Friday, December 6, 2019

Sherwin-Williams already spending big to put HQ at Public Square

November was a busy month for Sherwin-Williams (SHW)
and its many contractors and sub-contractors working on and
near the parking lots west of Public Square. SHW is spending
big money on this work, providing growing evidence that
this is where the Fortune 500 will put its new headquarters
plus research and development facilities (Pete Marek).
For more than a month now, real estate professionals have been watching the activity on the Jacobs Group/Weston Group-owned parking lots, located on the west side of Public Square. When asked what they think of it, their general response is "there's definitely something going on there."


Because of the amount of money being spent -- perhaps up to $10 million so far.

And when a company shells out that much money to measure, poke, drill, extract, review, document, analyze, repair, model, simulate and design stuff in around those windswept parking lots, that company is showing that it is pretty serious about that site.

That's especially true when said company isn't doing work like that at any other site in Greater Cleveland or anywhere else, according to multiple sources. Well, apparently Atlanta -- OK, just kidding!

Of course, that company is Sherwin-Williams (SHW) which has been working toward finding a site for its new 1.8-million-square-foot headquarters plus research and development (HQ+R&D) facilities.
The Jacobs and Weston lots, measuring 7.93 acres in total,
are ground zero for SHW's due-diligence activities for its
1.8-million-square-foot HQ+R&D facilities (Google).
How do I know it's SHW? Because three sources who have been directly involved at the highest levels of SHW's HQ+R&D efforts disclosed that SHW has favored the Jacobs/Weston lots for a long time.

Then, on Nov. 11, another source contacted me to say that SHW would be filing city permits later in the week for buying properties west of Public Square. Sure enough, at the end of that week, a title company named First American Commercial Due Diligence Services filed 12 certificates of disclosure regarding the purchase of the Weston lots.

Those certificates are sometimes filed by prospective commercial property buyers. On the other hand, for residential purchases, certificates of disclosure must be filed to get violation/condemnation and legal use information from the city.

According to a real estate expert who helps companies conduct their due-diligence of desired development sites, SHW has likely spent anywhere from $5 million to $10 million on the Jacobs/Weston site so far.

Granted, some of that amount -- especially for legal fees and architect's fees -- was not for site-specific work. That amount was likely in the $2 million to $5 million range, he estimated.
Geotechical survey crews first showed up on the Weston lots
on Nov. 2, poking dozens of holes into the sea of parking lots
that extend for several blocks west of Public Square (KJP).
The legal fees are probably the largest component at this point. SHW's legal counsel during the HQ+R&D project is Korman Jackson & Krantz (KJK), located at One Cleveland Center in downtown Cleveland. KJK is a prestigious, well-respected firm.

And they've been on this job since at least fall 2018. That's when NEOtrans first became aware that SHW and KJK were working through a variety of documents, ultimately including requests for proposals, task orders, property agreements, filings and other legal instruments relating to the HQ+R&D project.

That's a lot of billable hours by a firm that doesn't come cheap.

Assisting SHW through the HQ+R&D process is Welty Building Co. Its President and CEO Don Taylor is reportedly close friends with SHW CEO John Morikis. Welty has had a bad run of late, running into some financial difficulties, two sources say. Some healthy fees paid by SHW are probably helping out Welty.

After the issuance of a request for qualifications and an evaluation process, SHW and Welty hired Gilbane Building Co. in early October as the HQ+R&D construction management firm. It also pared the list of prospective HQ+R&D sites. But SHW is reportedly still listening to offers until it closes on the Jacobs/Weston lots.

Then we have the broker's fees. CBRE, the nation's largest real estate brokerage, is doing more than just circulating draft purchase agreements. It reached out to a half-dozen or so property owners downtown to solicit proposals for a combined HQ+R&D facility and to the DiGeronimo family regarding its Valor Acres site in Brecksville for the R&D center only, sources said.
During Thanksgiving week, DRS Enterprises fed hundreds of
feet of tubing into West 3rd Street, down Frankfort Avenue,
then over to West 2nd Street. A week later, they dug into
West 3rd, just south of this location, nearer to Superior
Avenue apparently to make a spot repair to the city's
sanitary sewer collector. The question is, who initi-
ated the work and why? (Pete Marek)
And CBRE reportedly did that even as it, on behalf of SHW, reached a purchase agreement with the Jacobs and Weston groups last March or April. The Jacobs/Weston lots have been SHW's favored site all along. That's no surprise considering that in 2014-15, when Morikis was SHW's chief operating officer, it hired civil engineering giant AECOM to plan for a new HQ on the Jacobs lot.

Even though SHW favored the Jacobs/Weston lots, it wanted to generate alternatives to see if anything else was worth considering locally while giving lip service to sites outside of Greater Cleveland. The goal was to give its board of directors some meaningful data for sticking with the Jacobs/Weston lots.

