Browns acquire, razing last house for big Berea project

A tree-studded neighborhood stood only months ago along Front Street at the north end of Berea. It has been virtually cleared of all homes as well as a church for a large mixed-use development led by the Cleveland Browns and its owner, the Haslam Sports Group. The last few homes and the former Serpentini Collision Center, at right, have been acquired by affiliates of the Cleveland Browns and approved for demolition (KJP). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Site to be cleared for $221 million development

Today, the Berea Planning Commission is expected to approve the demolition of a house that’s the final structure to be cleared for a $221 million mixed-use development planned by the Cleveland Browns and majority owner the Haslam Sports Group. That last house sold for a premium compared to the 43 other single-family homes plus other properties parcels that were acquired for the 38-acre development site.

The demolition of 599 Pearl St. sets the stage for a major new development. As has been reported by NEOtrans for more than a year, the new mixed-use development featuring a headquarters for the National Football League Browns and the Haslam Sports Group is planned here. NEOtrans has been following this development with articles every few months, documenting the Browns’ progress.

The Haslam Sports Group offices are getting busier. They also own the Major League Soccer Columbus Crew, a minority stake in the National Basketball Association Milwaukee Bucks, and real estate developments like Columbus’ Astor Park. Berea’s development could soon be added to that, as well as a future domed stadium and surrounding development in neighboring Brook Park.

In addition to the new corporate offices, the Berea development would feature expanded practice facilities for the Browns, both indoor and outdoor, as well as a hotel, shops, dorms for Browns training camp and possibly the nearby Baldwin-Wallace University, a University Hospitals wellness center, and a community recreation center and sports facility. The site is just over one mile south of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Construction could start as early as this fall.

The city of Berea is seeking the latter two items in a $15 million request to the state’s capital budget, now making its way through the Ohio Senate. However, there was no amount set aside in a version of the capital budget which passed the Ohio House of Representatives this past winter. The rest of the development is to be privately financed and cost about $206 million, according to multiple reports.

The last house purchased for the Cleveland Browns’ big Berea development was acquired last month and is due to be approved by the city for demolition tonight. This is how 599 Pearl St., built in 1883, looked 140 years later, as most of the neighborhood had already been demolished although many trees still stood at the time (Google).

Set on 18 acres of city-owned land, the Browns have a lease for their existing practice facility and offices, called the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, until 2039. Additional city-owned land at the intersection of Front Street and Lou Groza Boulevard will be a part of the development site, as will dozens of individual residential properties acquired by Browns affiliates in recent years. The house last was acquired April 16, 2024, Cuyahoga County records show.

Tonight, Planning Commission will vote on a request by Independence Demolition to raze an 1883-built house at 599 Pearl. Browns affiliate Rental Acquisitions LLC acquired the house for $550,000 from 98-year-old Bernice Bass Richardson, according to a deed transfer recorded last week by county officials.

Although the house was the last to be acquired, it wasn’t due to the owner’s disinterest in the team. Richardson’s late husband Nathaniel Richardson was apparently a big Browns fan, according to a comment on his 2007 obituary. NEOtrans had made several calls to the house with no answer.

Also, the amount of the purchase was far higher than any of the surrounding single-family residential properties acquired by the Browns. Most others were in the $150,000 to $250,000 range. But the prices climbed most recently as more houses were acquired and demolished, leaving only a few survivors.

The last five houses before 599 Pearl to be acquired saw their sale prices trend mostly upward. In March 2023, 519 Pearl sold for $310,000, setting a new high. Then 25 Second Ave. in August 2023 went for the next most, $375,000 while 505 Pearl sold that same month for only $220,000. In November, 35 Second sold for $250,000, followed the next month by 32 Second. It transferred by quit-claim deed so no price was recorded.

The Cleveland Browns’ CrossCountry Mortgage Campus is seen in the distance from Front Street at Lou Groza Boulevard. At left, and set in front of the Browns existing facilities is 599 Pearl St. which was the last house to be acquired by an affiliate of the football team for its future mixed-use development project (KJP).

Its deed went to a unique LLC created by an attorney in Sunbury, OH, a suburb of Columbus. So it wasn’t initially clear if a Browns affiliate was involved. But it was among eight structures on Second, Pearl and Front approved April 18 by Berea’s Planning Commission to be leveled by Independence Demolition. The others were all acquired by well-known Browns affiliates.

Among the demolitions approved last month was for the former Serpentini Collision Center, 520 Front. It and its 3-acre site was acquired by quit-claim deed in December 2023 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 relocated in December 2023 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.

Previously, in 2020, the Browns had acquired Mount Zion Baptist Church, 572 Pearl, for $100,000, county records show. It was demolished after a new church was built at 200 Mt. Zion Way, off Emerson Avenue, at the Browns’ expense.

No plans for the Browns’ Berea development have apparently been submitted to the city as of yet. Neither Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem or Browns spokesman Peter John-Baptiste responded to NEOtrans’ e-mail inquiries prior to publication of this article.


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