Downtown project delayed by commissioners’ absence

Aerial view of Somera Road's apartments looking northward toward the central business district.

An aerial view looking northward toward the proposed Apartments at Bolivar to be located just north of the Erie Street Cemetery and on the southeast side of downtown’s central business district (Desmone). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Mixed-use project is between Progressive Field and Playhouse Square

City Planning Commission today was unable to advance a major downtown Cleveland project toward design approval, despite its members enthusiastically supporting an earlier conceptual version of the plan. In recent months, multiple commission meetings had to be ended early before important agenda items could be addressed, resulting in those projects being delayed to a future meeting where the applicants had to sit through another hours-long session.

The proposed downtown project is a wide, seven-story apartment building over ground-floor retail, and atop existing and new garages a stone’s throw from Progressive Field, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and Playhouse Square. The project is requested by New York City-based investor and developer SomeraRoad. Building permits for the project cannot be issued until the planning commission gives schematic and, later, final approval.

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City Planning Commission Chair David Bowen expressed his disappointment that three of the five commissioners had left today’s meeting early. He was aware that Diane Downing had to leave early to speak at the City Club of Cleveland but said he was not notified in advance that two other members had to exit the meeting early.

Somera Road's apartment development in downtown Cleveland.

Looking east on Bolivar Road toward the proposed development with a mural-covered blank wall along the outside of the new parking garage and six floors of new apartments above it. That parking deck will replace a 1926-built garage but a larger, 1971-built garage beyond it will be retained and built above it (Desmone).

Those two commissioners were August Fluker, who retired last summer as a principal at City Architecture, and Lillian Kuri, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Foundation. Neither responded prior to publication of this article to requests for comment submitted by e-mail.

“I guess I didn’t know people were going to be dropping off before noon,” Bowen said. “We’re done 10 minutes afternoon. That’s not a long planning commission meeting. I understand Diane (Downing leaving) because she has to speak (at an event).”

Earlier in the meeting, Fluker expressed his own disappointment that a major change in the city’s housing policy was discussed as part of today’s regular commission meeting, rather than at a special meeting as was done for the new Sherwin-Williams headquarters or for lakefront plans. But in the case of the lakefront plans, not enough members attended a special, single-topic meeting in May to constitute a quorum so no actions could be taken at that time, either.

Exterior rendering of Somera Road's Cleveland apartment development on Bolivar Road.

Featuring lots of balconies along the north and east sides of The Apartments at Bolivar, those will provide views of the downtown skyline. The trio of ground-floor retail spaces are at left and the three-level, existing parking garage from 1971 is visible at right. (Desmone).

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Often times, regular 9 a.m. City Planning Commission meetings continue until well after 2 p.m., especially when there is a large number of agenda items as has been the case in recent meetings. The meetings, held the first and third Fridays of each month, are getting longer due to more development projects being submitted for review. But some of those meetings also had to end prematurely as not enough members were present to constitute a legal quorum, or a simple majority of three members.

SomeraRoad and its project designers from Desmone Architects of Pittsburgh made their presentation nearly three hours into today’s meeting only to learn that the commission lacked a quorum to vote on it. That didn’t sit well with other commissioners including Ward 17 City Councilman Charles Slife who represents the Kamm’s Corners/West Park area.

“I would hate to make them (applicants) have to sit through another meeting,” Slife said. “Since this keeps happening, and I don’t want to make a precedent of this, but I don’t like that we have to make the (today’s scheduled) public art presentations wait an additional two weeks. I don’t know if there’s something we can do. Legally, are we able to vote by e-mail?”

Retail space along Bolivar in SomeraRoad's mixed-use, apartment building in Downtown Cleveland.

A sidewalk view looking east along Bolivar Road at one of the three proposed retail-restaurant-café spaces (Desmone).