Those are valuable parking lots. They likely carry a price tag of up to $6 million per acre, based on recent property transactions. The Jacobs/Weston lots are just shy of 8 acres. Based on that math, the Jacobs/Weston lots are likely worth $40 million to $50 million.

"Sherwin-Williams would have had to put up earnest money for the land," the due diligence expert said. "Earnest money is usually anywhere from 3-5 percent of the agreed upon purchase price. And that usually doesn't come back to the purchasing prospect if the transfer doesn't go through. So SHW could be out $1.2 million to $2.5 million if they don't buy the Jacobs and Weston lots."

Then there's the architect's fees.

"The architect fees are a fortune, probably in excess of $1 million at this point," the due-diligence expert said.
DRS Enterprises cut into Superior Avenue at West 6th Street
above a lateral sewer line that continued under the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, DRS crews were feeding hundreds of feet of
plastic tubing into the sewers at West 9th Street (KJP).

In the early stages, SHW's architect Vocon Partners LLC was working on alternative concepts, ranging from interior finishes to potential site options. Now, they've moved on to programming, spatial patterns, configurations and massings -- aspects that are becoming more site-specific with time.

That's for an HQ+R&D to accommodate up to 6,000 workers, including 2,500 jobs that would be new to downtown Cleveland.

Vocon is a very capable firm. But when the conceptual designs are being developed and advance into schematic designs, it is possible that a "starchitect" could be brought in.

For example, when Welty, Vocon and Gilbane last joined forces on building a Northeast Ohio headquarters facility -- for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron -- they ended up bringing in San Francisco-based Gensler to put on the finishing touches. It's possible they already have or are considering it -- after all, why would people from Gensler's Chicago office start following me on Twitter?

By the way "hello" -- hope you're enjoying the blog!

And now we come to the visible work that's been underway for the past month using geotechnical core drilling rigs, groundwater well drilling rigs, vacuum excavators and even some possibly related sewer work.
The sewer work by DRS came a week after
the same firm drilled into the Jacobs lot and
capped several groundwater testing wells
from which samples were immediately
retrieved and tested by Strategic Enviro-
nmental Services Inc. (KJP).
In the first two weeks of November, the geotechnical drilling rigs and vacuum excavators belonging to Enviroprobe Integrated Solutions Inc. and Environmental Works Inc. descended upon the Weston lots.

Into the third week of November, groundwater testing/removal wells were dug into the Jacobs lot by sub-surface construction firm DRS Enterprises with water samples removed and tested by Strategic Environmental Services, Inc. which conducts environmental remediation and waste disposal.

It's possible that the groundwater tests found sanitary sewer flow infiltration. And it's also possible that SHW paid for the follow-on sewer repairs, perhaps to be reimbursed by the city.

Why? Because the very next week and continuing into December, the same well-drilling contractor DRS Enterprises was busily making sewer repairs in the city's street rights of way, including pipe re-lining and excavations to make spot repairs on West 3rd Street and westward along Superior Avenue. They even worked the day before and the day after Thanksgiving when many people are on vacation.

I wrote a Nov. 30 article where I doubted that SHW had initiated the sewer work. Now I'm thinking they did. I wasn't aware on Nov. 30 that DRS had also done the Jacobs lot well-drilling a week earlier.

It wasn't for a lack of asking. The sewer workers themselves dismissed any questions. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District said it wasn't the one making the repairs and besides, these were sanitary sewer collectors which are the responsibility of the city.
In 2017, Cleveland City Council voted to vacate an unused
alley called Broome Court, N.W. It did so at the request of
Weston Group which had planned but later abandoned a
major development on its land. The alley is circled in red
above. The ordinance brief is below (City of Cleveland).

I've reached out to several city officials, including asking them to speak off the record, to better understand what is happening here with these repairs. But none of them, not even the usually chatty ones, were talking.

It's highly unlikely that the city could authorize a private contractor to make repairs so quickly except in emergencies. It probably wasn't the city and it probably wasn't an emergency. The reason is because it all started with DRS drilling groundwater test wells from a private property (Jacobs lot) which, if the city led this effort, it would have required getting the law department involved to secure access.

The city wouldn't have bothered with that time-consuming process in an emergency. The city would have drilled into an adjacent public right of way, especially a lightly used one like Frankfort or even the northwest quadrant or roadway of Public Square.

And why would the city drill in the first place? Sanitary sewer leaks weren't stinking up Public Square or spilling out onto the street. The drilling started because SHW wanted to check subsurface conditions below the Jacobs lot for which it has a purchase agreement.

If it was SHW that paid for the sewer repairs, as I now suspect, then they are dead serious about locating on this site. You don't spend that kind of money and effort to address a possible infiltration from the aging sanitary sewers nearby if you're still debating this site. And considering how fast they got a crew out there and even worked the Friday after Thanksgiving, it appears SHW is in a big hurry to get this done.

