HQ, R&D search shrouded in a fog of Sherwin-Williams rumors

Although this was the graphic used to try to lure Amazon’s
HQ2 to Cleveland, sources say the two largest towers were
actually drawn originally for Sherwin Williams’ proposed
new HQ and R&D facility in 2014-15 (GCP).

If you try to go whaling in the ocean of rumors for Sherwin Williams’ (SHW) headquarters and research/development facilities, bring two things with you: hip waders and a fog lamp. Unfortunately, at this early stage, neither of those are going to help you make much sense of so much conflicting, disorienting information in trying to catch The Whale, aka SHW’s HQ and R&D facilities.

Apart from Amazon’s HQ2, which Cleveland didn’t seem to have a strong chance at winning, it’s been a long time since Cleveland real estate firms had a shot at The Big Get, or what’s called in real estate circles “A Whale.”

“The City of Cleveland made an incredibly generous offer for them (SHW) to build on Public Square.?If they turn it down, then it is on them for leaving Cleveland,” Ward 12 Councilman Tony Brancatelli apparently wrote to a constituent about keeping SHW downtown.

If true, the details of the incentive package will be very interesting to learn. That’s just one part of this whaling expedition that’s shrouded in fog.

But the first bit of conflicting information is that SHW’s request for proposals (RFP), allegedly written by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz LLP and issued by real estate broker CBRE Group, is to clarify what it includes.

Sherwin Williams’ 89-year-old HQ in the Landmark Office
Tower at Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland (KJP).

One version is that the RFP was split into two releases, with the first one now out on the streets for a 350,000-square-foot R&D facility. In that rumor, the HQ RFP reportedly will come out later this year, suggesting that SHW already knows where it wants to build its new HQ. It merely needs to learn who should build it, how it should be built, at what price, and so on.

In that rumor, the R&D facility to replace the overcrowded Breen Technology Center and consolidate former Valspar researchers here could end up getting built in the suburbs. Meanwhile, a new HQ tower downtown would consolidate thousands of office workers from the 89-year-old Landmark Office Tower, the scattered suites of the Skylight Office Building, from the swing-space on Hinckley Industrial Parkway, and perhaps other facilities.

But another source says both the HQ and R&D RFPs were released together because they will be built together in the same place, be it downtown, somewhere else in the city of Cleveland or in the suburbs.

SHW’s Breen Technology Center along Canal Road and the
Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, roughly the same spot where
the firm was founded 153 years ago (Google).

In this rumor, it’s a high-stakes game where downtown could get a 1.6-million-square-foot HQ+R&D facility with 6,000 well-paying jobs in the tallest, most dominating skyscraper to rise between Chicago and the East Coast. Or the city could lose everything to the suburbs — the jobs, the corporate visitors and clients, not to mention the prestige of calling this Fortune 500 firm one of its own.

Sources say DiGeronimo Companies and the city of Brecksville are greasing SHW’s skids, hoping it will slide into their Valor Acres redevelopment of the former VA Hospital. That suburb, by the way, is where SHW CEO?John Morikis resides. And, as we have seen with the downtown HQ relocations of Eaton, Ferro and others, where the CEO lives can often determine where their HQ workers will have to work.

But SHW’s HQ and R&D facilities may not be going anywhere but to a new address in downtown Cleveland, if the Greater Cleveland Partnership and other big shots in Cleveland’s corporate community have anything to say about it.

SHW’s swing space office facility on Hinckley Industrial
Parkway in Cleveland, where more the 400 workers are
employed with many coming from Valspar (LoopNet).

They are reportedly working to convince SHW top brass to stay in the city where it has matured into a global coatings giant ever since Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams began mixing paint together in 1866. That was about the same time John D. Rockefeller was starting to corner the market on oil refining with a little Cleveland firm called Standard Oil. The big difference is that SHW is still headquartered here and does most of its research here. It is still a growing, vibrant, global company in Cleveland.

Architectural firm Vocon is apparently developing concepts on where to put the new HQ and R&D facilities, be they combined or separated, at several locations downtown. But yet another rumor says there is only location that SHW is considering for its HQ — the Jacobs lot on Public Square.

That’s the site where civil engineering giant AECOM has already designed much of SHW’s HQ in 2014-15, before SHW went in a different direction to acquire coatings competitor Valspar. With debt from the Valspar acquisition on a path to be paid down by 2023, SHW is seeking its home for the future.

If it’s in a skyscraper on the Jacobs lot, perhaps the R&D facility might be included within the tower or it might be placed across West 3rd Street on the Weston Inc. lots along with a huge new parking deck.

A rendering of Valor Acres, the proposed redevelopment of the
former VA Hospital property in Brecksville (valoracres.com).

Of course, the other rumor is to try to make everyone happy. How? By building the new HQ tower downtown and by building the new R&D facility in the suburbs. That could put some 4,500+ HQ jobs in a shiny new skyscraper downtown and another 500 or so workers in a new R&D facility in the suburbs.

But that would mean a loss of hundreds of jobs to Cleveland. And there are reports that SHW executives like having its R&D close by — as in walking distance. There is also the issue of employee attraction and retention, something at which a downtown location might excel, especially when attracting young and bright executives, salespeople and researchers. That’s especially true as downtown continues to add new residential, retail, restaurant and entertainment offerings.

But DiGeronimo executives counter that their Valor Acres project is being designed with New Urbanist principles, much like Crocker Park in Westlake, Legacy Village in Lyndhurst or Pinecrest in Beachwood. Will those walkable oases in car-dependent suburbia be enough to win SHW’s war for young talent?

And perhaps all of this conflicting information is part of the strategy of the different sides and interests as they venture out into that fog-shrouded ocean to hunt for that once-in-a-career whale. Some of these rumors are invariably put out by them as they try to catch The Whale, or perhaps to avoid becoming Cleveland’s Jonah or Captain Ahab.


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