Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Flats East Bank Phase II plans approved by Planning Commission; groundbreaking to start soon

Drawing on the energy created by the opening and tenancy of the new Ernst & Young Tower, the Flats East Bank project pushes forward with a 243-unit residential component next to the river. The City Planning Commission approved their plans this month and groundbreaking is expected to happen within weeks.

Here are some fast facts about the next phase of the project:

  • 243 residential units
  • 130-175,000 square feet
  • 246 indoor parking spaces
  • Direct access to adjacent Waterfront Line rapid transit station
  • 10-15 restaurants and retail spaces
  • Riverfront boardwalk
  • Lake views
  • $120 million price tag
  • Part of a larger 23-acre complete ground-up redevelopment of the east bank of the Flats, bounded by downtown Cleveland, the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.

Downtown Cleveland Alliance releases 4th quarter 2013 report

Downtown living and working is rising again in the Comeback City.

Downtown Cleveland Alliance has just released their quarterly residential and commercial market update for the city's central business district. Included is a detailed analysis of  market trends and developments, as well as highlights of downtown's most exciting completed and ongoing projects.

Read the full report here.

Key takeaways:
  •  457 brand new units came online, representing 9.7% growth
  • 1,133 housing units will come online in the next 24 months, representing a 21% increase
  • Per-square-foot rents increased from $1.14 to $1.20
  • 11 straight quarters of 95% housing occupancy
  • Condo sales prices up 25% per square foot
  • DCA  projects downtown population to reach 15,000 by the end of 2015
Hotels & Tourism
  • 1,787 hotel rooms coming online by 2016, representing a 50% increase
  • The Global Center for Health Innovation is set to open to the public in summer 2014
  • The Cleveland Convention Center has hosted more than 100 events in the six months since its opening
  • Major surge in office vacancy absorption in 4Q2013 - 255,000 - more than Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Portland
  •  Ernst & Young Tower, the city's newest skyscraper, reaches 90% occupancy only six months after opening
  • Total downtown vacancy is down to a three-year low of 18.2% despite Eaton Corporation moving its 250,000 square foot headquarters to the suburb of Beachwood

Most remarkable is the continued growth in demand for downtown housing products. Despite the supply increasing at a consistent 10% per year, per-square-foot rents have not fallen, even as rents fall in the suburbs. This indicates that the demand for urban living in this region is here to stay and is only going to become more popular.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Red-hot rental market fuels ambitious new downtown development projects

Freshwater Cleveland just posted a downtown-and-vicinity development roundup article that highlights some of the more unique features of the currently ongoing projects.

These are the projects that are mentioned:

1. Fairmont Creamery (Tremont)
2. The 9 at the Ameritrust Tower/Rotunda (Downtown) including Heinen's grocery store, restaurant, live theatre, hotel, apartments and 29th-floor "sky bar"
3. M.T. Silver Building lofts (Campus District).

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fire at Fairmont Creamery; developer says show must go on

Just recently I posted a story about the project to renovate the Fairmont Creamery into apartments, office space and a gymnasium. Turns out there's some news about the construction site:

Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer
By Cory Shaffer | Northeast Ohio Media Group 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on January 24, 2014 at 9:57 AM, updated January 24, 2014 at 1:13 PM
 CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Firefighters braved near zero degree temperatures to tame a major fire ignited by construction crews at a former creamery, officials said.
Crews arrived at the Fairmont Creamery building on Willey Avenue across from the Cleveland APL about 7 a.m. Friday, department spokesman Larry Gray said.

Gray said the fire started on the building's third level. Workers converting the long-vacant creamery into apartments were thawing the heating source to large coolers with torches, and accidentally ignited one of the coolers, Gray said.  

According to this Crain's article, the developers are claiming that this will not affect the project's goals.

