Welcome to Cleverland, home to vision, positive criticism and noteworthy news for Cleveland, Ohio and the broader urban landscape!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Agglomerations: A Lofty Goal?

It's been some time since my last post... again, the product of a hectic semester academically and otherwise! As it happens, I'm lucky enough to have a little free time this weekend, as Spring Break has arrived! It's strange...this Spring Break thing. I haven't had one in 6 years and I'm not going anywhere, but here. And that's what this post is all about...what's here!

This weekend kicked off with a bang at a party on the East Side of Cleveland in a building called the Hyacinth Lofts (3030 East 63rd Street). Wherever you're reading from, chances are that you've seen at least one building converted from an industrial or other use into loft apartments or condominiums. If you're in Williamsburg, Greenpoint or Bushwick, New York, you can't sneeze without hitting one. If you're in Cleveland, the number is growing and their popularity is apparently what's driving the trend.

What inspired this post is that I've been inside a number of these throughout Brooklyn and Cleveland over the past few years...some legal and some not...the most recent of which is the Hyacinth Lofts building. I find them to be fantastic spaces, inspiring, and a great asset for our older cities to build upon in creating new, unique opportunities for residents that cannot be found or re-created as part of the growing new suburbanist movement.

Personally, I think their populariy is tremendous, as many of these buildings are outstanding examples of our cities' architectural, industrial and commercial heritages. Also, as I am a proponent of urban development and adaptive re-use in support of sustainable communities and growth, loft conversions make a lot of sense.

They also make a lot of sense for the people who live and work in them. Certainly, not all loft buildings are intended to support live-work activities. For example, the Fries & Schuele in Cleveland's Ohio City is a former department store and boasts loft amenities (high ceilings, exposed brick and duct work, large windows, open floor plans), but to my knowledge, is intended for residential uses only. The ones that boast live-work capacity, such as the Tower Press, Loftworks, Painter's Lofts, and Hyacinth offer amenities and advantages beyond what an average resident would demand from a building.

Now, on to the Hyacinth Lofts... Not only did I find the building to be breathtaking inside and out and not only was it full of interesting people young and old, trendy and conventional, creative and appreciative of creativity, but I also found that it hosts, entirely within its own walls, its own functioning micro-economy.

While there, I chatted with a designer friend, who was hosting the party. I visited the loft of a film-producer friend, who does all of her editing in her unit. I observed a performance art installation that ran throughout the night in a shared side room. I met the building's developer, David Perkowski, who also did the Tower Press building and assured me that it was the tenants that I should be looking to for inspiration.

I also met another film producer, who told me that his firm was expanding into a second space in the building because of the opportunities and advantages that the Hyacinth offered. Not only does he have all the tech capacity that he needs in his unit, but there's a black-box space with a "green screen" available, a two-story community loft for openings and other events, an editing suite, and a sound room. That, and he told me that he's been able to hire several tenants from throughout the building to work on assorted projects. I was in the midst of a real, working agglomeration economy, all contained within an old Board of Education warehouse!

My mind swam with the potential that buildings like this hold. Hyacinth, for example, is situated in a significantly depressed part of the city among vacant warehouses and manufacturing structures, auto repair shops and houses that have seen better days. Still, there is a residential base and an economic and industrial base to the neighborhood...it's just that it appears to be in the final throws of decline, with no bright end of the tunnel in sight... until you come across something like Hyacinth. To know that there is more demand for space than this building can support is the first step in growing something that is bigger than its borders. Look around and you'll see other buildings that could accommodate this growth... some in the neighborhood and many more throughout the city.

Across the street from the Hyacinth Lofts, there is another building waiting for its turn to shine. The Meyer Dairy building is next on the list, with preliminary plans for conversion to lofts catering to performance artists, such as dancers. Apparently, the existing hardwood floors are to die for...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Save the Crane!

Recently, a number of members of the Urban Ohio forum site (linked at right) have begun pondering a new campaign to draw people to Cleveland. (View the thread at http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/index.php?topic=7198.0) The "Come Home to Cleveland" campaign is, in my eyes, right on and can be one of our best marketing approaches in years to come as we enter into a new era of construction and urban development in Cleveland of a scale that we haven't seen in over a decade. The following was my most recent post to the thread:

Another thought that crossed my mind on the subject pertains to the timing of this campaign... knowing how long some of these projects will take to materialize and the propensity for big projects to either fail or get whittled down to miniature versions of themselves, when this launches, its products need to be visible. That doesn't mean that the apartments need to be ready to inhabit, but that there need to be (at least) cranes in the air.

