Circle Square: looking ahead

This official, conceptual massing is based on the city-approved masterplan for Circle Square along Stokes Boulevard in Cleveland’s University Circle. The nearest buildings are part of phase two which is already in the works (Bialosky). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Retail, hotel are next; phase 2 follows

When Circle Square won a megaprojects tax credit earlier this month from the state, it helped set the financial foundations for the next structures in the massive undertaking in Cleveland’s University Circle. Already, Circle Square’s developers have forever changed the skyline of Cleveland’s second downtown. But more is about to come along Stokes Boulevard, between Euclid and Chester avenues.

Circle Square is one of the largest, multi-structure developments in Cleveland history and intends to capitalize on the booming growth of the University Circle area. With a construction cost estimated at nearly $417 million and more than 1 million square feet of new buildings on 4.5 acres, it will restore a walkable, urban center in the heart of this historic neighborhood. Upon completion, the project will include approximately 505 residential apartments, 36,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a 125-room hotel, parking, and the new 27,000-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. public library. The project is expected to create more than 200 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs.

The lead developer of Circle Square, Midwest Development Partners (MDP) of Cleveland, has already produced in partnership with White Oak Realty Partners of Chicago the tallest building in University Circle — The Artisan, 10600 Chester Ave. This 24-story, 298-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail has topped out at 250 feet, surpassing the district’s prior height champion, the nearby, 20-story, 234-foot-tall One University Circle apartment tower, 10730 Euclid Ave. The Artisan replaced a district police station that had been on that site for 50 years. It is due to open in the second quarter of 2023.

Circle Square site plan showing how buildings would be used on their upper levels, above retail and parking (Bialosky).

But what happens next is a real estate version of a sliding puzzle. The MLK Library’s parking lot was temporarily moved to the east side of Stokes Boulevard. Construction is well-underway on the second building in Circle Square, the 11-story Library Lofts, 10555 Euclid, which is technically considered as two buildings — a new two-story Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Branch of the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) topped by nine stories of 207 market-rate apartments. MDP has an air-rights agreement with the library system to build above the new MLK branch. Construction on both elements of Library Lofts are due to be completed in about one year.

“Library Lofts and the new MLK library will be done around the same time,” said MDP Principal Steve Rubin in a recent phone interview. “Once the library is done and the library is moved in, we’ll demolish the old library.”

MDP has a purchase agreement with CPL to acquire the existing, 1970-built MLK Branch and its half-acre parcel of land at 1962 Stokes Blvd. for $5.2 million. Once demolished, it will create a C shape of buildings, as viewed from above, in the phase-one block of Circle Square west of Stokes. The buildings populating that C shape are The Artisan at the top, a two-way ramp parking garage to the west, Library Lofts at lower left and the 1923-built Fenway Manor senior apartments at the bottom. The 142-unit, 13-story Fenway Manor, 1986 Stokes, was renovated in 2019 by Orleans Co. for $25 million.

The west side of Stokes Boulevard north of Euclid Avenue shows Fenway Manor at left, the soon-to-be demolished MLK Branch Library, and the nearly finished Artisan apartments tower (KJP).

“We’re building from the edges in,” Rubin said. “The library is an important community asset. Keeping it open and accessible during construction is a promise we’re keeping to the community. Once the library moves, we basically have the middle of the C-shaped space, what we call the infill space, to connect everything from The Artisan to the (new) library and Library Lofts to Fenway (Manor).”

That’s where an $8 million Transformational Mixed Use Development (TMUD) tax credit from the Ohio Department of Development comes in. The Circle Square development won the TMUD credit Dec. 7 based on the totality of connected buildings. The credit will help finance a retail podium where the existing library now stands. That podium will actually be a southward extension of a ground-floor retail space in The Artisan and will support the construction of more parking and the 125-room, potentially 10- to 15-story hotel above it.

“Our hope is to create an urban-style main street (on Stokes) with shops on the ground floor with parking and a podium above for buildings on the block west of Stokes,” Rubin added.

Proposed ground-floor uses in Circle Square’s development masterplan (Bialosky).

That work won’t start until after the library moves next door, sometime in early 2024. But when it does, that hotel-over-podium of parking and retail will complete the structural part of phase one, located west of Stokes. There is also a significant street realignment and streetscape element to complete, which is already underway on Chester in front of The Artisan.

“That work will continue from now and be done in the spring,” Rubin said of the streetscape on Chester. “The real main-street feel will be on Stokes. We’re working with the city on getting rid of the turning lanes to create right-angled intersections on Stokes. But that will be done last due to ongoing Circle Square construction.”

Having the right-angled intersections on Stokes will slow traffic and create a safer environment for pedestrians. Also getting rid of the turning lanes from Chester to MLK Boulevard will create a larger development site for phase two of Circle Square on the east side of Stokes.

In a scene from early December on Euclid Avenue, construction of Library Lofts and new MLK Branch Library was well underway, as was the reverse-ramp parking garage just beyond. The Artisan stands tall in the background. The parking lot in the foreground will be replaced by a public garden (KJP).

The land area for phase two is just under 1.5 acres, or roughly half that of phase one. In that smaller parcel will be another apartment tower on Chester, a high-rise office building on Euclid and a parking deck in between them with ground-floor retail spaces along the Stokes side. And while the first phase is several years from being done, Rubin says MDP is already making behind-the-scenes progress on phase two, including talking to another joint venture partner. Joint ventures are what made both The Artisan and Library Lofts possible.

“We’re undecided on adding JV (joint-venture) partners,” Rubin explained. “We’re talking to people now about it but it remains to be seen on how a deal gets structured. One has a leg up on who we’d like to develop with. We’re also trying to lure an office tenant there (to phase two) with the right tenant mix,” Rubin explained.”

No details are yet available on the design of buildings or tenants for phase two. A Circle Square masterplan approved by the City Planning Commission in 2020 shows the Chester apartment building to be of comparable height to The Artisan. And a curving office building next to where the old traffic circle was on Euclid at MLK Boulevard is shown on the masterplan as a roughly 15-story structure. Potential tenants and available financing will determine the actual height.


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