Browns continue to add land in Berea

Either an affiliate of the Cleveland Browns or the city of Berea own all of the land visible on the right side of Front Street including the former Serpentini Collision Center until reaching north to Lou Groza Boulevard, marked by the traffic signal in the distance. Both the Browns and the city also own much of the land on the other side of the street, including the last house on the left. In their place, the Browns’ owners plan to construct a large, mixed-use development (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Mixed-use development planned at Browns’ HQ

Property acquisitions in the Cleveland suburb of Berea appear to be nearly wrapped up for a large, mixed-use development featuring an expanded headquarters for the Cleveland Browns and its ownership, the Haslam Sports Group. Only one or two homes need to be acquired to make way for a new headquarters office building, the professional football team’s practice facility, hotel, shops, restaurants and community recreation facilities, first reported by NEOtrans.

While the Browns’ owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have been mum on their plans regarding their Berea development, Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem said in his annual State of the City speech, reported in the suburb’s March newsletter, that the team has talked to him about a mixed-use development of properties it has acquired primarily between Pearl and Front streets, south of Lou Groza Boulevard. Front is the main north-south street through Berea.

To the east of Pearl, the Browns’ Cross Country Mortgage Campus sets on more than 18 acres of city-owned land. To the west of Pearl, the city and the Browns are nearly done acquiring and leveling a neighborhood of century-plus-old homes, businesses and a church that brings the Browns’ development site to nearly 40 acres.

“The team has bought up dozens of homes in the Pearl Street neighborhood with the goal of redevelopment,” the city’s newsletter noted. “The city is looking at renovating or building a new Recreation Center. That could be part of the Browns plans, too. The mayor said the team is talking about a mixed-use development of the Pearl Street property and that might include a new Recreation Center for Berea.”

“We’re a long way from that,” said Mayor Kleem at his State of the City speech given Feb. 13 at a senior lunch at St. Paul Lutheran Church. “I don’t have all the details yet. But the Browns have a lease on the training facility until 2039.”

NEOtrans asked Kleem by e-mail if there was any update on the Berea development since his state of the city speech but he has yet to respond.

An updated map showing the parcels of land owned by the city of Berea and affiliates of the Cleveland Browns, plus what may be the last parcel to be acquired for the Browns’ proposed mixed-use development (, KJP).

The Brown’s Berea development is apparently separate from another property acquisition being pursued by the Haslams, as first reported by NEOtrans. In the neighboring suburb of Brook Park, the Haslams reportedly have a purchase agreement for 176 acres of land off Snow Road.

The purpose of this potential transaction is unknown. It may be for a new stadium, it may be part of a land swap for a new stadium or it may simply be used as leverage to get a better cost-sharing deal with the city of Cleveland for the renovation of the existing Cleveland Browns Stadium on the downtown lakefront.

In Berea, the largest single property acquisition for the Browns’ redevelopment plans came in December 2023 and hasn’t been reported elsewhere until now. Browns’ affiliate Rental Acquisitions LLC took title to 3 acres of land owned and used by the Serpentini Collision Center, 520 Front. It was acquired by quit-claim deed so no sales price was publicly listed. However the county appraised the property and its 1952-built structure in 2023 at $1,026,200 for tax purposes.

The Serpentini Collision Center has already relocated to 6679-6689 Engle Rd. in Middleburg Heights. The collision center on Front was a Serpentini Chevrolet dealership until it moved to Strongsville. Before it was Serpentini, the car dealership was Merrick Chevrolet, started in 1915 by C.E. Merrick, who originally sold horse-drawn carriages. The north end of Front to Rocky River Drive had a row of car dealerships including Williams Ford, Toth Buick, and nearly two dozen others in the mid-20th century.

A lone property holdout for the Browns’ Berea project appears to be at 599 Pearl — a 1,578-square-foot house built in 1883 and owned by 98-year-old Bernice Bass Richardson, according to Cuyahoga County property records and the Ohio Residents Database. Her late husband Nathaniel was apparently a big Browns fan, according to a comment on his 2007 obituary. NEOtrans has made several calls to the house with no answer.

