Two new Lakewood developments proposed

Lakewood’s Ss. Cyril and Methodius Catholic School, as seen from
the west or Alameda Avenue side, sold last week to an affiliate owned
by Bo Knez of Knez Homes. But rather than pursue a residential con-
version, Knez seeks to remodel the building as offices. The convent
at far left will remain with the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland (KJP).

Two recent property acquisitions are the first signs indicating that a pair of proposed new Lakewood developments may be on the horizon. Both properties are located on the city’s primary business corridors on the east end of Lakewood.

First is the Sept. 16 acquisition of Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School, 1639 Alameda Ave.; the property’s parking lot faces Madison Avenue in the city’s Birdtown neighborhood. Purchasing it for $125,000 was Nascent Land Development LLC which is owned by Bo Knez, founder of Painesville-based Knez Homes, one of Greater Cleveland’s largest homebuilders.

However, Knez doesn’t plan to convert the long-closed school into residential. Instead he has submitted building permits to the city to remodel the 27,000-square-foot, 1955-built structure into for-lease offices.

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In an interview this week, Knez said he doesn’t have an office tenant lined up. He will soon advertise the property on the open market. In other words, he’s developing this as office on speculation that a tenant will emerge. Knez seemed to dismiss the impacts of the pandemic on the office market, even as office tenants are scaling back their space needs due to remote working and a general economic downturn.

“We feel there’s a need for this (office use) in the area,” Knez said. “We do offices as well. It’s one of the of five spokes to our wheel.”

The Madison Avenue side of Ss. Cyril & Methodius School (KJP).

In addition to residential, Knez provides general contracting services, development of land for local and national buiders, excavation services and rental activities. The rental and general contracting activities are the roles Knez will play?in the conversion and marketing of the school as offices.

Because the work being done to the building is limited to remodeling, it won’t require going to the city’s Planning Commission before securing a building permit. For that reason, Knez said he hopes to start work by the end of this year or, more likely, early next year.

“The building needs a lot of work,” he added.

He also noted that the parking lot facing Madison will continue to be used for parking — but its use won’t be limited to his office building. He said he has a shared parking easement with the Ss. Cyril & Methodius Church, a grand 90-year-old structure established by a parish of Slovak immigrants nearly 120 years ago.

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Knez said he will not be acquiring the church’s convent located just north of the school on Alameda; it will continue to be owned by Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Declining enrollment at the school forced its closure at the end of the 2009-10 school year. It was merged with Cleveland’s St. Rose of Lima into the Transfiguration Parish whose school is at Lakewood Catholic Academy, 14808 Lake Ave.

Birdtown is seeing increased development activity. Conversion of the school into offices will start at roughly about the same time work is due to begin on the $4 million redevelopment of the former “Bi-Rite Building” at 12501 Madison into 18 apartments over ground-floor retail, called The Nest. The Silhouette School of Dance and Lakewood Slovak Civic Club were tenants of the building.

The National Tire & Battery car repair, 11801 Detroit Ave., closed
in early Fall 2019. This photo was taken in August 2020 (KJP).

Forest City Shuffleboard owner Jim Miketo bought 12501 Madison in October 2019. Although their Lakewood developments are unrelated, he and Knez are partnering on the redevelopment of the former Hough Bakery property in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.

For the second new development on Lakewood’s East End, fewer details are known about it because the deal hasn’t closed yet. However, two sources said Kertesz Enterprises of Beachwood has the former National Tire & Battery (NTB) property under a purchase agreement. NTB, 11801 Detroit Ave., shut down in Fall 2019 and consolidated business at its Westlake location.

“I’d rather not discuss anything at this point,” said Ronnie Kertesz, vice president of Kertesz Group, when asked about the purchase and closing date of the deal.

The sources said Kertesz reportedly wants to add to their apartment inventory in Lakewood. Since 1988, the family has owned the neighboring Colonial Club Apartments, 1437 Newman Ave., a 60-unit, three-story residential complex built in 1963, public records show.

Kertesz, who runs Kertesz Enterprises with his brother Randy Kertesz, would not say if their proposed apartment building would include accessory uses on the ground floor, such as a restaurant, shop or other commercial activity. The sources were unaware if the potential development would contain mixed use.

Before it was NTB, it was Jackshaw Pontiac. Before 1962, it was West
Side Pontiac. This is the property about 1960 (Yesterday’s Lakewood).

The property measures 1.09 acres and the building on the site totals just under 15,000 square feet. Prior to its use as NTB, it was operated as a car dealership. The property was developed in 1948 for West Side Pontiac, then sold in 1962 to Stephen A. Jackshaw who operated it as Jackshaw Pontiac. He sold it 1992 and the dealership operated for several more years until it was closed and sold in 1999, public records show.

All of Lakewood’s car dealerships have either closed or relocated to highway interchanges in outer suburbs at the urging of car manufacturers to increase visibility. Most of those now-closed dealerships have found new lives as existing or planned mixed-use or housing-only developments.

The current owner is the Niki Group of San Diego, CA which has properties nationwide. It put the building on the market shortly after NTB closed last year, listing it with Howard Hanna Commercial. The property no longer appears in for-sale listings.

Daniel Budish, one of the principals involved in the redevelopment of the Phantasy Theater complex and Mack Industries across Detroit Avenue into Studio West 117, reportedly was bidding against Kertesz to acquire the NTB property.

“Sorry,” Budish said in an e-mail. “I wish that we could confirm this as true, but we cannot.”

Niki Group bought the NTB property in 2016 for nearly $1.2 million, county records show. But after filing a Board of Revision complaint in 2018, the property was revalued at $650,900 for tax purposes.

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