The sewer repairs were obviously not cheap, regardless of who paid for them.

By the way, speaking of lightly used public rights of way, another example of SHW's HQ+R&D due-diligence work was revealed publicly on Nov. 21.
On Dec. 2, the alley Broome Court N.W. was removed from
Cuyahoga County's plat map, shown above, and absorbed by
the neighboring parcels, owned by Weston. The authorizing
document for changing the plat map was filed Nov. 21 and
is shown below (both images: Cuyahoga County).
On that date, title work by First American Commercial Due Diligence Services -- the same company filing the certificates of disclosure for SHW -- discovered a vacated street right of way that was supposed to have been removed from Cuyahoga County's plat maps two years ago.

Cleveland City Council voted in 2017, at the request of Weston which was then pursuing a since-abandoned development, to vacate an alley called Broome Court N.W. The county never removed the alley from the plat maps by distributing the right of way among adjacent parcels. The vacation plat of Broome Court was filed with the county recorder's office Nov. 21 and the plat map was redrawn Dec. 2.

This is an example of the title work that's necessary in order to discover and fix anomalies for the 46 parcels in the Jacobs/Weston lots. That work may eventually involve a possible further redrawing of plat maps to consolidate parcels following their acquisition by SHW. All of this title work is another significant expense for the global coatings giant, the due-diligence expert noted.

Finally, he added that the normal time for such due diligence work involving a large project is about six months plus multiple two- to three-month extensions as needed following the execution of purchase agreements. So it's not surprising that the due diligence for a project of this scale could take six months to a year, he said.

SHW's purchase agreements reportedly were executed in March or April. This project is bigger than any that the expert has ever experienced. It's understandable that the due-diligence work is not yet done nearly eight months later.

But that work may be coming down the home stretch to the finish line, concluding with a public announcement by SHW about an estimated $1 billion HQ+R&D campus and up to 6,000 retained and new jobs for downtown Cleveland.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Chiclets gum factory apartments, townhouses get new owner

A complicated transaction involving several companies, all
tracing back to a California man, resulted in the acquisition
of the Chicle Apartments and Chicle Townhomes on Detroit
Avenue in Cleveland's Cudell neighborhood (Google).

A California-based real estate investor has purchased the Chicle Apartments and Chicle Townhomes (Chicle is pronounced "chick-lee") from a local firm that renovated the former Chiclets gum factory and built the townhomes on Cleveland's west side nearly 15 years ago.

Little is known about managing member Krishna Venkatarama of Cupertino, Calif. or his intentions involving multiple properties at 10307-10335 Detroit Ave., in the Cudell neighborhood. On Nov. 25, Venkatarama and his partners acquired the properties near the West Boulevard Red Line rail station through three companies created in September.

Chicle Luxury Apartments LLC bought from 10307 Detroit Ave Limited Partnership the 1888-built Chiclets gum factory that was renovated in 2005 for $4.8 million into 23 apartments and a ground-floor commercial space. The purchase includes 0.622 acres of land, according to the Cuyahoga County Recorders office.

On the same day, Chicle Land Development LLC bought from Chicle Land Investment LLC 0.884 acres of land on which 10 townhouses set. This transfer didn't include the townhouses but it did include an easement for access to a driveway off Detroit Avenue owned by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
The entire Chicle site is visible in this streetview from June
2019. The 23-unit apartment building is at left and the partly
completed townhome development is at right. The rest of the
site was to be filled with up to 44 townhomes (Google).

Also, on Nov. 25, a third company named Chicle Luxury Townhomes LLC acquired all 10 of the townhomes at the site. The townhomes, measuring anywhere from 939 to 1,300 square feet, were built 2007-10 by Kemper Co. and Civic Builders LLC. Betty Kemper founded Kemper Co. in 1994. Kemper also was responsible for renovating the Chicle Building.

Three of the townhouses were sold years ago as condominiums to individual persons while the others were rented to residents for years by Chicle Land Investment LLC. Units 12, 14 & 28 were sold July 31, 2018 by individual persons for $169,900, $169,000 and $159,750 respectively to Chicle Townhomes LLC, formed by Betty Kemper.

County records show those townhouses as well as the rented townhomes owned by Chicle Land Investment were all sold to Chicle Luxury Townhomes last week.

Sale amounts were not publicly available. However, Venkatarama's three companies each recorded mortgages with Cuyahoga County on Nov. 25. Two mortgages, both in the amount of $672,000, were secured from Conventus LLC of San Francisco on Nov. 21. One company securing the mortgage was Chicle Luxury Townhomes and the other was Chicle Land Development. The loans mature on June 1, 2021.