Those of us geeks on this site know how exciting the sight of progress in the form of cranes can be, but it's not just us. How long has it been since we've had a significant number of construction projects going on Downtown at the same time? We've had one here (the new Courthouse) another there (Pinnacle), but not since the mid-1990s have we seen a quantity to get excited about. Over at the Clinic and UC, construction progress has been more plentiful and concentrated, but the outcomes haven't been nearly as great as the prospects. We've seen one disappointing Clinic building opened after another. CWRU's new housing and the Weatherhead School produced some interesting outcomes. But just wait until we've got the CIM, CMA, the West Quad, and Ford & Euclid all going on at once!

And then think about what we have lined up for Downtown Cleveland with the Avenue District, Flats East Bank, West 9th & Main, and the lots between St. Clair & Superior...potentially all at once! Imagine the excitement in every Clevelander's and every visitor's hearts when we see those cranes in the air! There will be a buzz about town...and the millions of annual visitors will go home to Toledo or Pittsburgh or Indianapolis or Toronto and remark about the amount of construction going on in Cleveland. Minds will start to wander (maybe Cleveland's the place to be...) and people will want to come back to see what we've built!

To paraphrase what one of my professors at CSU (Ned Hill) recently said, "Clevelanders have, for too long, thought of the crane as an endangered species." How true! Let's build and save he crane!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Cleveland: A City of Idle Chatter-ers

It's been a while, but I felt it was time for a little editorial...

The questions running across my mind this morning as I attempted to enjoy my first cup of coffee went like this:

What is up Peter B. Lewis's bum? Why does he hate Cleveland? What the heck does "palaver" mean?

Well, I looked it up. According to dictionary.com, palaver means "idle chatter" or "flattery intended to persuade" and it was the Word of the Day on August 23rd, 2000. Incidentally, yesterday was the first time that the word was used in print since that date some 5.5 years ago and Lewis was so miffed about it that he used it twice!

For those of you who are completely lost, the front page of Sunday's PD featured an article by Steven Litt titled "Princeton gets a gift, Cleveland a knock." The article was basically about how Peter B. Lewis gave a $101 million gift to Princeton University and has instituted an unwritten moratorium on philanthropy in C-town until the powers that be get their thumbs out of their bums and learn how to work together to make things happen.

Quotes of note:

"Cleveland is not high on my list because it's all palaver."

"It's individual palaver. It's people not cooperating with one another. There's no apparent leader to the enterprise."

and my personal favorite:

Case and other institutions should "collaborate to develop restaurants, movie theaters, poolhouses, whorehouses and bars in the University Circle neighborhood." (Litt acknowledged that this was exaggeration for the sake of impact.)

Now, I know that Cleveland has its issues with cross-agency collaboration over the years and UC is perhaps the primary example of this, but how is it possible to think that we haven't made progress in recent years and months? The cooperative planning efforts taking place in UC are inspiring, if you ask me, and should lead to nothing but a brighter future for the district. Add Chris Ronayne to the equation and the acquisition of land at Ford & Euclid, construction progress at neighborhood institutions and an increasing understanding of the need to improve surrounding neighborhoods and ameliorate the insular nature of the Circle and you've got quite a promising set of developments!

Here's my take on Lewis's comments: He can't be oblivious to this progress, so unless someone has done something to personally offend him, I'm guessing he's just continuing with his incendiary commentary in an effort to "light the fire" under the rear ends of those institutions that are still not on board. Until he sees some products from these plans, he's not going to stop. He may slip a $100k bill to one or another cause in the meantime if he likes what he sees, but he's not going to be dropping the big dollars until he sees major progress. And hey, it's his money and his call, but I'm not going to sit here and buy the old "Cleveland's on the verge of implosion" story that we're all too familiar with. Not with $171 million in venture capital funding for NEO bioenterprise firms...not with a rapidly growing UH and Cleveland Clinic...not with the sincere plans of area developers to rebuild Downtown Cleveland and the neighborhoods...and not with the people I've met who are working their asses off to make this all happen!

If you want to read the article, check it out: [url]http://www.cleveland.com/search/index.ssf?/base/entertainment/1137933154133230.xml?exoth&coll=2[/url]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Opportunities of Necessity: Cleveland's Industrial Land Bank

In our attempt to repopulate Cleveland and reinvent our region's economy, there is a glaring theme that permeates throughout all strategies: we must reuse existing properties and structures in order to make this happen. The issues of abandonment and vacancy are visible in every corner of our city and have begun to expand further into our inner-ring suburbs. This relates to residential, commercial and industrial property and represents a blight and a deterrent on our region's future growth. However, it must also be looked at as an opportunity.

