Bridgeworks eyes late-summer groundbreaking

A seven-story Bridgeworks moved a step closer to construction after the city’s board of zoning appeals re-granted two variances that had expired from the prior plan which was for a 15-story mixed-use building at the west end of the Detroit-Superior Bridge (GLSD). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Landmarks Commission poses as last city review

A representative of a development partnership told the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) yesterday that the long-awaited Bridgeworks development in Cleveland’s Ohio City’s neighborhood could “hopefully” see a groundbreaking ceremony by late summer. But there are still a few more hurdles to clear before that happens, including an appearance before the city’s Landmarks Commission in the coming weeks.

Another major hurdle was cleared yesterday when BZA unanimously granted two zoning code variances for constructing the proposed seven-story building. Bridgeworks is proposed with 146 workforce-rate apartments, a 132-key Cleveland Motto By Hilton hotel, a 6,933-square-foot restaurant-kitchen on the top floor, and about 9,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

They are similar to two zoning variances that BZA granted in March 2021 for the prior, 15-story variation of Bridgeworks. M. Panzica Development and Grammar Properties, both of Cleveland, bought the site under the partnership Bridgeworks LLC from Cuyahoga County. The development would be built on the site of the vacated Cuyahoga County Engineer’s garage, laboratory and office building. A third variance from 2021 for parking was no longer needed.

The building design was reduced in size due to “economics,” said Brandon Kline, an architect for Geis Companies which will design, build and manage the property. Geis has offices in Downtown Cleveland and Streetsboro. The project is located at 2429 W. Superior Viaduct, where the Detroit-Superior Bridge meets West 25th Street.

“Building a high rise in Cleveland at the moment is not always the easiest,” he said, conceding that the seven-story building is probably a better fit anyway. “I think it fit in a lot better with the context of the area, the neighborhood, the height of the buildings in proximity.”

Site plan for the seven-story Bridgeworks development in the Hingetown section of Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. A desire to provide a public space on West 25th Street at the Detroit-Superior Bridge and preserve the streetcar subway’s stone ticket booth and entrance structure is why the building lacks frontage on a main street (GLSD).

In February, Kline submitted an application to the city for a demolition permit to take down the county engineer’s buildings on the 2.13-acre site. As was expected, the Building Department responded that the Bridgeworks development team needed to resubmit the applications for the variances and get approval from the Landmarks Commission. Landmarks approved the taller version of Bridgeworks in 2022.

To approve the variances, a BZA appellant must prove that denying the request will create a practical difficulty not generally shared by other land or buildings in the same district. And, a denial would deprive the appellant of substantial property rights and that granting the variance will not be contrary to the purpose and intent of the zoning code.

The previous variances included limiting the 8-foot setback on a main street and 6 feet on a secondary street; a 30-foot setback was proposed. Furthermore, less than the required 80 percent frontage buildout was proposed on the main street and 100 percent on a secondary street.

And, previously, 241 parking spaces were required whereas 130 were proposed. Now, while variances to the setbacks and frontage requirements were requested, the parking variance was not sought this time. Bridgeworks plans 213 parking spaces for its smaller building, with 81 parking spaces on the first level, 132 on the second level plus additional on-street parking.

“As the project evolved and changed from a 15-story building to a seven-story structure, the variance has actually been reduced,” Kline said. “Previously, they were asking for a parking variance which now we are parking compliant with the code.”

This image shows Cuyahoga County Engineer buildings on the Bridgeworks site to be demolished. It also shows the 1917-built streetcar subway ticket booth, built of stone, that will be preserved (LDA).

The reason for one of the variances is the strangely shaped property. An unused street right of way through the site was vacated by the city, causing it to come under the ownership of the property owner on both sides of it — Bridgeworks LLC. While that created an opportunity for the development, it also created a compliance challenge for the developer.

“The boundary and parcel is very irregular and also does not necessarily match with the existing roadways, the existing curb lines, etcetera,” Kline said. “The challenge of this site, because it’s in the urban form overlay, is not a minimum setback, it’s a maximum setback.”

“And the challenge is that the property line is actually out into the street,” he added. “So in order to build a building, to comply with that standard, would be building the building over the sidewalk and basically preventing any type of pedestrian circulation to comply with that code section.”

The other variance is for the building’s frontage and the amount of structure abutting the sidewalk. The project’s attempt at historic preservation and providing a public space required this variance.

Aerial view of the proposed Bridgeworks development from a similar angle as the prior graphic which shows the proposed demolitions (GLSD).

“The reason there that we are not compliant is because we’re creating an extremely nice pedestrian and public plaza in the inset of the building,” Kline explained. “In addition, we are maintaining and keeping the existing historic ticket booth that was for the underbridge transportation (a streetcar subway). The county is starting to reactivate that underbridge as a pedestrian thoroughfare connection.”

Kline said the ticket booth will be an historic entryway into the redeveloped subway which has been abandoned since 1954. The county regularly opens up the subway deck to public tours and events, especially during special summer weekends. The next opening of the subway deck to the public is scheduled for June 21 and 22 to coincide with the Summer solstice.

“So from a variance perspective, the hardship being that if we were to comply, we would be building a building out into the sidewalk and basically eliminating public access. It’s just that the right of way doesn’t comply,” Kline said.

“I think this new iteration is a better fit,” said BZA Chair Alanna Faith. “If anyone hasn’t been on the under-layer of the bridge at any point in time, that is really fascinating to see. So I appreciate your sensitivity in working around that ticket booth area. That’s going to really enhance that access to the lower level of the bridge.”

Reverse aerial angle view of the proposed Bridgeworks development with the Stonebridge condominiums at lower left and the blank space at upper left where the Irishtown Bend Park will be built after the Cuyahoga River valley hillside is stabilized (GLSD).

Others on the board recognized the challenges with the irregular property shape and the topographical changes in the downward sloping elevation of the land and the rising Detroit-Superior Bridge next to the Bridgeworks site. Senior Assistant City Planner Xavier Bay said the City Planning Commission was supportive of the proposed variances.

Bridgeworks has gone through multiple design revisions in the past four years as project costs rose from about $60 million to more than $108 million. It started out as an eight-story building, then 11 stories, and peaking at 16 stories. It was cut to 15 stories and now to seven stories. Its developers twice sought a Transformational Mixed Use Development tax credit to close its gap in its financing but was passed over both times.

The project has public-sector financial support. Cuyahoga County is extending the sunset date from 12 to 18 months for a $2 million loan to the project which was approved a year ago but not yet awarded. The project also has financial backing of the city and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority through a tax-increment financing package.

But when a construction lender backed out of the project last year, the development team made big changes. Not only did it go back to the drawing board, but Bridgeworks dismissed its general contractor Turner Construction and designer LDA Architects Inc.


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