The Chicle site, as seen in 2018, is above. The original plan for
the site in 2005, below, shows how it would be built out with
up to 44 townhouses, including future townhomes on Detroit
Avenue. The top of both images is north (Google, LDA).

The third mortgage recorded last week, but signed Oct. 8, was in the amount of $1.5 million for Chicle Luxury Apartments, made by Sabal Capital II LLC of Irvine, Calif. The mortgage matures on Dec. 1, 2029.

Additionally, on Dec. 2, Venkatarama filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a Form D notice of an exempt offering of securities by Chicle Luxury Apartments, LLC. The total amount of securities available and sold was $400,000.

According to the Form D notice, executive officers of Chicle Luxury Apartments, LLC other than Venkatarama are residents of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Sunnyvale, Calif.

Future plans for the site are not revealed in any known public records. That includes a reciprocal easement agreement by and between Kemper's Chicle Land Investments and Kemper's Chicle Townhomes filed with Cuyahoga County in 2007 and amended on Nov. 21, 2019 before the sale to Venkatarama's companies.
A massing plan for the Chicle site from 2005 shows how it
could look at near-full build-out, omitting the townhouses
on Detroit Avenue at right. The Norfolk Southern Corp.
railroad right of way is at left (LDA).

Questions about future plans involve whether the townhomes will be rented as apartments or sold as condos. Another question is whether additional townhomes will be built.

The original plan for the site in 2005 had 36 townhomes in the first phase and another eight townhouses along Detroit Avenue to be built later. Only 10 townhomes were built, shortly after the Chicle building's residential conversion. Some of the townhomes yet to be built would have offered up to 2,200 square feet, according to LDA Architects.

A voicemail left at a number listing to Venkatarama as well as a phone message left with his wife at their home in California were not returned prior to publication.

The principal place of business for Chicle Luxury Apartments listed on the SEC Form D is a residence on Glendora Lane in Parma Heights. That home was purchased in June 2018 by Tracy O. Mooney, public records show. A voicemail message left at his home was not returned before this article was published.
A rendering of the Chicle townhomes from 2005 (LDA).

Interestingly, the June 2018 deed to Mooney's newly purchased Parma Heights home was prepared by attorney Anthony Asher, 4760 Richmond Road, Suite 200, in Warrensville Heights, according to the Cuyahoga County Recorder's office.

Asher is founder and chairman of the Weston Group, one of Northeast Ohio's largest real estate investment, development and property management firms. The address that Asher listed on Mooney's deed was that of Weston's corporate headquarters.

Very few public records could be located to reveal current or past real estate investments or ownerships by Venkatarama. One that was found was another SEC Form D notice from last year.

Venkatarama was listed as manager of CG Apartments, LLC, a Florida limited liability company that in November 2018 sold $600,000 in $50,000 increments from a total of $700,000 in securities, according to the SEC filing. Other executive officers of CG Apartments, according to the filing, were residents of Coppell, Texas and Frisco, Texas.

Staff at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, which includes Cudell Improvement Inc., were not familiar with the sale of the Chicle properties or with Venkatarama's intentions at this time and thus could not comment on the transaction.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Fortune 500 company to establish HQ in downtown Cleveland

Corporate headquarters of Cleve-
land-Cliffs Inc. is in 200 Public
Square in downtown Cleveland.
It is viewed from the west side
of Public Square where survey
wells were recently drilled for
Sherwin-Williams proposed new
headquarters facilities (KJP).
**UPDATED Dec. 7, 2019**

In case you missed the major-league news, and if you rely on Cleveland local news media you probably did, but another Fortune 500 company will establish its corporate headquarters in downtown Cleveland.

Today, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. announced it will be acquiring AK Steel Holding Corp. for $1.1 billion in an all-stock deal. In terms of revenues, the minnow just swallowed the whale. Cliffs generated about $2.12 billion in net revenue in 2018 whereas AK generated $6.08 billion.

At total net revenues of $8.2 billion in 2018, the combined company would have ranked as the 350th-largest company in the United States. Among Northeast Ohio firms, that would put the combined company between No. 256 Parker-Hannifin and No. 383 J.M. Smucker.

AK Steel, founded in 1899 in Middletown, OH, ranks at No. 461 on the Fortune 500 list. Cliffs, founded in 1847 in Cleveland, slipped out of the Fortune 500 in 2015.

The two firms considered their combination would be complementary across mining, pelletizing and innovative manufacturing to create a vertically integrated producer of value-added iron ore and steel products.

Cliffs is a highly profitable mining company whereas AK Steel is a low-profit steel manufacturer. Combined, the Cliffs-AK expects to save about $120 million in the first year after the acquisition is completed..

The firms said that the savings would come primarily from consolidating corporate functions, reducing duplicative overhead costs, and procurement and energy cost savings, as well as operational and supply chain efficiencies, according to a written statement.

