Recent real estate projects show the strength of the housing market in Cleveland, especially in certain neighborhoods accessible to downtown and the lake. New projects are taking at a stab at an undeveloped area for housing — East 55th Street and the Shoreway, just west of Gordon Park.
When motorists enter Cleveland on Interstate 90, they get an up-close view of Lake Erie to their right that is spectacular at sunset. But to their left is an underwhelming collection of low-level, single-use commercial structures and vacant lots.
This “gateway” to downtown offers an immediate message — Cleveland hasn’t figured out how to capitalize on its lakefront. The highway itself is testament to that. When it was built, it sliced Gordon Park in two to skirt the coal-fired Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (now First Energy) Lake Shore Power Station, demolished in 2017. With the power plant gone, developer interest in the Gordon Park area has perked up. That includes rerouting the highway to restore the park and improve access to the lake.
|Entering downtown from the east along the lakefront is under-
whelming. The lack of major developments conveys a message
that Cleveland hasn’t capitalized on its lakefront (Google)
The latest developer to show interest in the area is Bo Knez, president and CEO of B.R. Knez Construction, Inc., DBA Knez Homes. Knez, who was born in Slovenia and raised in the East 55th-St. Clair Avenue neighborhood, said he has wanted to developed here for some time.
On Feb. 15, he presented conceptual plans to the Design Review Committee of the Cleveland Planning Commission to get its feedback before proceeding with more detailed designs for a mixed-use development. The site is at 5700 South Marginal Rd. with two parcels of city-owned land totaling 3.9 acres. In urban development, that is a large canvas.
On it, Knez says he plans 50-60 townhomes, 90-100 apartments and 8,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space on the Shoreway side for retail, restaurants or offices. Townhouses would be above the commercial spaces, he said in a phone interview on Feb. 13 but asked for this article to not be published until after his plans were presented to the planning commission.
The site is the former Howard Johnson’s 12-story hotel built in 1965 but demolished in 2009. Knez likes this location not just because he grew up nearby, but because it has easy access to downtown Cleveland and University Circle — the first- and fourth-largest employment concentrations in Ohio. And, of course, the lake is a short walk away.
Planning Commission staff threw some of that cold lake water on Knez’s plans, based on their written comments.
“The planned density feels somewhat relentless. Consider reducing the number of units, and create more communal spaces which encourage interaction and a sense of ‘dwelling’ for the residence,” said one unidentified staff person.
“Consideration needs to be given to how this site connects to the surrounding neighborhood and environment to maximize the potential of the ‘amenities’ that surround this locations,” said another commission staffer.
The last comment is interesting because there is no nearby neighborhood to connect with nor any adjacent amenities. Knez’s development, by adding about 150 living units and perhaps 300 residents, will hopefully jumpstart a lakefront neighborhood that can connect with his project.
Interestingly, Knez’s presentation listing in the planning commission’s agenda also showed his project included a city-owned site on the north side of the Shoreway, at 5500 North Marginal Road. But Knez said that was not correct.
“My interest is only on the south side of the Shoreway,” he said. “That site (former Howard Johnson’s) has been vacant for a long time.”
While Knez may not be interested in the north side of the Shoreway, others are. In fact, that’s where development of housing in this area began.
It started in 2002 when the Nicholson Terminal building, once a new car warehouse, was converted to the 138-unit Quay 55 apartments by Rocky River-based Coffin Development Co. But Coffin defaulted on a $20 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-guaranteed loan.
Quay 55 went through several owners until 2017 when Landmark Lakeshore LLC bought Quay 55, renamed it The Shoreline, and got approval to add 29 apartments to the property by converting indoor parking spaces. Occupancy of the building has continued to be high. Only five apartments are currently available in the building, according to The Shoreline’s Web site.
Unfortunately, a 4-acre lakefront parcel east of The Shoreline and west of 5500 North Marginal remains undeveloped. This flat, wide open, grassy parcel is owned by Coffin Development Co. — the same firm that redeveloped the Nicholson Terminal. While it would be a terrific development site, the property remains untouched. There are no public filings to indicate any development activity here.