Library Lofts: on time despite appearances

Library Lofts is two buildings in one — a nine-story apartment building atop a two-story library, each with separate owners. The complicated coordination between owners is one of the apparent causes of the slow pace of construction. This photo was taken on April 9, 2023. Compare it with the photo below from more than six months ago on Sept. 30, 2022 (Gruver). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Project is key to unlocking next Circle Square phases

Last September, construction crews in Cleveland’s University Circle appeared to be close to topping off a cast-in-place concrete podium within which a new, two-story Martin Luther King Jr. Branch Library will be built and, on top of that a nine-story apartment building will rise. In the six and a half months since, one full story has been added to the podium. And, according to the project’s development team, you won’t see new stories added above it until mid-summer. By just about anyone’s book, that’s a long time getting through a story.

But this isn’t a common tale nor is it a common library project. Library Lofts, 10555 Euclid Ave., is actually three major construction contracts in one building that has two owners. One owner is the Cleveland Public Library (CPL). The other is Midwest Development Partners (MDP). CPL is building the two-story library and, using air rights, MDP is constructing the 207-unit, market-rate apartment building above it. The library and the apartment building represent two separate construction contracts.

The third construction contract is what has been built so far — the cast-in-place concrete podium jointly developed by both CPL and MDP. It is what you see on site right now, just south of University Circle’s newest and tallest skyscraper — the 24-story Artisan Apartments, 10600 Chester Ave., now accepting tenants. As part of the massive Circle Square development, The Artisan started construction in spring 2021 and was built by Power Construction, the same Chicago-based general contractor that’s building the podium and library although the Artisan’s developer is different. The Artisan’s developer is White Oak Realty Partners, another Chicago company. The general contractor for the apartments is Cleveland-based Panzica Construction.

While it looks like Library Lofts’ second floor was about to be added on Sept. 30, 2022, that’s actually the third floor, set 29 feet above the first floor. The second floor will be inserted by the library soon. The third floor and other features within this cast-in-place concrete podium were built over the past year. The tower crane is for the glassy, 24-story Artisan Apartments behind. The crane was removed shortly after this photo was taken (Noah Belli).

Construction of Library Lofts’ three-story, reinforced concrete podium started one year ago and, according to CPL Chief Operating Officer John Lang plus MDP Principal Steve Rubin, the project remains on schedule to be finished by the end of spring 2024.

“We are pleased with the current rate of progress on the project,” Lang said. “There’s a lot of moving parts so, yes, it’s a complex project but it’s an exciting project.”

He said that work on the podium was finished last week. Next week, crews will begin pouring a concrete slab that will serve as the first floor of the library. Then, CPL will begin work on what Lang calls “infilling” the 27,000-square-foot MLK Branch Library into the 29-foot-high open space including inserting the second floor. That floor will mostly be a mezzanine that is open at the center to the first floor below. Above will be a skylight in a light well in the east side of the apartment building yet to come. Work on the library and the apartments will happen simultaneously and more quickly, he said.

If you click on this image, enlarge it even further in a new tab and read the fine print, the last words for each element of Library Lofts’ podium identifies who is responsible for building what. Even on the second floor, which is to be built for Cleveland Public Library use only, it has features that are the responsibility of “Lofts,” a reference to the nine-story apartment building to be constructed by Midwest Development Partners (Bialosky).

Rubin said a tower crane will be installed by mid-summer to help construct the apartment building. According to plans submitted to the city, that structure will be built using Cold-Formed Steel Framing (CFSF) flooring systems and load-bearing walls, much of which is pre-fabricated in sections prior to installation. For that reason, the apartment portion that is MDP’s responsibility will likely rise quickly — probably taking about four months. The CFSF method of construction was used for The Edge, 1750 Euclid Ave., and Church+State, 1436 Church Ave., both featuring 11-story buildings.

“Construction is ongoing on the Library Lofts and hasn’t stopped,” Rubin said. “Construction is being carefully coordinated with the library.”

The project’s complexity is the price each owner is paying to share construction costs with the other. For MDP, the contract cost for construction of the nine-story apartment building is $42,203,899, according to an Oct. 27, 2022 letter to Cleveland’s Building Department by Eric Ruck, project manager for Power Construction. One year ago, Lang estimated the construction cost of the library was $19.9 million, an increase over the previous budget of $15.3 million.

And if the previous diagrams weren’t complicated enough, this matrix of responsibilities sheds more light on the complexity of the Library Lofts project. The X’s in the columns show what are the responsibilities of Cleveland Public Library (CPL) and Midwest Development Partners (MDP). This matrix was included amongst thousands of pages of documents submitted to the city to secure a building permit (Bialosky).

CPL had to amend its capital budget to account for the construction cost increases resulting from inflation. Funding for the new MLK Branch Library is coming from a 2017 voter-approved 10-year, $100 million-plus bond issue to replace or rebuild all 27 neighborhood branches, followed by a $65 million renovation of the Main Library downtown.

MDP is buying CPL’s existing, 1970-built MLK Branch Library, 1962 Stokes Blvd., for $5.2 million. Once the new MLK Branch opens next year, the old one will be demolished. In its place MDP will expand the retail level of The Artisan apartments southward to abut a rebuilt Reserve Court alley, Rubin said. On top of that expanded retail podium, MDP anticipates constructing a 125-room hotel. In December 2022, MDP received for its Circle Square district $8 million in state tax credits from the Transformational Mixed Use Development program. The program is intended to help move complex, costly, mostly urban megaprojects forward.

Once the west side of Stokes is completed, MDP and potentially additional joint development partners will pursue the expansion of Circle Square to the east side of Stokes. There, another apartment tower on Chester like The Artisan is planned, along with an office building on Euclid and a parking deck lined with ground-floor retail in between. Rubin said MDP is already in talks with potential joint development partners about the future phases of Circle Square. Once completed, Circle Square is envisioned to feature more than 1 million square feet of new buildings representing an investment of more than $417 million.


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