"AK Steel will become a direct, wholly-owned subsidiary of Cliffs and will retain its branding and corporate identity. Cliffs will continue to be listed on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) with its HQ in Cleveland, while maintaining a significant presence at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester, Ohio along with its Research and Innovation Center in Middletown," the statement said.

Cleveland-Cliffs has a prominent presence in the downtown
skyline, but not in the usual manner. It's name adorns the side
of the Steamship William G. Mather Museum docked at North
Coast Harbor, part of the Great Lakes Science Center (KJP).
Cliffs' HQ is located at 200 Public Square, the city's third-tallest skyscraper at 46 stories and 659 feet. Built as the Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) HQ in 1985, an ownership group led by New York-based DRA Advisors acquired the 1.27-million-square-foot building in 2018 for $187 million. Local developer-investor Scott Wolstein has an ownership stake in the building.

Cliffs' HQ, as well as Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., leases about 200,000 square feet in 200 Public Square, which is 86 percent leased according to Jones Lang LaSalle's 2019 Cleveland Skyline market report.

Only three floors -- four, 10 and 13 -- in 200 Public Square are entirely or almost entirely available (ie: not leased). Few if any of the floors near where Cliffs is located (upper-20s to mid-30s) have any leasable space available.

While Cliffs' actual HQ staffing data is not available, it is possible to estimate its staffing. At an average of 150-200 square feet per employee, Cliffs may have as many as 1,000 to 1,300 employees in its HQ. Or at least it used to before it made cutbacks in HQ staffing the mid-2010s. Sources say that two of the floors that Cliffs leases at 200 Public Square are empty.

Similarly, detailed data on AK Steel's HQ employment is unavailable. However, the company has about 2,400 employees in Butler County of which 1,730 are hourly workers at the AK Steel's Middletown Works steel complex. That may leave up to 700 employees at AK Steel's HQ in West Chester, which is also in Butler County.

Obviously, many of those aren't coming to the Cleveland HQ either because they will be downsized or are needed for local management of the Middletown Works. But it is possible that dozens or perhaps even hundreds of corporate staff may be relocated to Cleveland.

Regardless of the number, it appears to be a big win for Cleveland. Anytime you add a new Fortune 500 company HQ, or even a Fortune 1000 company, or any growing company for that matter, it's a win for Cleveland's economy.

If only our local media paid as much attention to the employment wins as it does to the losses, or even the hollow threat of a potential loss, we might realize the jobs growth that is occurring here.


Cleveland Foundation acquires Midtown land for new HQ

The Cleveland Foundation has taken title to and recorded a
deed for land on which it will build its 50,500-square-foot
headquarters (shown in orange) on the northeast corner of
Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street (Cleveland Foundation).
Despite a cloud of legal action hanging over it, titles to two Midtown properties were transferred last week to the Cleveland Foundation for its proposed new headquarters.

A 50,500-square-foot HQ is proposed to be the first phase of a civic and mixed-use district along both sides of Euclid Avenue and on both sides of East 66th Street led by the foundation.

The Cleveland Foundation said it is leading multiple partners and investors in a direct real estate development approach to bolstering Midtown to enhance the vibrancy of Cleveland’s neighborhoods and public spaces.

The foundation said it considers the creation of a new civic and mixed-use district in Midtown to be essential to that mission. Relocation of its offices from Playhouse Square to Midtown will help further that mission, it contends.

Design, construction and relocation activities of its new HQ are expected to take up to three years. Transfer of the properties to the Cleveland Foundation will enable it to begin development of its new headquarters "as soon as outstanding contingencies are promptly resolved," as written in public statements issued by the foundation in recent months.

Presumably, those unresolved contingencies refer to the ongoing litigation. Cleveland Foundation Media Relations Officer Alan Ashby didn't return a phone call seeking comment prior to publication of this article.

Midtown Cleveland Inc. Executive Director Jeffrey Epstein said he could not comment on the foundation's HQ project, or the timelines of what comes next for it.

Two non-contiguous parcels totaling 1.364 acres along the east side of East 66th Street between Euclid and Chester avenues were transferred Nov. 25 to an affiliate of the Cleveland Foundation for $600,305, according to the Cuyahoga County Recorders' office.
Rendering of what the proposed headquarters of the Cleveland
Foundation could look like. At right is the Dunham Tavern Mu-
seum property including the large amount of urban greenspace
that will remain after the HQ is built (Cleveland Foundation).
East 66th Street LLC was incorporated on May 15, 2019 by Cleveland Foundation President Ronald Richard, Ohio Secretary of State records show.

The property was acquired from the Dunham Tavern Museum. Dunham Tavern, built in 1824 as a farmhouse and stagecoach inn, is the longest surviving structure in Cuyahoga County still located at its original site.