Much research has been done on the subject, including Neighborhood Progress, Inc's June 2005 report Cleveland at the Crossroads: Turning Abandonment into Opportunity, which focuses primarily on residential issues and strategies. In their report, estimates range from 10,000 to 25,000 abandoned properties (of all types) in the City of Cleveland alone. One attempt to capture this opportunity on the residential side is the city's land bank, established in 1976, which has been lauded nationwide as a model for intervention by the city and its community development corporations (CDCs). Many of the new housing starts in Cleveland's neighborhoods have utilized the land bank's resources to make their projects feasible.

In addition, the city recently announced the release of its final report, Strategy for the Implementation of an Industrial Land Bank with Kevin O'Brien, Executive Director of Cleveland State University’s Great Lakes Environmental Finance Center, which details options for how the city’s Industrial Land Bank will operate.

“We created the city’s first Industrial Land Bank to acquire and develop properties like the Midland Steel site, a location where we could build off of significant investments being made in the surrounding community and create jobs in the city of Cleveland” said Mayor Campbell. “The release of our final report on the Industrial Land Bank process provides the best strategy for the city to develop the Midland Steel site and other industrial sites citywide.”

"In the last nine months, 28 companies requested a total of 100-125 acres of land on which to locate and add more than 1,300 jobs to the city. Mayor Campbell directed her Economic Development Department to make more than 100 acres of land available in the city, leading eventually to her creating the county’s first Industrial Land Bank by legislation in July 2005."

Read the full release on the City's site: http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/mayor/press/2005/200510/10_18_2005.htm

Efforts such as these are of critical importance and must be continued and strengthened over the years to come as Cleveland continues to redevelop and grow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Next White Elephant: Lifestyle Centers

As the shopping centers of our not-too-distant yesteryear, such as Westgate, Severance and countless others have recently either announced close down-remodel-reopen strategies (West Gate) or have recently completed them (Severance), we're already seeing the new "lifestyle centers" of today feeling the effects of over-saturation.

Lyndhurst's Legacy Village opened two years ago as the first such center in our region, yet the addition of the second major center, Westlake's Crocker Park, clear on the other side of town has already eaten into its market share. As even more of these are on the drawing board or are already breaking ground throughout the region, I can't help but wonder how long it will be until this model is outdated and obsolete. We'll have 100,000+ square foot boxes sitting vacant, looking for ways to reinvent themselves as "the next big thing." Problem is, they'll keep popping up further and further out, until - in my opinion - the market turns back towards the center.

Evidence of this trend has been touched upon in recent discussions, such as the Ohio Planning Conference session on "New Urbanism v. True Urbanism" and in arcticles like the following in today's Crain's Cleveland Business.

Lifestyle change
At anniversaries, Crocker Park peddles nonretail space and Legacy Village looks at subsiding sales


6:00 am, October 24, 2005

October might be birthday time for Legacy Village in Lyndhurst and Crocker Park in Westlake, but who has time to blow out candles?

As Legacy Village wraps up its second year, its management reports a leveling off in sales as the lifestyle center's newness factor wears off. Meantime, Crocker Park (below), which is starting its second year, is branching out from its retail focus to push office space and housing.

Both centers consider themselves works in progress as they make plans to fill vacant space in the face of the quickly approaching holiday shopping season.

Although this is Legacy Village's third holiday season, marketing director Marcie B. Gilmore said this fall represents the first 'normal' fourth quarter yet.

'The first year was our grand opening, so in terms of tracking sales and all that … the concept being new was so intriguing,' Ms. Gilmore said. 'For the first full year, it was a destination, just to check it out, much like Crocker Park is now, because they're the new kid on the block.'

With Crocker Park's opening last year, Legacy Village had new competition and watched its sales decline in comparison to 2003's figures. Ms. Gilmore declined to provide specific sales figures or to quantify the decrease in sales from 2003 to 2004.

'We're in the leveling-off stage, which is fine, and we're still optimistic about the future,' Ms. Gilmore said. 'There is still a tremendous amount of interest in leasing the space.'

The article continues at www.crainscleveland.com and includes speculation over the recently vacated 92,000-square-foot former Expo Design Center, which represents a challenge for the center "because it's too small for something like an oft-mentioned Ikea furniture and accessories store — a rumor Ms. Gilmore shoots down regularly and definitively — and yet way too big for most specialty retailers."

Yet another piece of evidence that the only truly sustainable solution should lie within our central cities, with a focus on a true mixture of uses and incomes, transit connections and urban density.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Begin Transmission

Welcome to Cleverland, home to vision, positive criticism and noteworthy news for Cleveland, Ohio and the broader urban landscape!

I'm new at this game, but I'm pretty sure that I'll have plenty to say on the subject...