Construction workers will begin building in August The Beacon apartment tower at Euclid Avenue and East 6th Street in downtown Cleveland. But that’s just the start. Those of us who like to see construction cranes over downtown will probably enjoy the skyline view for the next decade or so.
The reason is that the 28-story Beacon apartments by Stark Enterprises is likely to be the first of many new large buildings to rise downtown. How many is “many”? It could be as few as three or four and as numerous as 10.
Why is this happening now? The Cleveland skyscraper building binge is due to the following factors:
- Continued strong growth of downtown’s residential population and the conversion of older, obsolete office buildings is the most affordable way to satisfy that growth;
- A rapidly diminishing availability of older office buildings for residential conversions and rising rents, leading to new residential construction to satisfy demand;
- A tightening of the downtown office market (e.g.: Class A vacancies dropping below 8 percent by 2020, rents rising above historical averages) due to office users being pushed out of older buildings, corporate growth and consolidations, as well as back-office relocations from expensive coastal cities.
Consider these large, older downtown office buildings that have, are being or will soon be converted to residential (post-conversion, some buildings include hotel, retail and/or office uses):
- Cleveland Athletic Club, 225,000 square feet, 15 stories;
- Halle Building, 392,000 square feet, 12 stories;
- John Hartness Brown Buildings (4 buildings), 250,000 square feet, 6-7 stories.
- Leader Building, 322,600 square feet, 15 stories;
- 925 Euclid (was Huntington Building), 1.4 million square feet, 22 stories;
- Residences at 1717 (was East Ohio Gas HQ), 340,000 square feet, 21 stories;
- Scofield Residences (was Euclid-Ninth Tower), 140,000 square feet, 14 stories;
- 75 Public Square, 150,000 square feet; 15 stories;
- Standard Apartments (was the Standard Building), 350,000 square feet, 21 stories;
- Terminal Tower, 584,000 square feet, 52 stories;
- The 9 (was Ameritrust complex), 831,000 square feet, 29 stories;
- Tower at Erieview, 750,000 square feet, 40 stories.
Other local factors are significantly affecting the downtown office market, including these recent or pending relocations:
- Cleveland Police Department headquarters moving from its own building to 55 Public Square by 2018, taking 180,000 square feet;
- Forest City Realty Trust headquarters moving from Terminal Tower to Key Tower in 2018, taking 148,000 square feet;
- Millennia Companies headquarters moving from Valley View to Key Tower in 2017, taking 45,000 square feet;
- New York Life Insurance moving from Lakewood to 200 Public Square in 2016, taking 110,000 square feet;
- NRP Group moving from Garfield Heights to the Halle Building in early 2018, taking 43,000 square feet.
While those moves are tightening up Cleveland’s downtown office market, perhaps even more exciting is the investment by national and international firms in the central business district — and the reasons why. Cleveland?s relatively affordable cost of living compared with Chicago and especially coastal cities is attracting businesses to the metro area, fueling demand for office space.
“Many owner-users are snatching up space as prices remain relatively affordable compared with the national average, and as asking rents remain on the rise,” said Ryan E. Moore, associate, Marcus & Millichap in RE Business Online. “Moving forward, upward pressure on rents and relatively higher returns compared with gateway metros will continue to motivate investors to inject capital into the Cleveland office sector, primarily in downtown Cleveland.”
Consider these out-of-town investments and the reasons for them:
- Turkish capital firm Alto Partners bought the half-empty 55 Erieview office building as well as the neighboring buildings at 65-75 Erieview and will modernize the combined 280,000 square feet of office spaces located between East 9th and East 12th streets south of Lakeside Avenue;
- Alto is also buying the legally troubled quartet of John Hartness Brown office buildings?at 1001-1101 Euclid Ave. that have seen their renovations stall, but Alto’s project will likely be a mix of hotel/housing/retail and take roughly 250,000 square feet of office space off the market;
- Those projects may be but a glimpse into Alto’s big plans for Cleveland, as “Alto really likes the Cleveland area and is committed to acquiring and developing a few million square feet in that market,” said Michael Sabracos, Alto’s chief executive officer for U.S. operations;
- Another out-of-town investor, Somera Road Inc. of New York City, bought the half-empty, 16-story, 45 Erieview office building?at East 9th and Lakeside Avenue and will bring in back-office tenants from New York that are desperate to reduce their real estate and employment costs.
