Cleveland’s MLK Plaza redevelopment plans revealed

The 52-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood is due to be demolished for 118 apartments, 24 townhomes and ground-floor retail/commercial spaces at Wade Park Avenue and Crawford Road (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARE THEM.

Project offers 142 residences, 15+ biz spaces

During a rezoning hearing for the redevelopment of Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, 9300 Wade Park Ave. in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, the developer revealed her plans for the site. Those plans show the plaza would be demolished for a sizable, mixed-use development that could provide 142 residential units, both multi-family and single family, plus at least 15 leasable spaces for commercial tenants.

The plans were shared at last week’s City Planning Commission meeting by Gina Merritt, owner of Washington DC-based Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures LLC (NREUV) and founder of Project Community Capital, who also is trying to redevelop the vacant, 10-story, former Kingsbury Apartments into the Ninety-Four Ten Apartments, 9410 Hough Ave. Merritt is partnering with Sullivan Land Services Co. of Galveston, TX on the $45 million project.

But coming first, she said, will be the first phases of the MLK Plaza redevelopment along Wade Park Avenue, west of Crawford Road. Exactly one year ago, Merritt’s affiliate NREUV MLK Plaza, LLC acquired the 1972-built, 90,000-square-foot plaza for $2.75 million, Cuyahoga County records show. The vacant plaza has multiple retail spaces topped by 14 apartments. But its redevelopment is spurred by the booming University Circle a short distance away.

A multiple-phase plan for the site has not yet been submitted for approval to the planning commission’s Design Review Committee. However, a conceptual plan provided to the city shows it could start with a four-story, 54-unit apartment building along Wade Park, plus a 9,000-square-foot food hall market at the corner of Crawford and Wade Park. Two parking lots totaling 57 spaces may be provided behind the first two buildings, in addition to on-street parking.

The next phase could see a four-story, 64-unit apartment building with 6,700-square-foot of ground-floor commercial space built along Crawford with an additional 29 parking spaces behind. In the final phase presented, 24 for-sale two- to three-story townhomes, possibly with a rent-to-own option, are planned between Birchdale and Kenmore avenues, at the end of Blaine Avenue.

This conceptual site plan shows the location of the pair of proposed four-story apartment buildings extending away from a potential food hall market with single-family townhomes at left. At the bottom, at Kenmore Avenue and Crawford is the former Cleveland Public Library’s Hough Branch which may become a part of the development site (NREUV).

Planning commission members unanimously approved a recommendation to City Council to rezone the 4.45-acre MLK Plaza property as well as the adjacent 0.7-acre, former Cleveland Public Library Hough Branch, 1566 Crawford. The library was replaced last year with a new building at 6530 Lexington Ave., near League Park.

The library property will eventually be acquired and incorporated into the redevelopment site although no site plans for that were provided. City Planning Director Joyce Huang said Ward 7 Councilwoman Stephanie Howse Jones is supportive of the rezoning. Planning Commission Chair Lillian Kuri called the proposed development “a great project.”

There are actually four different zoning types within the proposed development site — local retail, general retail, two-family and multi-family with two different height districts allowing buildings from 35 to 60 feet tall. When the MLK and library parcels are consolidated, the most restrictive zoning — two-family — would be applied to the consolidated parcel in the absence of a rezoning.

The proposed zoning is “limited retail business district” with an urban form overlay along a short stretch of Wade Park Avenue west of Crawford where street-facing retail or other commercial spaces will be offered and reduced parking requirements are desired. The overlay allows parking to be reduced by 25 percent. The proposed height district will limit building heights to no more than 60 feet, said Xavier Bay, planning commission’s zoning and technology staffer.

As recommended by the City Planning Commission, the area outlined in yellow in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood is proposed to be rezoned and redeveloped with mixed-use (CPC).

“We decided to go with an urban form overlay because it allows for a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly experience,” Bay said.

Merritt said she became interested in the MLK Plaza after an affiliate of her partners, Sullivan Land Services, acquired in 2021 two vacant parcels across Crawford that extend south of Amwell Avenue between East 93rd and 94th streets to Kenmore Avenue. Multi-family housing is proposed on those lots; they total 1.8 acres.

“We knew we wanted to bring retail back to the space but not in such a robust way but more in a dense, compact and meaningful way,” Merritt said. “So we did a pitch competition last summer and in six weeks, we signed up 52 businesses of color that were interested in being a part of this development.”

She said her company Project Community Capital (PCC) has partnered with Cuyahoga Community College which started an entrepreneurship center. She said PCC, which is an economic empowerment platform, partnered with Tri-C in order to provide support to entrepreneurs. Eventually, she said they’ll select 15 to 16 businesses of color to be part of this development.

“The other piece that’s important to us, the commercial component, is that our goal is to make it a community-owned project so we will be working on setting up a structure that will allow people to purchase shares or earn-in shares so that each year they get to participate, the community gets to participate, in the profits that are thrown off by the commercial component of the project,” Merritt added.

Four different types of zoning and two different height districts are to changed to a limited retail business district with a “two” height district that allows for 60-foot-tall buildings on the rest of the site. Plus, a new urban form overlay along Wade Park Avenue will allow for parking requirements to be reduced by 25 percent (CPC).

Construction of the apartments is dependent on receiving Low Income Housing Tax Credits to make the housing affordable to those earning 80 percent or less of the area’s median household income (AMI). Greater Cleveland’s AMI in 2023, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, was $31,650 for a one-person household or $36,200 for two people.

The added housing units will provide some of the customer base for the new businesses to be included in the MLK Plaza redevelopment. Other customers may come from the existing housing nearby, including the renovated and planned apartment buildings on Ansel Avenue that are one block east.

“We’ve decided to add some multi-family density to be able to support those businesses and create more of a walkable community and then as the architects will show you then we also added a single-family home component,” Merritt said. “Our intent is to make those for-sale but we’re also thinking about a program that allows people to rent to buy because we know that lots of people want to be homeowners and cannot be.”

“And part of our platform Project Community Capital really helps people from zero to homeownership,” she added. “So it will provide all kinds of programming and supports to help people improve their economics by way of owning their own business or getting a better job so that they can eventually have the American dream and own a home.”


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