Cuyahoga County nears a courthouse decision

The last time Cuyahoga County went through a major, open-ended real estate request for proposals process like the Consolidated Courthouse RFP, it resulted in a new county administrative office building and a mixed-use tower renovation. In this case, the county sold the tower to Geis Companies and is leasing its offices from Geis with an option to buy (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Time may not be on renovation’s side


Cuyahoga County and its real estate consultant are getting closer to making a recommendation for a Consolidated Courthouse proposal in downtown Cleveland. NEOtrans has learned that one or more proposals were eliminated from further consideration in part because the timeline for delivering a new or renovated/expanded courthouse facility is apparently an overriding factor for county officials. In this era of high construction costs, the aphorism “time is money” couldn’t be more true.

Cuyahoga County and its consultant CBRE Group issued in July 2023 a request for proposals to build a new Consolidated Courthouse downtown or renovate/expand the existing courthouse tower, 1200 Ontario St. In December, the Cuyahoga County Council approved extending a countywide sales tax to pay for the downtown courthouse project as well as to build a new jail campus in Garfield Heights.

Seven development teams submitted courthouse proposals. DBL Development LLC proposed at least a partial redevelopment of the Justice Center campus. DMD Development Group sought remaking the campus as a collection of replica historic buildings from Cleveland’s past. HH Cleveland Huntington LP (aka Millennia Companies) offered 925 Euclid Ave. as the new courthouse site.

Lincoln Property Company and U.S. Realty Advisors both apparently proposed building/renovating and leasing back a courthouse. Sapphire Acquisitions LLC (aka Bedrock Real Estate) offered to convert Sherwin-Williams’ old HQ at 101 W. Prospect Ave. And, Twenty-One Six Development LLC (aka TurnDev) proposed building a new courthouse between West 3rd and 9th streets. The Consolidated Courthouse could cost $400 million to $700 million to build or renovate.

DMD Development Group’s proposal to construct replica buildings from Cleveland’s past on the 7-acre Justice Center campus site was reportedly eliminated from further consideration by Cuyahoga County and CBRE. A major reason for its rejection was the long timeline of having to wait up to six years for the new jail campus to be built in Garfield Heights and the old jails demolition before new courthouse facilities in the form of replica historic buildings could be built (DMD).

Construction cost inflation and an expedited construction timeline appear to be two intertwined and compelling factors that are causing the county to discount courthouse proposals that involve building new structures on at least part of the current 7-acre Justice Center site. Such proposals require waiting on the construction of a new police headquarters and, especially, new jail facilities followed by demolition of the old structures.

The new county jail campus in Garfield Heights is estimated to take $750 million and up to six years to construct. The time necessary to wait before the existing jail structures can be demolished has caused at least one proposal to be eliminated from further consideration. That proposal, by DMD Development Group, involved demolishing all structures at the current Justice Center site.

Speaking to NEOtrans on the condition of anonymity, a source said DMD’s proposal could no longer be considered because the Consolidated Courthouse project’s timeline was of such critical importance to the county and CBRE. The source said DMD would try to amend its proposal to include a development site not on the Justice Center campus.

CBRE’s point man on the courthouse RFP is Senior Vice President Ryan Jeffers. He deferred questions about when a decision may be made on the courthouse proposals to county Communications Director Kelly Woodard. She replied in an e-mail to NEOtrans with “Cuyahoga County is currently evaluating all proposals to find the best solution for the County Courts and Justice Center. While we work through our RFP process, we will not be commenting on submissions.”

The time involved in needing to build a new jail complex before demolishing the old has eliminated from further consideration at least one proposal for building a new Consolidated Courthouse. But that doesn’t mean that all proposals for keeping the courthouse at the existing Justice Center complex, seen here, have been eliminated (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

In the absence of any details about the Lincoln Property and U.S. Realty Advisors proposals, it appears only one applicant proposed a new-build courthouse at a new location away from the existing Justice Center campus. That applicant was Twenty-One Six Development/TurnDev. Jon Pinney, managing partner at TurnDev, referred inquiries about the Consolidated Courthouse to CBRE and the county.

But not everyone agrees that a site away from the current campus has an edge. Another courthouse applicant says building on the current campus will save on property acquisition costs. And the current 293,197 square-foot police headquarters building and its roughly 1-acre site could become available much sooner than the larger, existing jail site.

The police headquarters will move to the ArtCraft Building, 2530 Superior Ave. after that 104-year-old, 250,000-square-foot building is renovated. Work is due to be completed in September 2025, according to a construction timeline provided by the city. Afterward, demolition or renovation could commence on the current police HQ building, 1300 Ontario St.

If the current police HQ is renovated and its floorspace is added to the adjacent, existing, 675,887-square-foot courthouse tower, it would measure in total 969,084 square feet. That would more than satisfy the county’s Consolidated Courthouse usable space requirements of 893,120 square feet. Another upside is that no new structures would have to be built.

In this unofficial massing — a rendering intended to show scale, not design — the old courthouse tower is renovated for a new use with the rest of the Justice Center campus demolished for new buildings. One proposal submitted to the county may involve such a scenario (Ian McDaniel).

The downside is that most court functions would have to move twice to accommodate a renovation of the 1977-built, 26-story courthouse tower. Another downside, according to multiple real estate insiders, is that the tower wasn’t built well and may need to be stripped down to its girders for a proper albeit costly renovation.

In its requests for proposals from the private sector, one offered selling the 7-acre Justice Center campus that includes the courthouse tower, atrium, two jail blocks, the Cleveland Police Division headquarters, underground parking as well as the nearby, historic Courthouse Square building, 310 W. Lakeside Ave. That sale could be associated with a renovated/expanded courthouse or to redevelop the site with other uses including possible convention-related facilities, the source said.

Two real estate insiders questioned the pair of applications that involve renovating historic buildings away from the Justice Center campus. They doubted whether the 900,000-square-foot old Sherwin Williams HQ and the 1.4-million-square-foot former Union Trust Bank Building would convert well for courthouse uses due to their low ceilings and many vertical structural supports. Although both structures are sufficiently large enough and have spacious, ornate lobbies that look like classic courthouse atriums.

Inquires to Lora Brand, vice president of communications at Bedrock, owner of the old Sherwin-Williams HQ, and to Tom Mignogna, vice president at Millennia Companies, owner of the Union Trust Building, were not responded to prior to publication of this article.


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