A limited warranty deed was also filed with the Cuyahoga County Recorder's office on Nov. 25. It has East 66th Street LLC's tax mailing address listed at Midtown Cleveland Inc., 5000 Euclid Ave., Suite 100.

The deed includes a number of property usage restrictions, including limiting any development built on the two parcels to no more than four stories in height. It also precludes pornography businesses, strip clubs, massage parlors, head shops, fast food businesses, houses of worship, disco/nightclubs, warehouses, single-use retailers of 25,000+ square feet, drive-through lanes and any operations associated with cannabis.

A third parcel measuring 0.4 acres was acquired by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority in February 20, 2019. It sits between the two parcels the foundation acquired. The port authority has a long-standing, formal partnership with Lassi LLC -- Midtown Cleveland Inc.'s real estate arm.

As seller, Dunham Tavern Museum, an Ohio non-profit corporation, originally reached a purchase agreement on March 18 with Lassi Enterprises.

According to the deed documents, the purchase agreement was assigned by Lassi Enterprises to East 66th Street LLC on Aug. 8. The agreement was then amended on Aug. 26 to acknowledge the assignment from Lassi Enterprises to East 66th Street LLC.
Looking north up East 66th Street from Euclid Avenue, the
Cleveland Foundation's proposed civic center will restore
some of the lost density of this once-vibrant urban neigh-
borhood, including a new property acquisition by the
foundation on Euclid just east of East 55th Street and
the railroad tracks (Cleveland Foundation).
But several Dunham Tavern Museum members had already filed suit on May 30, alleging that the museum corporation and two of its board members were acting in a manner that conflicted with the interests of the museum by selling the properties.

The lawsuit was dismissed on July 24 by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo.

The plaintiffs filed a notice to appeal the ruling on Aug. 16 and, as appellants, they have until Dec. 7 to file reply briefs to the appellee's brief that was filed Nov. 27, according to the Eighth District Court of Appeals' docket.

In addition to the Cleveland Foundation headquarters on the east side of East 66th, a partnership of investors will pursue the development of a 100,000-square-foot Center For Innovation on the west side of East 66th, north of Euclid Avenue.

Furthermore, in August, the foundation also acquired from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority 2.38 acres of land on Euclid Avenue just east of East 55th and the railroad tracks for the development of a mixed-use project. Like the Center For Innovation, the foundation will lead a partnership of investors to develop it.

"The foundation doesn't develop real estate," Epstein said. "Aside from their headquarters, their partners will develop the real estate. We'll work with them to decide what is the right mix of uses for the (Euclid Avenue) site" across from the new University Hospitals Rainbow Health Center.

Lassi and the port authority have acquired multiple properties throughout Midtown. They have razed and cleared any structures on those properties and are making the cleaned-up parcels available for redevelopment.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

More crews working at Sherwin-Williams' favored HQ site, but...

A contractor for the City of Cleveland's Division of Water
Pollution Control was working in and near the area where
Sherwin-Williams reportedly favors building its new head-
quarters plus research and development facilities. But were
the two related? (KJP) CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE
For the fourth straight week, work crews were laboring amid the 7.93 acres of parking lots owned by the Jacobs and Weston groups in downtown Cleveland's Warehouse District. This is the site that sources say is Sherwin-Williams' (SHW) favored site for building its massive new headquarters plus research and development (HQ+R&D) facilities.

But in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, crews were doing something different than before. In past weeks, they drilled holes in the parking lots to remove soil and ground water samples for lab analysis.

This past week, they were closing lanes to traffic on Superior Avenue, Frankfort Avenue, West 2nd Street, West 3rd Street and West 9th Street to improve water lines as well as to cut and remove patches of pavement over laterals. It prompted texts and e-mails from downtown residents and workers to NEOtrans, wondering if this was related to SHW's HQ+R&D.

The answer is that it probably was not. Why?

The first, most obvious explanation is that the company (DRS Enterprises of Garfield Heights) doing the work isn't known for inspections and surveys. Their specialty is construction.

And the equipment that DRS used was construction equipment -- a diamond-toothed pavement saw and a vacuum excavator with an 800-gallon tank, perfect for handling mud and other spoils from excavating and horizontal directional drilling. One of DRS's specialties is horizontal drilling.

Then, the area in which they worked extended beyond the Jacobs/Weston lots. They started working right in the middle of the lots, at West 3rd Street and Frankfort Avenue. Crews fed hundreds of feet of plastic tubing into the sewers at West 3rd, over to West 2nd. Then they moved west to Superior and West 9th.

