Gargoyles, anyone? It’s those amazing architectural details — columns, cornices, murals, domes, arches, keystones — from a variety of styles that include Federal, Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Richardsonian Romanesque (think Grays Armory) and others that make Cleveland architecture a living textbook for budding architects. But it’s no longer just those in the building industries or tourists who look up to see the details on the city’s commercial buildings, a number of which have rehabbed into residential opportunities.
According to the nonprofit Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), 56 percent of surveyed Downtown Cleveland residents said historic architecture is what they love most about living downtown. (DCA reports more than 40 percent of downtown Cleveland residents live in historic tax credit financed buildings.)
Sure, Lake Erie and its beaches, improved parks, proximity to pro sports facilities, fine dining, entertainment and general lure of urban living are also important. But Clevelanders are finding new pride in their city’s core and its older buildings, often rehabbed for residential use. We hope to save what we can, but also build new residential apartments and for-sale housing that is dynamic and exciting.So, who really lives downtown in 2019?
“The influx of over 75 business relocations has pushed the employment growth to over 110,000 jobs in the city of Cleveland and has helped us to earn the rank as the No. 1 growth market [per capita] in the state,” says Nico Bolzan, executive managing director, Stark Capital Group. “The impact of new business has pushed the residential population growth from 15,000 in 2014 to more than 20,000 residents by 2020.
“Presently, 75 percent of downtown apartment inventory caters to young professionals and hospitality services (50 percent of downtown jobs), creating a demand for Class A housing,” says Bolzan. (Class A properties are the highest quality buildings in their area and market, with top management and significant amenities.)
Andrew Brickman, principal and developer for Brickhaus Partners, knows 30 percent of the residents who choose his townhomes and apartments are relocating from another city.
“People who buy a Brickhaus property are looking for lifestyle,” says Brickman. “And they are looking for an eco-friendly and technology-friendly space.”
Consider empty nesters, professional athletes, those with post-graduate degrees and those who just want an urban lifestyle, and a picture of downtown residents begins to emerge.
“We are seeing individuals who are looking for a home that will complement a social and carefree lifestyle,” says Bolzan. “[They] are looking for quick and easy access to it all — restaurants, entertainment, work and wellness. Living in the heart of downtown Cleveland is just that — no long commutes or heavy traffic. Everything is walkable.”
To be fair, not everyone who lives downtown works downtown. And some trend watchers say in some ways we are just doing a reverse commute. Live on Euclid Avenue and work in Mentor or Independence or Westlake. It’s a tradeoff for some.
The Beacon, located at Euclid Avenue and East Sixth, was scheduled to open at the end of July and is the first residential high rise in Cleveland’s central business district in 46 years, according to Bolzan, from the Stark Capital Group. The 30-story building provides “a 360-degree look at the city’s skyline, entertainment district, casino and all three professional sports venues.” Bolzan adds that the Beacon is the only residential address in the central business district with onsite parking, 24/7 security, rooftop sky lounge, business and fitness centers.
And there is a dog park, which is good planning. According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, almost 80 percent of homebuyers in the U.S. still crave a lawn. Part of that reason, say the researchers, is that the 80 million millennials who are tweaking the real estate market love dogs.
Another Stark project is nuCLEus, with an opening date set for late 2020. It will extend East Fourth and connect the Entertainment District to the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and Progressive Field, according to Bolzan, who says the development will create a new neighborhood.
Brickhaus Partners plans to wrap up construction of One Seventeen, 11 luxury townhomes created from the redeveloped Fifth Church of Christ in the Edgewater Neighborhood, in 2020. As of June, all but one unit was sold.
“People are moving in, and we aren’t even done with construction,” says Brickman, whose company was chosen by the city of Cleveland for the project.
Although many elements of the deteriorating sandstone structure could not be saved, Brickman was able to rescue several scrolls and decorative panels, as well as roof tiles repurposed into ornamental fencing to be used on the property.
The developer has also partnered with Integrity Realty Group to open Brickhaus Towers in Tremont, 40 market-rate apartments created from the former Mt. Zion United Church of Christ Church, at year’s end. One West Twenty, an “urban village,” will be near the West Side Market. Demolition of houses on that site has been completed for the apartments.
Knez Homes is offering Cleveland Avenue Townhomes, three-story residences with rooftop decks and two-car attached garages, at East 13th Street and Superior Avenue.
The company’s Breakwater Bluffs, with beach access, is located in Gordon Square. Ravella, a luxury townhome community, is being built in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Each residence is unique and exteriors feature Italianate architecture.
