replace another downtown parking crater with new investment, jobs and urban vibrancy.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Lakewood weighs Plan B for hospital redevelopment

Could the City of Lakewood go with Plan B -- the runner-up
development proposal submitted for the redevelopment of the
former Lakewood Hospital site? CASTO/North Pointe Realty
submitted this rendering as part of their proposal for redeve-
loping the hospital site. This view looks southward at the in-
tersection of Detroit and Belle avenues (Dimit Architects).
Starting today, the City of Lakewood will begin the process of salvaging the redevelopment of the city-owned Lakewood Hospital site.

That redevelopment was left in limbo when Mayor Meghan George last week announced that the city and its first-choice developer had reached an irreconcilable impasse over the site clean-up costs. Carnegie Management and Development Corp. had terminated its agreement with the city.

City Council members will meet virtually today, forced by the COVID-19 crisis and governor's social distancing order, starting with a Finance Committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. That will be followed by a Health & Human Services Committee and then the regular meeting of City Council at 7:30 p.m.

While it is too soon know what course of action the city will take following Carnegie's departure, there are some possible outcomes being considered by city officials. One option is to reissue a request for qualifications from developers for the site and weight the proposals received. Another option is that the city could turn to one of the other development teams that responded to the city's request for qualifications in 2017.

From that process three years ago, the city chose Carnegie. One of the reasons the city picked Westlake-based Carnegie is because it was the only respondent that said it could develop the hospital site without any city subsidies, city officials said. However the city would clean the site and then sell it to Carnegie for $1.

Carnegie's proposal, called One Lakewood Place, included 200 housing units, 100,000 square feet of offices, 84,000 square feet of retail and the aforementioned hotel which would have re-purposed the historic but vacant Curtis Block, 14501 Detroit Ave.The development site is between Belle and Marlowe avenues, extending south of Detroit by about 750 feet.
Carnegie Management and Development Corp.'s plan for rede-
veloping the hospital site included an office building at center-
right and a hotel at the left with ground-floor retail. South of
those uses would be hundreds of housing units. This view is
southward from the intersection of Detroit and Belle (CMDC).
The runner-up development team was led by CASTO of Columbus, North Pointe Realty of Mayfield Heights and Dimit Architects of Lakewood. Its proposed $62 million project would have 280 residential units (apartments and townhomes), 23,673 square feet of ground-floor retail, restaurants and community spaces, 50,265 square feet of offices plus 569 parking spaces, according to CASTO/North Pointe's 2017 proposal.

Their proposal centered around a public plaza, public lawn and a 12-story building containing eight stories of apartments over three stories of offices over ground-floor community center, plus retail or restaurants. The uses in that building would amount to 108 residential units, 50,265 square feet of offices and 11,400 square feet of usable ground-floor space.

CASTO has built a wide variety of mixed-use developments on sites which hosted prior developments in Columbus, Cincinnati and now in Cleveland. Its first Cleveland development is The Dexter, a five-story, 116-unit apartment building over a ground-floor retail/restaurant space, now under construction at Fulton Road and Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City.

By comparison, this was Carnegie's first-ever development of a site that was previously developed. Its prior projects were on former fields and forests that required no costly removal of structures or pollutants.

A source in Carnegie's development team who was not authorized to speak publicly said Carnegie was not aware of how much more expensive it is to redevelop a previously developed site. But the same source said Carnegie's project budget of $72 million for the first phase was realistic. He also said the city caused Carnegie to incur additional costs.

"The added expenditures that the city continued to push to them (Carnegie) allowed this project to be in its current state," the source said.
CASTO/North Pointe Realty's site plan
for the hospital site extends south from
Detroit Avenue (top of image) between
Belle and Marlowe avenues (Dimit). 
According to Carnegie's development agreement with the city, the developer had to deliver to the city "a complete set of all surveys, title reports, environmental reports, soil studies and all other written materials, records or other documents related to the Project that are in Developer’s possession or under its control."