By the way, DRS crews who were working on site were asked what they were doing. They either pretended not to hear the question or they simply replied "Sewer repairs."
SHW reportedly favors putting its HQ+R&D facilities on the
Jacobs and Weston groups-owned parking lots west of Public
Square in downtown Cleveland (Google).
These sewers do need attention. This area was Cleveland's first central business district so these sewers are some of the oldest in the city, dating back nearly 200 years. In older sewers, the storm and sanitary flows are combined in the same pipe.

It should also be noted that the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) is under a 2010 consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency to significantly reduce combined (storm and sanitary) sewer overflows into Lake Erie within 25 years. Their $2.5 billion effort to achieve this is called Project Clean Lake.

One of the projects to reduce the overflows is the Superior Stones Canal project. Using micro-tunneling, it features a new gravity sewer starting from a section of Superior Avenue between West 6th and West 9th to the expanded NEORSD pumping station at Settlers Landing on the Cuyahoga River. These improvements were completed in October 2018.

The contractor overseeing the work to increase the capacity of the sewers in the Flats and Warehouse District was Independence Excavating Inc., one of the many firms under the umbrella of the DiGeronimo Companies.

DiGeronimo also is developing the former Veterans Administration hospital site, called Valor Acres, in Brecksville. SHW's reportedly asked the DiGeronimo family to compete for the new R&D facility at minimum and possibly for the new HQ as well.

Unknowingly, the DiGeronimo family aided SHW's favored HQ+R&D site in the Warehouse District by expanding the capacity of NEORSD's storm and sanitary sewers in that area. Such is life.

DRS's work crews on Nov. 27 moved over to Superior Avenue, between West 6th and West 9th -- the same area that was the terminus of the Superior Stones Canal project. That's extending to more than a block away from the Jacobs/Weston lots.
A clue that this week's sewer work probably wasn't related
to the SHW HQ+R&D project is because it extended farther
west along Superior Avenue to West 9th Street (KJP).
But, upstream from that project, the storm water collectors and sanitary sewer mains and laterals weren't touched by NEORSD last year. They are the responsibility of the City of Cleveland's Division of Water Pollution Control (WPC).

Jennifer Elting, NEORSD's senior public information specialist, checked with construction supervisors who said that they had no crews, contractors or sub-contractors working in that area. When sent pictures of the work being done, the supervisors said the work likely involved re-lining of the city's high-pressure water lines in the area.

WPC officials were not available for comment Nov. 29. On its Web site and Twitter feed, WPC didn't report any work occurring in that area.

WPC's sewers and water lines were in place when dozens more buildings stood on the Jacobs/Weston lots where only parking lots remain today. Only a handful of buildings have stood here in the past 50 years, however.

Less has been demanded of the sanitary sewers in the immediate area in recent decades, although the parking lots do create significant storm water runoff for NEORSD. There aren't as many users of the city's sanitary and potable water lines compared to the pre-World War II era.

SHW's HQ+R&D, accommodating up to 6,000 employees, will put significant demands on the sanitary and water lines the Warehouse District. But Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack wasn't aware of any linkages between the apparent re-lining of the water pipe and SHW.

The reasons there likely aren't any linkages are that SHW hasn't formally announced its location for its new SHW HQ+R&D facilities. And the city usually programs and budgets its sewer and water line improvement projects at least one year or more in advance.
Sewer crews began their work this past week in the middle
of the Jacobs/Weston lots, at West 3rd Street and Frankfort
Avenue in the Warehouse District (Pete Marek).
But the city has wanted those parking lots developed for many years, so keeping its storm, sanitary and water lines in an active condition and in a state of good repair is important.

Although SHW hasn't publicly announced its HQ+R&D site yet, several actions strongly suggest  SHW is moving in the direction of building on the Jacobs/Weston lots. A title agency, reportedly on behalf of SHW, has filed disclosure permits with the city in November prior to buying the Weston lots.

That confirms reports from three high-level sources who say that SHW secured purchase agreements with the Jacobs and Weston groups in March for acquiring their Warehouse District properties. The sources said SHW then began looking to see if other sites in downtown Cleveland and Brecksville could offer a better location and financial deal for its 1.8-million-square-foot HQ+R&D.

No other sites were pursued by SHW but the Fortune 500 company listened to offers from other property owners and communities in other parts of Ohio and in other states. SHW continues to listen but city sources said SHW could make its HQ+R&D decision in December.

Throughout November, workers from several different companies have conducted geotechnical and groundwater analysis on the Jacobs and Weston lots. That is the kind of work that is done before significant structures are designed and built. Sources said facilities and construction management contractors requested the analyses on behalf of SHW.

Seeing the sewer/water workers in the same area in the past week rightfully generated curiosity as to whether it was in response to SHW's HQ+R&D project. This was one case in the past month where it probably wasn't. But it, along with the Superior Stones Canal project last year, supports future development on the scale of SHW's proposed HQ+R&D facilities.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Seeds & Sprouts IV - Early intel on real estate projects

This is the fourth 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.