According to Jeff Ramsey, executive director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, other developers in the 10,731-resident Detroit Shoreway neighborhood include Vintage Development, NPR Group, Sustainable Community Associates, Solo Development, Keystate Homes and J Roc Development. Ramsey has seen an increase of residents under 40 and an uptick in household income in the northern part of his neighborhood.
“The neighborhood has a 43 percent poverty rate, and our focus is on assisting the low-moderate income families in our neighborhood primarily by building affordable housing,” he says. “The benefits of residential construction include the redevelopment of former manufacturing sites that have been abandoned. Over 1,000 housing units have been built or are planned on [those] sites.
“The influx of young people with disposable income has fueled a boom in restaurants and boutique retail.”
But the refreshed appeal of the neighborhood has resulted in skyrocketing rent and dramatically increased sale price of homes, according to Ramsey. The development company and its partners have rehabbed more than 1,000 affordable housing units over the past three decades, which will help ensure the “neighborhood will continue to be a mixed-income community,” Ramsey says.
Last year K&D Group opened Mr. Jingeling’s old haunt, the Halle Building, on Euclid Avenue as housing. (Mr. Jingeling was a popular character who greeted kids in Halle’s department store during the Christmas season.)
It isn’t always easy
But there is some rumbling and groaning. Some say a long shadow, created by local government, leaves investors, developers and builders wanting to create new residential properties in the dark.
“The process through the city [of Cleveland] with respect to site plans, architecture and variances is complicated, time-consuming and expensive,” says Bolzan. “[Also,] the new push by the port and the city to make projects prevailing wage makes it difficult for developers to enter into construction contracts early in the process at competitive rates so that construction loans can be solidified.”
Bolzan would also like cleaner streets and better lighting. The creation of beautiful streetscapes with “pavers, flowers, benches and public art” would “encourage gathering and enjoyment while walking downtown,” he believes. Continued commitments to security and directional guidance to local venues would also be of benefit, according to Bolzan. (He did credit Cleveland for more than $300,000,000 in improvements and restoration efforts to its streetscapes and historic buildings.)
Brickman becomes zealous when talking about Cuyahoga County’s population drain and says all the greatest housing in the world won’t bring more people to Cleveland if new jobs aren’t being created.
“We are not creating jobs at all,” says Brickman. “Our leadership, while making strides, is getting its clock cleaned not only by major job centers like Charlotte, Boston and Denver, but Columbus, which is doing circles around us. Columbus has regional government, but our area is fragmented, and there is so much costly duplication.
“Until we have someone who can unite all 70 mini fiefdoms in Cuyahoga County, we will continue to lag behind more progressive cities, continue to hemorrhage population and continue to lose value in real estate,” says Brickman.
Of course, Cleveland’s economic health is a complex issue and opinions vary.
Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) reports that downtown Cleveland is the fastest growing neighborhood in Northeast Ohio. About 17,500 residents call downtown home. The nonprofit’s 2018 Downtown Cleveland Annual Report also noted that 1,544 residential units were under construction at the end of 2018. DCA research also showed downtown Cleveland is home to 105,000 jobs and that the city was estimated to add 750 new jobs last year.
The Home Builders Association (HBA) of Greater Cleveland is often perceived as a trade group just representing the suburbs. But, HBA President Dean Tompkins says his organization represents all builders everywhere, and some members are involved with urban building.
(Among those: Vintage Development, Knez Builders, Blossom Homes, Civic Builders and Payne & Payne Builders.)
Tompkins calls the HBA’s role an advocacy one at local and state levels, with goals to “help pave the way” for builders to experience faster and fairer building experiences in urban areas — actions ultimately benefitting homebuyers.
And of course, there’s the question that everyone wants to be ask about Northeast Ohio real estate but one that we’re sometimes afraid to have answered. (In Cleveland, it’s like jinxing a sports team or saying the weather is great. Things will change.) But, will urban residential development outpace demand?
“There isn’t as much speculative building as there was since the recession of 2008,” says Tompkins, also vice president of Payne & Payne. “You aren’t seeing a lot of inventory on the market. I think the recession tempered builders.”
So, yes, Clevelanders and those relocating to the city will find new, amazing housing opportunities in 2019 and beyond, most likely for a number of years to come. Just be prepared to pay for it (affordable housing is another story) — at least until the waiting list for that two-bedroom apartment with the great view of Lake Erie sunsets dissolves.