City picks Watterson-Lake developer

An example of affordable housing built by a real estate firm selected by the city to develop the Watterson-Lake School site. The project shown here is the 36-unit Miller Street Apartments in Pittsburgh that includes a supportive services program (RDL). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

West-side school site to be affordable housing

Following a request for proposals (RFP) process, the city of Cleveland officials selected Bridging the Gap LLC, a minority business enterprise and real estate developer from Pittsburgh, to redevelop the former Watterson-Lake School site in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. New to the Cleveland market, Bridging the Gap has a portfolio of major renovation and new construction projects, including multi-family housing, mixed use, industrial, retail and office space. But this site is likely to be developed with affordable apartments, probably with a ground-floor retail space based on the site’s zoning.

Bridging the Gap will partner with local firms and the community in creating a once-in-a-generation project that will benefit all stakeholders. The significant size of the 2-acre that’s site located at 1422 W. 74th St., its prominent placement at the intersection of Detroit and Lake avenues, and public control of the site all contribute to the unique nature of this opportunity, city officials said.

The probable land uses are based on pending funding applications and the site’s zoning. It is in a pedestrian-retail district, requiring a ground-floor commercial or retail use fronting the sidewalk and facing Detroit Avenue. The city is engaged in providing technical assistance to the developer, while negotiating the terms, timeline and milestones that will govern the project, and allowing the developer to prepare for the upcoming Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) round. Bridging the Gap’s full proposal will be released once the development plan is finalized and approved by the Department of Community Development. Additional community engagement is anticipated later in the year.

“We were impressed with the creative and innovative designs and the level of proactivity, outreach, and flexibility Bridging the Gap provided in their proposal and presentation,” said Cleveland’s Director of Community Development Alyssa Hernandez in a written statement. “They came with both an architectural team and a lending team to present their project to the city and have already started the process of making connections to learn all they can about the local development ecosystem — all indicators of a successful project.”

North is at the left in this parcel map of the area surrounding the intersection of Detroit and Lake avenues. The 2-acre Watterson-Lake School site is outlined in blue. Additional development sites are nearby (City Planning Commission).

Bridging the Gap is participating in Equitable Path Forward, Enterprise Community Partners’ five-year, $3.5 billion initiative to counter racial inequities in housing. Through extensive pre-project engagement, community members made it clear that they deeply care about creating a neighborhood that is accessible and welcoming to a diverse mix of residents, both racially and economically.

This overarching value was clear in design suggestions ranging from the strong emphasis on maintaining public access to the site, incorporating family-friendly intergenerational play spaces, creating connectivity between the eastern and western edges of the site, and requiring affordability as part of the development.

“Community feedback and engagement around what role this site will play over the next century was critical to this process and has been a guiding force in our selection of a developer,” said Ward 15 Councilmember Jenny Spencer. “I am grateful to all who participated in surveys, pop-ups and community meetings. We believe that your voices are well represented in the winning proposal.”

Last year, Spencer allocated $12,000 in Casino Revenue Funds to support a community engagement process resulting in the Watterson-Lake Site Engagement Report. The report was included in the RFP released earlier this year. Other properties nearby are available, too. Across the Detroit-Lake intersection, a 1.25-acre site on which a closed Burger King sets has been of interest to potential developers. While a Rochester, NY developer had a purchase agreement for the property in 2021, the deal soon fell through.

The original, historic Watterson-Lake School was built in 1912 on Detroit at West 74th. In 2015, the historic building was abated and demolished by Cleveland Metropolitan School District due to severe disrepair and the presence of asbestos. The modern elementary school building behind it, built in 1970 but closed in 2019, was demolished in August of this year.


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