Carnegie was responsible for identifying any environmental problems with the site and communicating it with the city. The city was responsible for providing to Carnegie a clean site, ready for development within a required time frame. Furthermore, the developer released the city of responsibility for all liability for the site's environmental conditions.

The city budgeted nearly $4.6 million and hired SafeCo Environmental Services Inc. in November 2018 to remove asbestos and other hazardous materials as well as demolish the hospital buildings. Cleveland Clinic closed the hospital in 2016 in favor of a new, exurban location in Lorain County

During the demolition, the city's contractor reportedly discovered pollutants from the former Lakewood Hospital laundry facilities which needed to be cleaned and ventilated. Also, an old creek found under the site had to be relocated and a pump house added. That increased the city's site-preparation costs by about $2.4 million, with $1 million of that funded by the Cleveland Clinic.

If one party terminated the development agreement due to a failure by the other party, the terminating party is due up to $500,000 from the failing party. Carnegie will likely demand $500,000 from the city. Mayor George notified City Council members in writing of Carnegie's termination of the deal on April 16 but disputed Carnegie's reasons for walking away -- that the city didn't prepare the site within the required time frame.

"After many months of negotiation over possible modifications to the development and use agreement (DUA) between Carnegie Management and Development Corporation and the City of Lakewood relating to the One Lakewood Place project, Carnegie ceased negotiations with the city," George wrote.
Under CASTO/North Pointe Realty's plan, a five-story apart-
ment building would extend south from Detroit Avenue along
Marlowe Avenue. This view looks south (Dimit).
"Carnegie is taking the position that Carnegie has terminated the DUA. The city disputes Carnegie’s basis for termination, but has expressed an interest in working with Carnegie to facilitate an amicable parting of the ways during these extraordinary times," George added.

"Our Plan B is that we will identify another developer," said Council President Dan O'Malley. "We may go our with second choice (CASTO and North Pointe). The site is prepped and ready for development."

Council's Finance Committee Chair Tom Bullock said that the city established a reserve fund following Cleveland Clinic's closure of Lakewood Hospital to soften its impact on the city's budget. But with with recent real estate developments and more young professionals moving into the city, officials haven't had to touch that reserve fund which has more than $2.5 million in it.

"The closure of the hospital, which was one of the city's largest employers, has brought no additional tax burden to city," Bullock said. "Lakewood should have confidence in itself that we are still appealing and attractive. We weathered the Great Recession better than most communities and we'll weather this (COVID-19) crisis."

He added that the public should expect the best from the redevelopment of the former Lakewood Hospital site. When redeveloped, it will add to the city's taxbase that supports city services and the schools.

"We can and should pursue the original development objectives which were ambitious," Bullock said. "The objectives are to realize a rare opportunity. For every reason we can and should pursue those development objectives which include providing a public square, to add jobs, housing and economic activity. The city has a significant amount of control over what gets built here because it owns the land."


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Carnegie exits One Lakewood Place, new developer sought

The most recent rendering of One Lakewood Place with an
office building (center-right) and a late-addition boutique ho-
tel (left). Unfortunately, city officials may have to go back to
square one in negotiating with a new developer as Carnegie
Management and Development Corp. has withdrawn from
the project in a dispute over site clean-up costs (CMDC).

Lakewood Mayor Meghan George will reportedly announce tomorrow that Carnegie Management and Development Corp. is withdrawing as the city's chosen developer of the $72 million One Lakewood Place project, according to two sources.

The divorce is due to irreconcilable differences over who should pay upwards of $2 million worth of clean-up costs after pollutants were discovered late in into the inspection, clean-up and demolition of the 5.6-acre site at Detroit and Belle avenues in downtown Lakewood. Also, an old creek was found under the site.

It comes at a particularly unfortunate moment for the One Lakewood Place project as Carnegie had joined forces two months earlier with lodging developer Ceres Enterprises LLC of Westlake to add an eight-story boutique hotel to the project.

Also, Carnegie had a tentative deal with a global insurance company to relocate more than 100 employees from a suburban Cleveland office to One Lakewood Place, according to a third source who spoke off the record.