- Somera founder and principal Ian Ross said “I think a lot of national companies in Los Angeles, New York, (Washington) D.C. (and) Chicago, are saying the cost of living in those cities has gotten astronomical. Attrition problems continue to be an issue. Companies are looking toward the Midwest. I do think there will be growth in the Greater Cleveland area in terms of new tenancy.”
- Ross added investing in downtown and other urban settings in Cleveland will retain and attract young people: “The millennial generation is what a lot of large American corporations are focused on, managing the attrition of that very fickle employment base. The suburban office concept, which you see a lot of in the Midwest and you see a lot of in Cleveland, specifically … that’s going by the wayside. That’s not going to be the pull or the attraction for that highly sought-after employee.”
Despite these new market trends, significant speculative office construction in Greater Cleveland remains non-existent. That could soon change. The historical average downtown Cleveland Class A office vacancy rate is 12 percent. But since early 2016, the vacancy rate dove below 11 percent and is projected to fall below 8 percent by 2020.
Typically, a vacancy rate of 10 percent or less and rising rents will justify the development of a speculative office building. Downtown Cleveland office vacancies remain the highest in the metropolitan area, but are falling quickly due to residential conversions of older office buildings and most of their tenants remaining downtown.
“It would not be surprising, though, to see announcements for new speculative construction in the very near future,” said Colliers International’s first-quarter 2017 Cleveland office market report.
And then there’s the issue of corporate growth and consolidations. Two stand out above all others:
Considering all of these projects, downtown Cleveland’s skyline will look different in the next few years, and possibly very different over the next 10 years. How different? Consider the photo comparison below.
The “tomorrow” Cleveland skyline picture shows labeled massings of buildings speculated, planned or under construction. These massings are identified and described below in the order of their possible likelihood:
- Edge/CSU — Edge CSU Student Living LLC is constructing an 11-story residential building on Euclid at East 18th Street. The project should be completed in summer 2017;
- 515 Euclid — Stark Enterprises is beginning construction on The Beacon apartments in 19 stories atop the nine-level 515 Euclid parking garage. It is due to open in late-2018;
- nuCLEus — Stark Enterprises and J-Dek Investments are wrapping up financing for the 1-million-square-foot development at East 4th and Prospect, including residential, offices, retail, hotel and parking in multiple structures, including a 48-story tower.
- Hippodrome Tower — Some believe a new Medical Mutual office building could rise on the Goldberg family-owned site of the Hippodrome Theater, now just parking in the 700-block of Euclid and Prospect. This is next to Medical Mutual’s current headquarters in the Rose Building.
- Jacobs Lot Tower — Ever since the 60-story Ameritrust Tower project died in 1990, Jacobs Group’s parking lot has scarred Public Square. Some believe Sherwin-Williams will build its new headquarters tower here. Others believe this Public Square address is the perfect site for a new county courthouse tower.
- Weston Superblock office tower — Weston Inc. and Citymark Capital may build at the northwest corner of Superior Avenue and West 3rd Street a 37-story tower for whichever office user, between Sherwin-Williams or the courthouse tower, doesn’t land on the Jacobs Lot.
- FEB (Flats East Bank) Phase 3 — Fairmount Properties seeks to build an 11-story residential tower atop retail and a movie theater on West 11th and Main Ave.
- PHS (Playhouse Square) residential tower — An unidentified national developer is seeking to build a 30-story residential tower including a 600-car parking garage pedestal, much like 515 Euclid. Playhouse Square Foundation sought $4 million from the state in 2016 to help build the parking pedestal but won only $1 million.
- Weston Superblock residential tower1 — A 25-story residential tower is proposed on the southeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and West 6th Street. This was to be the first phase of Weston’s Superblock development but the office market may change that.
- Weston Superblock hotel tower — A later phase of the Weston/Citymark Superblock development in the Warehouse District is to include a roughly 20-story hotel. No hotelier has been publicly identified, however.
- Weston Superblock residential/office tower2 — Someday, the final phase of development of the superblock development may be realized, with this structure being an residential and/or office building.
With all of the moving parts of the coming downtown Cleveland skyscraper binge, it will be interesting to see what end-users and developers bring their projects off the drawing boards first and where they will land. Keep tabs on Cleveland’s building binge as things could move quickly toward the end of this year.