Return of the Roaring 20s: downtown Cleveland development

The Lumen apartment tower will be downtown
Cleveland’s first skyscraper completed in the
2020s. But it certainly won’t be its last. Up to
13 more skyscrapers are in various stages of
planning. See the Cleveland skyline compari-
son photos below to see how much the down-
town skyline could change in the Roaring 20s

Most Downtown Cleveland’s skyscraper builders took a nearly 20-year nap between 1992 to 2010. That was after they finished Key Tower and the Fifth Third Bank (formerly Bank One) Tower and they started the Ernst & Young Tower at Flats East Bank.

In that two-decade span, workers built only one building downtown of 20 stories or more — the 23-story, 430-foot-tall Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse Tower on Huron Road next to Tower City Center.

In the 2010s, they were quite a bit busier building skyscrapers. Their work included the 21-story Ernst & Young tower in 2012, 32-story Hilton Hotel in 2016, 29-story Beacon apartments in 2019 and the 34-story Lumen apartments that were topped off before the 2010s ended. Although The Lumen won’t be completed until the end of this year.

Entering the 2020s, early as next year and likely continuing for at least several more years, it’s looking more likely that downtown Cleveland will have as many skyscrapers under construction simultaneously as were built in the entire decade prior. Of course, this depends on the local and national economies. It could be a return of the Roaring Twenties for Cleveland.

Nearly a dozen skyscrapers are planned downtown, along with several more buildings in the 10-19 stories range, and a handful of shorter new buildings. Unfortunately, not all of them are going to happen. Even the most well-thought-out plans go awry for the craziest of unanticipated reasons. Some of these are early on in their planning but already have some meaningful financial backing.

The photo above was taken from Lake Erie in 2011, showing
downtown Cleveland when the first of the 2010s skyscrapers
was being built (Ernst & Young tower, at right). Compare that
to what downtown could look like (below) by the end of the

These planned towers are listed in order of the earliest approximate date when they could see groundbreaking:

  • City Club Apartments (mid- to late-2020): Proposed by the Michigan-based chain City Club Apartments as a 23-story mixed-use tower with 310 apartments and two-story retail/lobby base at 720 Euclid Ave.
  • Unidentified tower 1 (late-2020, early-2021): plans for residential skyscraper submitted to city for review but cannot be publicized yet.
  • Unidentified tower 2 (late-2020, early-2021): plans for residential skyscraper submitted to city for review but cannot be publicized yet.
  • Sherwin-Williams HQ tower (early- to mid-2021): Potentially a 30- to 35-story, 450- to 500-foot-tall global headquarters tower on the Jacobs Group-owned parking lot on the west side of Public Square.
  • Sherwin-Williams Superblock (early- to mid-2021): Potentially a 5- to 20-story office building, possibly above a multi-level parking deck and/or mixed-use base located on the Weston Group-owned Superblock immediately west of the Jacobs lot.
The Sherwin-Williams headquarters (shown in yellow in the
foreground) just west of Public Square represents one of the
biggest potential skyline changers in the 2020s. It is possible
that two buildings of more than 200 feet (with one approach-
500 feet) could result from that one development. This is an
unofficial massing of the headquarters site (Geowizical).
  • Unidentified tower 3 (early-2020, mid-2021): plans for a 16-story hotel/residential tower in Flats were submitted to city for review but cannot be publicized yet.
  • Unidentified tower 4 (mid-2021): plans for office building not yet submitted to city and cannot be publicized yet. May or may not be more than 10 stories, however.
  • Unidentified tower 5 (mid-2021): plans for office building not yet submitted to city and cannot publicized yet.
  • Flats East Bank Phase 3 (late-2021): Proposed as a 12-story mid-rise/tower apartment building over shops, restaurants and a theater at Main Avenue and West 11th Street but cash-flow problems experienced by project partner Wolstein Group have delayed this project.
  • nuCLEus apartment tower (late-2021): Originally proposed in 2014, lead developer Stark Enterprises inability to secure capital especially from public sources has delayed this project, especially its office tower. Project may depend on the Ohio General Assembly’s passage of a Transformational Mixed Use Development tax credit which could happen this spring or summer.
  • nuCLEus office tower (late-2021): As with the apartment tower listed previously, this would be a 24-story tower built atop a pedestal of parking and retail on East 4th Street between Prospect Avenue and Huron Road. But the office tower would be 40 feet taller owing to the higher ceilings in an office configuration.
  • Lumen Act II (early- to mid-2022): Depending on the progress of leasing (yet to start) at The Lumen that’s due to complete construction in late-2020, this second apartment tower for Playhouse Square could rise at the southeast corner of East 13th Street and Chester Avenue. Its proposed height isn’t yet known.
  • Justice Center Courthouse Tower (early to mid-2022): At this time, this may eclipse the Sherwin-Williams HQ tower as the tallest building now being considered for downtown Cleveland based on its projected space needs, estimated today at?877,366 square feet. In a tower with floorplates averaging 25,000 square feet, that could result in a tower of more than 35 stories. It’s proposed location, assuming that it is actually built, isn’t yet known.
The next skyscraper likely to rise in downtown Cleveland is
the City Club Apartments on Euclid Avenue west of East 9th
Street. Construction could start by the end of 2020 (Vocon).

Now that we’ve ventured into the future, let’s see what got us here. Even the nearly skyscraper-less two decades between 1992-2012 weren’t devoid of downtown construction.

Workers were busy downtown building the baseball stadium and basketball/hockey arena at the Gateway complex until 1994, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995, Great Lakes Science Center in 1996, 18-story Crittenden Court Apartments in 1996, 14-story Hampton Inn in 1998, Cleveland Browns stadium in 1999, 11-story Hilton Garden Inn in 2002, 10-story Avenue District condos in 2008, plus lesser projects.

And while the 2010s saw four new-construction high-rises built downtown, it doesn’t come close to describing how much construction had occurred there in the last decade. The reason is that most of that construction was actually renovations/conversions of old, obsolete commercial buildings into residential ones.

Consider that, among downtown Cleveland’s 37 residential buildings 100 feet or taller, 21 of those were built as residential or were converted into residential since 2010. Only two of those involved new construction.

The supply of historic yet obsolete commercial buildings available for conversion is dwindling yet the market for more housing downtown remains strong. A recent market analysis shows another 6,800 downtown residential units are needed by 2030. To meet that demand would require building the equivalent of another 21 Lumen-sized apartment towers.

Cleveland’s recent job growth and dwindling supply of obsolete commercial buildings is timely. It coincides with new financial tools like the Opportunity Zone tax breaks or that real estate investment trusts are willing to take lower, longer-term returns. And if Ohio approves the Transformational Mixed Use Development tax credit, the floodgates of megaprojects may open up.

So it should be of little surprise that new construction is taking over from what the renovations/conversions started. There would have been more than 20 construction cranes above downtown Cleveland in the 2010s if there wasn’t a large inventory of obsolete commercial buildings to convert into residential.

Now that this supply is running low, the arrival of the Roaring 20s means the arrival of the downtown Cleveland construction crane is at hand.


1 thought on “Return of the Roaring 20s: downtown Cleveland development”

  1. Beautifully written and fascinating information! Cleveland development has long been a passion of mine (and many Clevelanders) but something that's often difficult to gather information on. Thank you for this article and the photos.

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