CityBlock at Tower City is back on track

Efforts to redevelop Tower City Center into a entrepreneurship
hub called CityBlock were put on hold in recent months. But
the effort has been reactivated. This is a conceptual rendering
of the Prospect Avenue entrance to CityBlock (Vocon).

Bedrock Real Estate Services’ planned remake of The Avenue shopping mall at Tower City Center into an entrepreneurship hub is showing signs of life again.

Chatter surrounding the proposed $110 million redevelopment of the 350,000-square-foot downtown Cleveland retail center had gone silent since last winter, and the global COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the primary reason why.

“Bedrock had another management change, which set us back,” said tech entrepreneur and City Block promoter Bernie Moreno. “But they are fully committed to moving forward.”

Matt Cullen departed as Detroit-based Bedrock’s CEO in July to lead Cleveland-based JACK Entertainment LLC, which will continue to operate the Cleveland casino adjoining Tower City and Thistledown Racino in suburban North Randall following their 2019 sale to VICI Properties Inc. for $843 million.

Also departing Bedrock was Mark Dunkeson, who was recently president and chief operating officer of the real estate company founded by billionaire Dan Gilbert. Bill Emerson stepped in as Bedrock’s interim CEO July 2, holding the position for a second time within a year.

Conceptual rendering of the interior of The Avenue shopping
mall at Tower City Center, redesigned as CityBlock (Vocon).

Then, on Sept. 21, Emerson was replaced by Kofi Bonner, formerly of California-based FivePoint Holdings LLC and was executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Cleveland Browns.

“I look forward to working with him to positively impact Detroit and Cleveland,” Gilbert tweeted on Aug. 26.

The changes followed Gilbert’s ischemic stroke in the right side of his brain over Memorial Day weekend 2019. Gilbert has since recovered. But the corporate stabilization that appears to be occurring at Bedrock wasn’t guaranteed to reactivate plans for CityBlock.

According to sources close to Bedrock who were not authorized to speak publicly, Ken Till, Bedrock’s vice president of development for Cleveland, considered alternatives to City Block in recent months. They included conventional office spaces, retail and other uses. But Moreno’s proposed entrepreneurship hub retained their interest.

Till could not be reached for comment.

The CityBlock plan would redesign the interior of the existing The Avenue shopping mall with collaborative workspaces plus more strategically placed escalators and ramps while getting rid of its hidden elevators. The goal is to make the 1990-reconstruction of the former Cleveland Union Terminal railroad station more easily navigable.

“Ironically, COVID helps as there is no need for elevators!” Moreno joked.

This view shows what a Riverside portion of the CityBlock
redevelopment could look like. This scene along the Cuya-
hoga River could be the result of a future phase (Vocon).

Sources said Bedrock tried to lure Sherwin-Williams’ (SHW) new headquarters plus research and development (HQ+R&D) facilities. But when SHW chose to put its HQ on the west side of Public Square downtown and its R&D facilities in Brecksville, Bedrock lost out on landing a major anchor tenant for CityBlock.

The same sources said that SHW’s decision are what caused Bedrock to review its options about the CityBlock project, especially the Riverside phase, and to suspend pre-development planning work. Moreno disputed that in February, contending that Bedrock was following up on securing letters of intent from potential tenants.

Since then, more businesses have closed at The Avenue including the Brooks Brothers high-end clothier and the 10-screen Tower City Cinemas. By some estimates, the mall is about half empty although no official data could be located. Some retail will likely be retained in CityBlock.

Technology companies continue to grow in Greater Cleveland, however. For example, the Flats West Bank has become a mini tech hub in recent years with small but growing businesses like BoxCast, EmployStream, Fathom, Kloud9, Snip Internet and TPI Efficiency establishing offices within a few blocks of each other.

Fledgling biotech firms like Athersys Inc. and Abeona Therapeutics Inc. are growing locally too. Also, a Lakewood-based life sciences collaboration firm called Within3 just raised $100+ million in capital for expansion.


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