Cleveland’s industrial past may shun Sherwin-Williams R&D; but HQ is safe

Tower-City-Center-parking-lot
Past the Tower City Center parking lot and the Cuyahoga
River beyond is Scranton Peninsula and Sherwin-Williams’
favored site for its new, consolidated research facility. Its
current research facilities, the John G. Breen Technology
Center, is at right (KJP). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE

In an old, post-industrial city like Cleveland, toxins from its manufacturing past exist below the surface and slow the city’s efforts to revitalize. The latest project affected is Sherwin-Williams (SHW) proposed site for its new, consolidated research facilities.

While the downtown headquarters site SHW picked is secure, the near-downtown research and development site and as many as 1,000 jobs may not be. Instead, the jobs could land on a newly cleaned property in suburban Brecksville, according to two sources.

The sources spoke off the record because they were not authorized to speak publicly about SHW’s pursuit of a new headquarters plus research and development (HQ+R&D) facilities.

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SHW planned to announce its HQ+R&D decision next week, another source said. It isn’t known if SHW’s last-minute discovery of polluted land at the favored R&D site will delay the global coatings firm’s announcement.

It should be emphasized that this situation has not affected SHW’s decision to build its massive new global HQ on the west side of downtown Cleveland’s Public Square. The new HQ would consolidate up to 5,000 jobs from multiple locations into 1.45 million square feet of offices to be built on 6.82 acres of parking lots owned by the Jacobs and Weston groups.

The site SHW wanted for its new, 350,000-square-foot R&D center is approximately 9.4 acres of land along Carter Road at the north end of Scranton Peninsula. It is located just across the Cuyahoga River from Tower City Center and SHW’s current HQ+R&D.

A 1968 aerial view of Scranton Peninsula and the
Cleveland Union Terminal Group (now Tower City
Center). The top of the image is north, with Public
Square at the upper right. Republic Steel’s Bolt &
Nut Division is at lower left. The Northern Ohio
Lumber & Timber Co.’s property, now Sherwin-
Williams’ favored site for its new research facili-
ties, is at the center of this image, to the left of
the Cuyahoga River’s Collision Bend (ODOT).

Last week, geotechnical tests of SHW’s favored location for the R&D facility reportedly discovered unacceptably high levels of pollutants in the soil. The sources weren’t aware of what pollutants were found or where they came from.

However, the R&D site that SHW favored was used from 1864 until 2003 for sawmill operations, the manufacture of wood products and lumber storage, according to the Western Reserve Historical Society. Through various predecessor companies, Scranton Averell Inc. has owned this and other land on Scranton Peninsula going back to as far as 1828.

A chemical, Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), was commonly used as a pesticide and preservative to treat fresh-cut wood for residential uses by lumber companies from the 1940s until it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003. CCA poses a potential exposure to toxins including arsenic, chromium and copper.

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The sources said it is very expensive to clean soil contaminated by these toxins.

Also on Scranton Peninsula was the former Republic Steel Bolt & Nut Division that generated additional toxins including chromium, lead, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the air, soil and groundwater from 1872 until the plant was sold off piecemeal and ultimately razed through the 1970s and into the early 1980s.

But the former steel mill property was on the west side of Scranton Peninsula. That 22 acres of land was cleared and cleaned in recent years, including with layers of new fill dirt, and is now being redeveloped with mixed use including residential, called Thunderbird.

The sources said City of Cleveland officials are scrambling to either identify environmental clean-up funding for the Scranton Peninsula site or to find and secure a new site in Cleveland for SHW’s consolidated R&D facilities.

Sherwin-Williams’ old and new sites
for its headquarters plus research &
development facilities are near to
each other in downtown Cleveland.
If the city can clean SHW’s favored
site for its new R&D center, the faci-
lities will allow the growing firm to
consolidate its employees in fewer
and more modern sites (Google).

SHW reportedly is considering putting the R&D facility on the site of the former Veterans Administration hospital that closed in 2011 and was relocated to Cleveland’s University Circle. The VA donated the 103 acres of land to the City of Brecksville’s Community Improvement Corp.

DiGeronimo Companies won the rights to develop the former VA hospital campus, renamed Valor Acres, over 15 years. As part of the deal, DiGeronimo paid $5 million to the city to demolish more than a dozen hospital buildings and remediate environmental contaminants, such as asbestos and lead paint. The clean-up work was conducted in 2018-19.

SHW’s new R&D facility could consolidate nearly 1,000 jobs under one roof. About 400 employees would be relocated from SHW’s 140,293-square-foot John G. Breen Technology Center, 601 Canal Rd.

Also likely to relocate are 400 Valspar R&D employees from Minneapolis and possibly several hundred workers at SHW’s Automotive and Performance Coatings groups at 4440 Warrensville Center Rd. in Warrensville Heights, a source said.

Interestingly, Valor Acres is as large as SHW’s Warrensville Heights research campus — also about 100 acres– with roughly half of it still undeveloped. It has 388,766 square feet of offices, laboratories and training areas. SHW acquired that campus from BP America Inc. for $8 million in 2000, according to county records.

“The Sherwin-Williams ‘factor’ is huge for the future of Cleveland. Thousands of jobs, many millions of dollars in real estate transactions, increased hospitality, multifamily and retail developments nearby and a potentially altered skyline are all on the line,” said real estate brokerage Newmark Knight Frank in its Fourth Quarter 2019 Cleveland Office Market Report.

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7 thoughts on “Cleveland’s industrial past may shun Sherwin-Williams R&D; but HQ is safe”

  1. Shocking that a company who played a major role in polluting land around the river is looking for a public handout to clean it up. Sure, the pollution in question isn't directly from SHW, but its poetic nonetheless.

  2. Brecksville would be a mistake, the same one American greetings made. The true R&D talent wont be drawn to Brecksville just like artists and poets arent draw to Westlake. Downtown is where the talent wants to be. I dont think that peninsula is good either since walking from the terminal tower or to downtown would not be possible. That would hurt new retail, restaurants and other services struggling to take hold downtown.

  3. Could be a real catalyst for the Scranton peninsula. What about the stalled Jacob's development on the West Bank near the Powerhouse and the Music Box; this could be a real centerpiece of an excellent mixed-use neighborhood.

  4. For the record Brecksville is in summit county so if shw were to put their R&D there that's still thousands of jobs and tax dollars leaving Cuyahoga County we can't afford to let that happen

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