Timing of the separation is especially bad as businesses and municipalities are tightening their belts as they face reduced business and tax revenues from the economic shutdown to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It will be difficult for the city to come up with additional money to clean up the site, and for any replacement developer to financially contribute what Carnegie would not.
A clear sign of trouble was the removal of this sign on or about
April 9 at Detroit and Belle avenues. However, there were other
signs of trouble brewing months before (The Lakewood Citizen).
"The city will have to identify another developer," said a source close to the project. The source, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the project, did not wish to be identified in this article. "The city may go with its second choice (of developer)."

One Lakewood Place was proposed with 200 housing units, 100,000 square feet of offices, 84,000 square feet of retail and the aforementioned hotel which would have re-purposed the historic but vacant Curtis Block, 14501 Detroit Ave.

The site for the mega-development was the former Lakewood Hospital that was demolished a year ago. The source noted that, when the city solicited for development proposals for the site, none of the developers proposed retaining the hospital's buildings. They all wanted the site cleared and cleaned so they could start anew.

This was Carnegie's first-ever development project on a site that had been previously developed. Its prior experience was in developing farmlands and forests at or beyond suburban fringe. Another source said that Carnegie was not aware of the higher costs of developing previously developed land in older, established communities.

A message left with a receptionist for Rustom Khouri III, director of business development at Carnegie, was not returned prior to publication.
Aerial view of Carnegie's vision of what One Lakewood Place
would have looked like. A new developer will have to take
over from where Carnegie had left off (Carnegie).
Per Carnegie's development agreement with the city, the developer must deliver to the city "a complete set of all surveys, title reports, environmental reports, soil studies and all other written materials, records or other documents related to the Project that are in Developer’s possession or under its control."

Also, per the agreement, Carnegie was responsible for identifying any environmental problems with the site. Furthermore, the developer released the city of responsibility for all liability for the site's environmental conditions.

But it was the city that had hired SafeCo Environmental Services Inc. in November 2018 and budgeted nearly $4.6 million to remove asbestos and other hazardous materials as well as demolish the hospital buildings. Their work was completed in mid-2019. Construction of One Lakewood Place was due to start by the end of 2019.

Former Mayor Mike Summers chose not to seek re-election last fall. He was succeeded by Mayor George, who narrowly defeated former Council President Sam O'Leary; she was sworn in this past January. George, an outspoken critic of the project, took a new look at the One Lakewood Place development after taking office.

On March 11, Mayor George along with then-Planning Director Bryce Sylvester co-wrote a letter to City Council members advising them that the One Lakewood Place project was in trouble. Sylvester was since hired for another job outside of the city; he did not return a phone message requesting more information.
A later phase of development of One Lakewood Place included
dozens of townhomes to the south of the office building and
a housing-wrapped parking garage. This concept view looks
northward on Belle Avenue (RDL).
George said that, on Feb. 7, the city delivered the final certification letter that the demolition, abatement, and the site preparation work at the former Lakewood Hospital site has been completed per the development agreement between Carnegie Management and the City of Lakewood.

"Environmental concerns uncovered during the demolition required additional steps and costs, pushing back our delivery date to February 7th, but still within the timeline established in the development agreement," George and Sylvester wrote.

"As you recall, (city) council approved additional contracting authority to support environmental cleanup of the site in December 2019. Even with these additional city funds contributed to the project for environmental mitigation, the developer has identified a significant financial gap, which represents a challenge to executing on the project as originally contemplated. Carnegie and the city have been exploring ways to move forward and make the project a reality," the letter added.

The newly discovered pollutants reportedly were from the former Lakewood Hospital laundry facilities which needed to be cleaned. The old creek found under the site had to be relocated and a pump house added, sources said.

Several city officials contacted by NEOtrans said they would not comment until after the mayor's official announcement tomorrow.

Developing in a built-up, densely populated inner-ring suburb isn't easy. For example, the City of Cleveland Heights had spent 20 years and is now on its fourth developer, Flaherty and Collins, to proceed with constructing the Top of The Hill mixed-use development atop Cedar Hill. That project is scheduled to break ground this spring.