City Planning Director Freddy Collier said hearing and recording the case presentations and then voting on them later is a legitimate question. But he wanted to verify that it could be done legally. Bowen said he wanted Desmone’s presentation about the SomeraRoad development to be voted on at the start of the next meeting Dec. 17.

SomeraRoad is proposing 184 market-rate apartments atop a 1971-built, three-level parking garage at 1060-1124 Bolivar Rd., just north of the Erie Street Cemetery. A 1926-built garage will be demolished and replaced with a new one that’s hidden by the new development, including three leasable ground-floor retail/cafe spaces totaling 3,331 square feet and apartments above them.

Total number of parking spaces will be 283 with 70 spaces for an adjacent office building recently renovated by SomeraRoad which has some of its parking on the building’s ground floor. The remaining 213 spaces to be provided as part of this project would be for residents and accessed only from Erie Court, plans show.

South side, along Erie Court, of SomeraRoad's proposed residential development in downtown Cleveland.

On the south side of The Apartments at Bolivar, along Erie Court next to the Erie Street Cemetery, are most of the garage entrances as well as a secondary building lobby. East 9th Street was called Erie Street before 1906 when the city went to a street numbering system for north-side streets (Desmone).

Although the proposed seven-story development is not tall, it has large floor plates of more than 50,000 square feet on the lower levels. That helps bring the project’s total size to 272,705 square feet — a significant development. That approaches what the state of Ohio considers “transformational” in its new Transformational Mixed Use Development tax credit — 350,000 square feet. But no such incentives are being sought here. The re-use of the sturdy 1971 garage helps reduce the project’s costs by millions of dollars.

The developer said the project’s goal “is to contribute to the ‘live-work-play’ environment of the Gateway District and to activate the street, creating a more vibrant pedestrian experience and support Bolivar Road and Erie Court as a connection between Playhouse Square and the Gateway stadiums. The design is to respect the existing historic context of the area while introducing materials to support a modern industrial aesthetic.”

Conceptual designs and massings for the project won vocal support from planning commission members in September. More detailed plans were reviewed today. Any refinements would have to be considered at the next meeting in two weeks. If SomeraRoad’s schematic application is approved, the project would then return to planning commission as early as next month — depending on attendance by enough planning commissioners. If that happens, demolition and construction could follow in the early Spring.

Elevated courtyard in downtown Cleveland apartment building.

This elevated, multi-level courtyard will offer a swimming and outdoor grilling-dining patio with a southern exposure to maximize natural lighting for more apartment units (Desmone).

“Given the great location, proximity to the great sports, entertainment and dining options in downtown Cleveland, we believe a high-quality, mixed-use and residential development would be complementary to our renovation of the historic office building at 1020 Bolivar that we recently completed,” wrote Andrew Donchez, vice president of development at SomeraRoad, in a recent e-mail to NEOtrans.

That office building, the westernmost structure on the site, is a former Ohio Bell Telephone Co. operations building. Later, it was the offices for the Ohio Means Jobs employment agency that moved to 1910 Carnegie Ave. The four-story building, with ground-floor parking, was recently renovated with a modernized lobby, tenant lounge and rooftop deck.

Aerial view looking southerly in downtown Cleveland of SomeraRoad's proposed mixed-use development.

An aerial view of The Apartments at Bolivar looking southwest from the direction of Playhouse Square, toward Progressive Field in the background and the Erie Street Cemetery at the upper left (Desmone).

The 184 apartments SomeraRoad is planning is a slight reduction from their conceptual proposal of 203 units. However, the building’s height is 85 feet above the sidewalk, slightly taller in this schematic design than the 80-foot height from the conceptual plan. The building would be high enough so that the upper floors will have views of baseball games at Progressive Field and of downtown’s central business district nearby.

To achieve the city’s sustainability goals, the developer notes that the project will reuse an existing parking garage and provide a minimum amount of bicycle parking. It will also offer electric vehicle charging stations, green roof areas with native landscaping, reflective white upper roof, daylighting, operable windows and LED lighting.

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