The Cleveland Browns’ CrossCountry Campus in suburban Berea is almost set to expand. This view from August 2021 looks south down Pearl Street from Lou Groza Boulevard. One of the few houses still standing in the way of the campus expansion and associated mixed-use development is seen at right (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
Browns’ “Exciting opportunity” may grow to 40-acre site
As the Cleveland Browns and their owners continue to acquire more property this month in suburban Berea, its mayor recently teased news of their potential, still-secret development to occupy that land as an “exciting opportunity” for the community. Meanwhile the city approved the demolition of eight more houses just west of the Browns’ existing headquarters and practice facility. That’s in addition to 24 homes and a church leveled so far for what sources said would be a mixed-use development featuring a hotel, Browns- and football-themed restaurants and shops, plus sports and recreation facilities open to the public year-round.
Based on land acquired so far by the city and affiliates of the Browns’ owners, the Haslam Sports Group, the National Football League franchise’s 18-acre CrossCountry Mortgage Campus is likely to double in size. The existing campus is located at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. For now, the land under the control of the city and Browns total 34 acres and could soon grow by another 6 acres.
“I can’t expound on the details at this time, but the opportunity is exciting,” Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem said on social media recently. The mayor’s Administrator of Community Affairs Guy Turner said yesterday there are no updates to publicly share yet since the mayor shared those teasing comments in September and no development plans have been submitted to the Planning Commission yet.
After NEOtrans broke news of this story in April, the Browns’ new acquisitions of small parcels hosting single-family homes on Front, Pearl and Columbus streets plus Second Avenue, are surrounding the properties of Fastener Industries Inc., doing business as the Ohio Nut and Bolt Co., 33 Lou Groza, and the Serpentini Collision Center, 520 Front. There are hints that both of those properties are in play for the Browns as well and could bring the total size of its development site to a whopping 40 acres.
In August, Fastener Industries switched its statutory agent to the same company used by the Cleveland Browns Football Co. as its agent — CT Corporation System of Columbus. Companies often switch agents when they are sold. And entity sales are sometimes favored as a way of acquiring property because it masks the transfer and offers tax advantages over direct property transactions. Next, Serpentini is set on land acquired in January by Front Street Realty, an affiliate of Serpentini Chevrolet of Strongsville. Three months earlier, Serpentini announced it will relocate its Berea collision center to 6679-6689 Engle Rd. in Middleburg Heights.
Map of the area in the Cleveland suburb of Berea in which the Cleveland Browns are acquiring property for the expansion of its headquarters, practice facilities and possible associated mixed-use developments including retail, hospitality, wellness and possibility residential (myplace.cuyahogacounty.us).
Cleveland Browns and Haslam Sports Group spokesman Peter John-Baptiste did not respond to an e-mail from NEOtrans seeking comment and more information for this article. An e-mail sent to a general mailbox for Fastener Industries was not responded to prior to publication of this article. Jeanine Hein, Serpentini’s general manager and agent for Front Street Realty, also did not respond.
On Sept. 21, the Berea Municipal Planning Commission approved the demolition of eight more houses on Pearl and Second. The houses will be razed by Independence Demolition, a DiGeronimo company. An affiliate of the DiGeronimo Companies is developing the Valor Acres mixed-use development in suburban Brecksville with corporate offices, apartments and shops.
The doomed houses in Berea are on lands that were acquired by Rental Acquisitions LLC, one of three affiliates of the Browns and their owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam that are buying land in Berea. The other Browns/Haslam affiliates buying up land are SAM Enterprises LLC and Sam Enterprises I LLC. The second affiliate bought a large parcel in 2020 bounded by Front, Columbus and Depot streets, according to Cuyahoga County property records.
What’s notable about that and two property acquisitions by the Browns since early July is that they are on the west side of Front. The existing Browns HQ/practice facility and a bulk of their land buys are on the east side of Front. Also known as State Route 237, Front is the major north-side street through Berea and is a direct link to the Berea Freeway and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The property acquisitions west of Front suggest that the Browns want their expanded practice facility and supportive development to serve as a gateway of sorts from the rest of Greater Cleveland and the airport into Berea.
On Sept. 11, Mayor Kleem sent a memo to City Council members regarding his administration’s efforts to improve several of the community’s public facilities. Yesterday, NEOtrans secured a copy of the memo through a public records request. In the memo, Kleem said the city’s three primary areas of focus are to improve and expand the police and fire stations, and build a new recreation and community center plus related recreational amenities that would include community-oriented programming like field space.
In a scene from last April, nearly all of the homes along Pearl Street in Berea have been acquired and demolished by the Cleveland Browns. Looking north, two houses visible in the background are still standing. But the corner of another house, seen at the far-left edge, on Second Avenue is one of eight more houses approved by the city in September for demolition (KJP)
“We are exploring this option in affiliation with the Cleveland Browns as they prepare for a significant and transformative mixed-use development near their current headquarters,” Kleem wrote in the memo. “Working with the Cleveland Browns may provide the city of Berea opportunities for necessary recreational and social amenities that we would not have on our own. We are making plans far in advance, even though development projects go through an extensive approval process, typically involving plan review and approvals from the Planning Commission — and, when necessary, City Council.”
Possible insight into what the Browns have in mind can be gained by looking at what other professional football teams are developing around their headquarters and/or practice facilities. NFL owners are very competitive and want the same or better facilities that their competitors offer. At their offices/practice facilities, teams are building outdoor practice fields, hospitality clubs, wellness spas, clinics, eSports gaming and content studios, media centers, luxury apartment buildings, hotels, co-working spaces, restaurants and shops. Some of them include athletic venues with bleachers to host local and regional football, soccer and other sporting events.
Over the last several years, the Haslams, through their corporate affiliates, have been buying dozens of properties. The number of properties to be acquired was reported by other local news media two years ago to be 19 parcels, comprised of 18 homes and one church on Second Avenue, Pearl and Beech streets. The houses and Mount Zion Baptist Church were demolished and a new church built at 200 Mt. Zion Way, off Emerson Avenue, at the Haslams’ expense.
That leaves only three properties to be acquired in the core area of campus expansion, between the Browns’ facility and Front Street. And after this latest round of demolitions, just two houses will be left standing on the northern block east of Front and north of Second, with just one house left on the Serpentini block south of Second. No houses are left standing immediately adjacent to the Browns’ facility along Pearl.
With the mayor noting that the Browns’ campus expansion will have community facilities available, the project takes on a public use which could make it eligible for the application of eminent domain to secure land, should any property owners be unwilling to sell. But Turner as well as Ward Four Councilwoman Erika Coble, a member of the Community Reinvestment Area Housing Council, said they have not heard of the Browns asking the city to use eminent domain.