Elections board to the ex-Plain Dealer building?

The former Plain Dealer building on Superior Avenue on the east side of Downtown Cleveland appears to be the favored landing spot for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Cuyahoga County to decide new BOE site

While not as controversial or as impactful as the county’s pending moves of its consolidated jail or courthouse facilities, the new site of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (BOE) could boost its new surroundings. With up to 200 permanent employees, plus hundreds more at election time and many more visitors for early voting, the positive and negative impacts on the BOE’s new surroundings could be significant.

Based on several recent developments, it appears as if the BOE may be landing at the former Plain Dealer building, 1801 Superior Ave., on the east side of Downtown Cleveland. That site was mentioned as a likely landing spot by real estate insiders when the county issued a request for proposals (RFP) a year ago to seek a new BOE site. In the RFP, county officials said they hoped to secure the new location by Jan. 1, 2024.

County officials wanted to get the new BOE site nailed down as early in 2024 as possible so that they could have a better location to handle the crush of people wishing to participate in early voting in the 2024 presidential election. In the 2020 presidential election, the streets and parking lots near the BOE’s current offices, 2925 Euclid Ave. in Midtown, were overwhelmed for weeks with cars whose occupants sought to vote early.

A possible early indicator of a new BOE site emerged on Feb. 21. That’s when a permit application was opened on the city of Cleveland’s Building Department Web portal but not completed or submitted. The application was for “Board of Elections – Early Voting” and the address provided on the opened application was 1801 Superior, public records show.

NEOtrans reached out yesterday to Kelly Woodard, Cuyahoga County’s director of communications to learn more about that permit application. She said she would look into it but hasn’t yet gotten more information prior to publication of this article.

County officials are likely unable to comment publicly on the status of the BOE site until a draft lease or purchase agreement is prepared and submitted to the Cuyahoga County Council for approval. That documentation or any reference to the new BOE site has yet to appear on an upcoming council committee meeting agenda.

The current location of the Board of Elections offices is the Robert Hughes Building at Euclid Avenue and East 30th Street. As soon as possible, county officials want to consolidate it and two other locations used by the Board of Elections in an existing, relatively low-rise building with lots of parking and transit access (Google).

Similarly, the owners of 1801 Superior cannot comment either. But NEOtrans reached out to Industrial Commercial Properties LLC of Solon anyway. Neither ICP’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Salata or Executive Vice President Austin Semarjian responded to NEOtrans’ request for a confirmation.

A rival location for the new BOE offices reportedly was the former main building of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in the 2200 block of Central Avenue, according to a source familiar with the county’s BOE search. But the source said this six-story, 1952-built structure fell out of contention when St. Vincent officials couldn’t agree on the disposition of the building. The site is across Central from downtown’s largest, planned housing redevelopment.

One year ago, the county began a search to buy or rent an existing, high-quality, handicapped-accessible space on the fewest floors possible. The goal is to consolidate 75,000 square feet of BOE offices from its Hughes Building on Euclid with 66,000 square feet of BOE storage from the county Archives, 3951 Perkins Ave. It also wants to bring into the consolidated location a 7,000-square-foot cold storage facility whose current location was not identified.

Different combinations of consolidations will be considered, such as the offices with the dry storage, or the dry storage with the cold storage, or all three at the same location. Requested is a minimum of 55,000 square feet and a maximum of 180,000 square feet for office space, including approximately 500 parking spaces. While transit access is important to the county, the large number of parking spaces was of utmost importance.

“The BOE has been sited at the Hughes Building for many years and now requires new office space to accommodate and possibly consolidate many of their operations, as well as to provide for the additional needs presented by the recent rapid growth of early voting, significantly including parking,” wrote Paul Sturman, senior project manager for the county’s Public Works Department, in the RFP.

County officials also reportedly considered this building at the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center for its new Board of Elections offices. But hospital officials apparently couldn’t agree on selling/leasing the 72-year-old building on Central Avenue (Google).

The former Plain Dealer editorial and sales offices at 1801 Superior offers about 235,312 square feet of office and storage space and nearly 800 parking spaces, ICP says on its Web site. The 23-year-old Class A building is near an interchange with Interstate 90 and served by frequent, 24-hour bus service on Superior. The building is mostly vacant, with its only tenant being Step Forward, formerly the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland.

Surrounding 1801 Superior is the Superior Arts District which is diversifying into a mix of headquarters offices for large businesses like Cross Country Mortgage, or city functions like the Cleveland Police Department, or multiple smaller or start-up businesses. Plus there are numerous restaurant, residential and retail offerings popping up in the area.

The county-owned, four-story Hughes Building was constructed in 1957 and named after the late Republican Party boss of Cuyahoga County. It sets on 0.72 acres in an area that’s seeing other nearby office buildings of a similar age be converted into housing, especially for students at Cleveland State University.

Nearby are several other aging, mostly unoccupied office buildings that are available for sale or lease. That, the BOE’s lack of parking and the weak, post-pandemic office market means the Hughes Building’s near-term future likely won’t be that of an office building. While it could be used for classrooms or a residential conversion, the building’s long history of just one use may complicate its future.

“It’ll have to be totally reimagined,” said Nathan Kelly, president and managing director of Cresco Real Estate in Cleveland. “It’s been renovated a half-dozen times for one purpose: managing elections. And there’s only one user in the county that does that. So, if they get the deal done at 1801 Superior, the former BOE site will be ‘the former BOE site’ for a long long time.”


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