Article updated July 21 with quote from Councilwoman Jasmin Santana, with corrections made July 27 regarding property ownership.
Considered by some historic preservationists as one of the rare architectural gems on the city’s West Side, St. Michael School is in the hands of local interests seeking to restore the luster to this weathered jewel. The five-story school building with its statues of saints and other ornaments was threatened with demolition when the property fell into foreclosure nearly three years ago.
But last year, investors acquired the property at 3146 Scranton Rd. to save and restore the building. The group, led by SoTre Properties‘ Managing Partner Eric Lutzo along with Kim F. Bixenstine and her husband Bart of Shaker Heights, engaged CHN Housing Partners of Cleveland to purchase and redevelop the site. Hiti, DiFrancesco & Siebold, Inc. of Cleveland is the project’s architect.
Permit applications were submitted last week by the development team to the City of Cleveland for the renovation of the former Central Catholic School and convent in the South Tremont neighborhood. The towering St. Michael Archangle Roman Catholic Church next door, at the corner of Scranton and Clark Avenue, is not involved in this transaction or restoration.
|Built in 1906 and designed by French-born architect Emile
Uhlrich, St. Michael School structure is designed in the
Victorian Gothic style like its namesake church that’s
14 years older, just north of the school (Google).
The 114-year-old school and 60-year-old convent will be adaptively reused as senior independent living. The unit mix will consist of 20 one-bedroom and 15 two-bedroom units in the main school building and 12 one-bedroom units in the convent for a total of 47 units, according to the permit filed with the city’s Building & Housing Department.
Laura Boustani, strategic communications manager of CHN Housing Partners, said?45 of the apartments will be restricted and affordable to seniors at incomes that are 60 percent or less of the area’s median income and two units will be unrestricted market-rate apartments.
“The project will feature multiple common areas and support spaces including a community room, a wellness center, on-site property management, service coordinator and dedicated maintenance and janitorial staff,” Boustani said in an e-mail. “The Arch at St. Michaels represents the preservation and revitalization of a community icon that has been decaying and at risk of being lost.”
The project is still early on in the development process; it could appear on the City Planning Commission’s docket in October. Also, not all financing is in place. However, the project’s partners were recently sent a letter of intent from the city which chose the Arch at St. Michael as one of its projects it intends to support with a pot of tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
|An early rendition of plans for the St. Michael School and
convent site that were submitted to the city (B&H).
Tania Menesse, Cleveland’s director of community development, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment prior publication.
“This is great news for the neighborhood, which is seeing numerous economic development projects and improvements,” said Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana who represents the area. “St. Michael the Archangel Church is an historic site and reusing the school for affordable senior housing is a great addition.”
Estimated cost of the project at this early stage is $12.8 million, Boustani said. Although CHN typically does new construction, it has two historic renovations on its resume. One is the Winton on Lorain, 9431 Lorain Ave. in Cleveland, completed in 2013. The other is the Westerly Apartments, 14300 Detroit Ave. in Lakewood, completed last year.
As proposed in its permit application, all surface-mounted utilities will be removed from the building. The masonry, decorative stone elements, stone ornaments and sculptures will be repaired and cleaned. Stone elements that are severely damaged will be replaced with cast-stone pieces and mortar to match the previously existing elements. All windows and doors will be replaced. The interior will be thoroughly renovated with original historic themes and features.
|The 1960-built convent on Prame Avenue is not only less
ornate and newer than the neighboring school, it is also
smaller — measuring just 12,845 square feet compared
to the 70,695-square-foot school (Google).
The former school, one of three sites used by Central Catholic until 2003, was most recently used as offices for the West Side Ministries. The nonprofit group was affiliated with the Community Care Network, Cleveland Christian Home and other charities to provide social services to the neighborhood.
But Key Bank foreclosed on a loan for the property in 2017 and the property went to auction in February 2018 with a minimum asking price of $600,000 — or two-thirds of the property’s appraised value of $900,000. There were no takers at that price.
The Bixenstines, under the name 3146 Scranton Road LLC, acquired the property through a second auction a year later for $375,000, county records show. They transferred it on Sept. 22, 2019 to a company listing to Lutzo called Arc on Scranton, LLC for $378,750. CHN has an option to acquire the property from Lutzo.
“My husband and I have been private investors in various projects of SoTre Properties, including the St. Michael’s property, for approximately 10 years,” Kim Bixenstine wrote in an e-mail. “We believe in SoTre’s mission of saving homes and building community in the South Tremont neighborhood.”
|The before-and-after views of the school’s renovation may
not look much different at first glance, but careful inspec-
tion reveals the extent of work necessary to revive this
aging beauty to its former granduer (B&H).
“Investing in distressed properties in Tremont’s southside is the cornerstone of our business,” Lutzo said. “As you know, CHN Partners have been exceptional stewards of property in Cleveland for many years and, without exception, their involvement with this project is welcome.”
St. Michael School was one four structures designed for religious institutions in Cleveland’s urban core by French immigrant Emile Uhlrich, said preservation consultant Steve McQuillin. Each were Byzantine-Romanesque, Gothic Revival or High Victorian Gothic themes evocovative of European cathedrals, which helped many of Cleveland’s early 20th-century immigrants feel right at home.
Unfortunately, St. Michael School is the only one that has a future at this point. St. Andrew Catholic Church, built in 1907 at 5135 Superior Ave., was demolished in 2009. St. Procop Church, built in 1902 at 3181 W. 41st St., was closed in 2009. Church of the Nativity/Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1925 (the school Ulrich designed was built in 1913) at 9600 Aetna Rd., closed in 1992 and is heavily vandalized.
“We are humbled to be able to save St. Michael’s School and be part of the community building that will be part of this development,” Lutzo added.
Tyler Kapusta contributed to this article.