Flats apartment project wins BZA nod

Tagged with graffiti and neglected, the former Left Bank Apartments await it renovation into The Apollo apartments.

Run-down and neglected for years, the former Left Bank Apartments on the West Bank of the Flats will be renovated into the Apollo Apartments by a Cleveland-based developer after it received a parking variance from the city (CPC). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Renovation of riverside buildings clears another hurdle

A proposed renovation of two historic, decayed buildings in the Flats cleared another hurdle yesterday when Cleveland’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) unanimously approved a variance from having to strictly adhere to parking requirements in the city’s building code.

Apt Development Group LLC of Cleveland is seeking to renovate two connected buildings at 1250 Riverbed St. on the West Bank into 70 market-rate apartments. To be called The Apollo, the apartment complex will feature small units ranging from 417 to 673 square feet.

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There will be a rooftop deck, a sixth-floor leasing office as well as a landscaped outdoor lounge space below one of the remaining arches of the adjacent, 1878-built Superior Viaduct. The viaduct has been the subject of occasional discussions of activating more of its roadway deck as a public space like the High Line in New York City. The site overlooks the Cuyahoga River and the downtown skyline beyond.

Plans for renovating the buildings with apartments received schematic design approval from the City Planning Commission last August. Final approval will be pursued at an upcoming commission meeting.

Designs for the proposed Apollo Apartments in the Flats West Bank.

View of the to-be-renovated Apollo Apartments as seen from the north with the Superior Viaduct in the foreground. Under the left arch of the viaduct, a public space and walkway for residents to reach the 30 leased parking spaces will be provided (RDL).

The variance was sought because the buildings, totaling nearly 48,868 square feet, fill out the tiny 0.256-acre parcel and have no room for onsite parking. For buildings of that size, at least 18 parking spaces are required under the city’s code. Redevelopment of the building could not proceed without the parking spaces added to the parcel or a variance to relieve the property owner from having to provide them.

Thus, Apt Development Group, led by its President and CEO Mike Apt, sought the parking variance and made a lease arrangement with Jeff Jacobs’ Nautica Entertainment Inc. to provide 18 parking spaces as of March 1 less than a block away at 1280 Elm St. That will increase to 30 spaces as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Nautica Entertainment owns the neighboring FirstEnergy Powerhouse and the Jacobs Pavilion. The latter is to be renovated in the coming months. Nautica owns other parking lots with spaces for hundreds of cars. Some of those lots or their development air rights above them have been listed for sale for a couple of years.

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According to lease documents shared with the city, the parking lease for this year incurs a cost of $70 per vehicle per month to Apt Development Group or as much as $12,600 for all 18 spaces over the rest of the year. Next year, that amount goes up to $85 for 30 spaces, or as much as $30,600. The lease is part of a five-year parking license that can be extended annually for up to 10 one-year periods to Dec. 31, 2036. Access to the parking lot will be controlled by parking cards given to Apollo apartment residents.

Outdoor lounge space below the arch of the old Superior Viaduct, looking south.

A view of the proposed resident outdoor lounge and walkway under the Superior Viaduct arch, leading to the Apollo Apartments’ leased parking spaces less than a block away on Elm Street (RDL).

Project architect Ron Tannenbaum of Shaker Heights-based RDL Architects Inc. said the developer has also had discussion with the city over dedicating the 18 street spaces in front of the buildings on Riverbed to this development. But since that agreement hasn’t been finalized, Tannenbaum said the developer didn’t want to include it in the parking space count.

“We believe the project will significantly improve the building and bring 70 upscale, market-rate residences to the area and retain the unique character of a building which we feel represents the history of this community,” Tannenbaum said at yesterday’s BZA hearing.

He also said Apt Development Group has retained a lease from the city for the underside of Superior Viaduct to create a community space for the residents to have as an outdoor lounge. That will also serve as a walkway to the leased parking spaces on Elm.

Apt did not wish to comment on the BZA vote. However, his firm’s legal counsel, former Cleveland City Council president and mayoral candidate Kevin Kelley, who now works for Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, did speak.

Outdoor lounge space below the arch of the old Superior Viaduct, looking north.

A view looking north from the planned Apollo Apartments at the proposed resident outdoor lounge area below the Superior Viaduct that will lead to the parking area (RDL).

“I’ve spoken with Councilman McCormack who is in full support of this project,” Kelley said. “It’s a great opportunity to take an otherwise vacant property and make something great out of it. The (parking) lease that has been signed satisfies the requirement that’s being requested.”

McCormack didn’t respond to a text message prior to publication of this article. Kelley also noted that the 18 on-street parking spaces in front of the buildings aren’t being used. He said neither the city nor the property owner have plowed that part of Riverbed this winter despite two major snowstorms of more than a foot of snow each.

“As a former resident of the West Bank of the Flats, I’m glad to see something happening with this building,” said BZA Chair Kelley Britt.

Chief City Planner Maurice Ruelens, who has been at the City Planning Commission for 33 years, said he’s been working with various Flats interests to get that building redeveloped ever since he first started working at the commission.

Views of downtown and the river will be enjoyed from the rooftop deck of the Apollo apartments in the Flats.

A rooftop deck is planned atop the four-story building of the Apollo Apartments. This view looks south across the Cuyahoga River towards the Detroit-Superior Bridge and downtown Cleveland (RDL).

“City Planning is very happy to see this building renovated and brought back to life,” Ruelens said. “I don’t know that we would have supported it without some parking and they have gone way above and beyond and provided 30 spots over in the Nautica lot where they only really needed 18. Other than on really, really busy nights when there may be an event at Nautica stage (Jacobs Pavilion), that lot is generally not anywhere near capacity.”

The four-story building measures 32,608 square feet and was built in 1917. The six-story building was built in 1912 and measures 16,260 square feet. Over the decades, the buildings have been used for light industry, storage, offices, apartments, artists lofts and ground-floor nightclub. The property was rezoned in 2020 with limited retail and an urban form overlay, according to city records.

There have been numerous recent attempts to redevelop the property, including a proposed 14- to 16-story vertical addition to the historic buildings that would have required cantilevering the new building over the old. The previous owner, ME Real Estate, let the property fall into disrepair and reportedly would not sell it for less than $2.6 million, a source said. No sale amount has been publicly revealed by either party.

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