Millennia Companies expects to start in early 2020 the $40
million renovation and conversion of 75 Public Square into
119 apartments over two commercial spaces (Millennia).
75 Public Square housing conversion is near

Two weeks ago, NEOtrans was the first to report on a planned $73.6 million rehabilitation of the "new" headquarters of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI), 55 Public Square. Now it's the old CEI headquarters' turn -- 75 Public Square.

Renamed as Public Square North, the 15-story building is near to seeing rehab work start. Millennia Companies plans a $40 million rehabilitation and conversion of the 1915-built office building into 119 apartments.

Cleveland Construction Inc. was hired as the construction manager and bids were issued recently for interior demolition work of the 150,000-square-foot building. That suggests that workers will be on site in early 2020.

Located on the northwest corner of Public Square, the building also features two commercial spaces 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.

Because Millennia also owns Key Tower, located on the northeast corner of Public Square, residents of Public Square North will be able to use facilities at Key Tower. That includes the new fitness center Vedas Fitness and Key Tower's underground parking, according to promotional materials.

Lincoln Partners LLC has acquired more than 1 acre of land
at the intersection of Scranton Road and Willey Avenue for a
mixed-use project of housing and commercial (MyPlace).
The Lincoln in Tremont gets a new developer

Good locations for development don't lie fallow. Scranton Place LLC first proposed a six-story condominium development on the southwest corner of Scranton Road and Willey Avenue. Four years later, the project is back but with with a new property owner and developer.

Through an affiliate named Lincoln Partners LLC, Sustainable Community Associates (SCA) bought Scranton Place's 0.7-acre parcel in 2017 and added three parcels totaling 0.33 acres earlier this year to have a 1-acre plot.

Two of the three parcels were acquired from the Cleveland Animal Protective League and the third, on Brevier Avenue, was acquired from the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp. An alley through the site called West 18th Place was vacated.

The site is just east of the Fairmount Creamery apartments on Willey that SCA developed in 2014 and north of the Wagner Awning apartments and The Tappan, both developed by SCA at Scranton and Auburn Avenue.

Plans for The Lincoln are under review by the City Planning Commission. Josh Rosen, a principal at SCA, said that more project details will be revealed soon. But at this time, the goal is to construct approximately 83 housing units with parking below ground and a roughly 6,000-square-foot, street-facing commercial space, he said.

The project is named The Lincoln because it is a couple of blocks west of Tremont's Lincoln Park. Willey-Kenilworth Avenue is one of two main streets that connects Tremont with Ohio City. And Scranton Road is a main route between Tremont, Clark-Metro and downtown, via the soon-to-be-developed Scranton Peninsula along the Cuyahoga River.

This probably isn't what most Clevelanders think of Hough
after the last 60 years that the neighborhood endured. But as
University Circle keeps growing, development is spreading
west and north into Hough. The East 90th Apartments on
 Chester Avenue is one of many developments planned
 or underway in the Hough neighborhood (CPC).
Boomtown UC is spilling over into Hough

Multiple, large-scale developments are planned or underway in the once vibrant and densely populated Hough neighborhood that succumbed to white flight, race riots, despair and widespread abandonment.

New housing, parks and businesses built over the past 30 years have stabilized Hough compared to its darkest days. It's enough that real estate investors now see it as a place for spin-off development from booming University Circle, Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University to spread.

Among the developments are Signet Real Estate Group's Axis at Ansel, a $35 million, five-story, 163-unit apartment building under construction at Hough and Ansel avenues. It is next to the 10-story Kingsbury Apartments that was gutted by vandals but is structurally sound and for sale.

Recently announced was the East 90th Street apartments, a multi-phase, 461,093-square-foot development on Chester Avenue sought by the Inspiron Group. The developer is currently working farther west near Cleveland State University, converting to residential two 1950s-era office buildings on Euclid Avenue on both sides of East 30th Street.

At East 90th, Inspiron will raze multiple vacant apartment buildings that it considers too costly to renovate. In their place will rise four new buildings totaling about 400 housing units. This site was where a developer recently proposed a mixed-use development called Core 90, but abandoned the project. It is two blocks west of the Finch Group's large Innova development.

Between East 59th and East 61st streets, plus Wade Park and White avenues, WRJ Developers, LLC proposes to build six buildings with 12 apartments per building, offering market-rate and subsidized units called Hough Paradigm. The developers also propose work with the city on linking two disconnected sections of Wade Park.

Significant additional residential developments are being considered for the area along and north of Chester to accommodate growing numbers of medical staff, students and neighborhood residents seeking higher quality housing within walking or biking distance of work or school. Keep an eye out for 75 Chester apartments, due to rise on both sides of East 75th Street north of Chester.


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.