The 141-year-old home of Bernice Richardson, 599 Pearl St., is increasingly lonely as all of the neighboring homes are being demolished for the Cleveland Browns’ Berea development. This was the scene in June 2023 (Google).

There may be a second home that is yet to be bought by the Browns or an affiliate thereof. A 111-year-old, 1,604-square-foot house at 32 Second Ave. was sold in December 2023 by Diane Dougherty to 32 Second Avenue Berea LLC. Tracing the ownership of this LLC that was formed two months earlier dead-ends at a lawyer, Brian K. Duncan of Sunbury, OH, a suburb of Columbus.

So far, all other property acquisitions in Berea by the Browns were made by Rental Acquisitions, SAM Enterprises LLC and Sam Enterprises I LLC. Dougherty did not respond to a voicemail left by NEOtrans. And Duncan didn’t respond to an e-mail left by NEOtrans. Both messages requested the identity of the owner of the LLC who bought the property.

A 2.3-acre property owned by Fastener Industries Inc., doing business as the Ohio Nut and Bolt Co., at 33 Lou Groza may be in the mix, too. In August 2023, 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. Ohio Nut and Bolt has been in existence since 1905. It has another location at 5250 W. 164th St., in Brook Park, but has had that property for more than five decades so it doesn’t appear to be a relocation like Serpentini’s.

The Browns and the city have also acquired mostly vacant properties on the west side of Front that offer an additional 3 acres of developable land. With properties under control of the Browns and the city on both sides of Front, they could offer a “gateway”-style of development to greet visitors to Berea from highways and Hopkins International Airport to the north.

Serpentini Collision Center had only a few more months left at its Berea location on Front Street when this view was taken in July 2023 (Google).

In September, Kleem sent a memo to Berea City Council members regarding public facilities in the community. He noted the Browns’ development could offer civic recreation facilities for Berea residents. NEOtrans secured a copy of the memo through a public records request.

“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. He told NEOtrans that no plans have yet been presented to the city’s planning commission.

“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,” he added. “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.”

Two sources told NEOtrans the Haslams are motivated by other National Football League teams and their billionaire owners which are combining their teams’ headquarters and/or practice facilities with mixed-use real estate developments. For example, both Los Angeles football team owners — Rams’ Stan Kroenke and Chargers’ Dean Spanos — are pursuing mixed-use developments along with their team’s offices and practice facilities.

Kroenke bought a dead shopping mall in Woodland Hills for $150 million to demolish and redevelop the 35-acre site with a Rams’ headquarters, practice facility and supportive development.

The centerpiece of the Minnesota Vikings’ 200-acre Viking Lakes development in Eagan, MN is the football team’s offices, practice facilities, team museum and public spaces (Confluence).

The same is true for the Chargers. LA’s other team is spending $270 million to build in El Segundo three outdoor practice fields, a 145,000-square-foot main building featuring offices, a hospitality club, eSports gaming and content studios, and a 3,100-square-foot media center. But such developments aren’t limited to LaLa Land.

Up north, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf is building the 200-acre Viking Lakes Development in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan, MN. Offering a healthy lifestyle theme, it features multiple apartment buildings, co-working spaces, Omni Hotel, fresh food restaurants, shops and clinics, wellness spa, outdoor activities, and hiking-biking trails linking all venues.

But the football team facility and development site that reportedly impressed the Haslams the most was Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’ Star District in Frisco, TX, a northern suburb of Dallas. The 91-acre Star District already has team offices and practice facilities, plus an Omni Hotel, more than two dozen restaurants, shops, wellness center and spa, dance studio, team shop, sports memorabilia store, bank, Charles Schwab office, and e-sports center.

It should be noted that Frisco is a wealthy suburb, with a median household income of $134,000. Berea and its neighboring suburbs’ median household incomes range from $60,000 to $100,000, Census data shows. Thus any retailers in the Browns’ development will be less upscale. And of course, there will be no stores in Berea selling cowboy boots or saddles as in Frisco.


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