Fire at Fairmont Creamery shouldn't affect its makeover, developer says
By STAN BULLARD10:05 am, January 24, 2014
(This story was updated at 1:00 p.m.)
Cleveland firefighters late Friday morning still were on the scene of the fire at the former Fairmont Creamery building and will be there through the early afternoon because substantial smoke and steam continues to stream out of the vacant structure, said Larry Gray, Cleveland Fire Department public information officer.
The Fairmont Creamery will soon be converted to 30 residential apartments, 13,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 12,000 square foot athletic club. The property is expected to be fully leased and stabilized by spring of 2015 (but maybe that timeline will now be extended. Read more about the project here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Grand cycling plans in UC and Greater Cleveland

Here are two recent articles addressing cycling infrastructure needs and plans in the Cleveland area.

University Circle-Cleveland Heights bike, bus links on the radar
By Alison Grant, The Plain Dealer Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM, updated January 10, 2014 at 9:04 AM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- University Circle bills itself as Ohio's "most spectacular square mile," a fabulous stew of education, medical, arts and religious institutions in one city neighborhood.
But its cultural and employment magnetic powers have naturally enough attracted other developments that aren't as great – growing rush-hour traffic jams and parking shortages.
Two of the district's biggest players –- University Circle Inc. and the city of Cleveland Heights -- are taking a fresh look at how to address the transportation crunch by strengthening bikeways and bus service.
Their goal: Convincing some of the 3,300 or so people who live in Cleveland Heights and work in University Circle to make the short trip by something other than single-occupant cars. 
Read more

Although I'm a little more than puzzled as to why the government would spend any money painting lines in East Cleveland or north of the Circle, where no one drives, bikes or lives anyway, the overall plan for improving the Coventry bicycling experience could mean a tremendous boon (and a reduction in traffic).

Here's an old Google Maps image of one of the recently improved bikeways (this is a before picture!)

I used to cycle up this hill every day from class. If it wasn't steep enough, it was also full of potholes and speeding traffic. What a nightmare!

Cleaning this road up made for a far improved, smoother, and safer ride, especially when bike traffic develops (and it does!). As far as I know, this is the only bike infrastructure improvement project that has been executed to date in the area, with the exception of the Euclid Avenue bike lanes to the west.

The majority of the "infrastructure plan" involves painting these funny icons on the roads:

Creative Commons: David Baker Architects
These are called "sharrows," and are intended to "[a]lert motorists of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way..." (Wikipedia), among other things. While I suppose this reduces the incidence of angry motorists sticking their head out of their car window, yelling, "Get off the road!", it doesn't sit particularly well with this author as a solid solution to the perceived issue of bicycle safety. No separate travel lane is created, and in many cases, parking is still allowed in the sharrow right-of-way, which completely defeats its purpose.

Applause for the forward thinking, but forgive me if I'm a bit critical of the true impact this will make on cycling in the Circle. More lanes, fewer sharrows, please.

A second article to consider:
Cleveland plans to add 70 miles of bikeways by the end of 2017

By Alison Grant, The Plain Dealer Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 19, 2014 at 6:07 PM, updated January 20, 2014 at 10:05 AM 
CLEVELAND, Ohio-- The city of Cleveland plans to more than double the amount of bike-friendly routes in town, adding 70 miles of dedicated lanes, trails and pavement markings by the end of 2017.
An update of Cleveland's bikeway plan, introduced Sunday at the annual meeting of the advocacy group Bike Cleveland, showed almost 45 miles of bikeways added over the next two years, and another 25.6 miles in the following two years.
The overall goal is to connect every Cleveland neighborhood to a bikeway network, said Jenita McGowan, the city's chief of sustainability.
Not much to say here, as the plan isn't very specific about the types of improvements being made. There's one question that arises here: we have a chief of sustainability?

As much as I love cycling, I can't help but think that applying the "sustainable" label to the activity screams "fruitcake!" It's a soundly economical and healthy decision before we even get to addressing climate change or pollution. We need to legitimize this activity by presenting it as a prudent alternative to transport by automobile. Pollution is inefficient and wasteful. Reducing it makes us all wealthier.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Religion standing in the way of progress - Clinic style

This is what the inside of a half-demolished church looks like:

The Church of the Transfiguration, a designated Cleveland landmark, has been a battleground between citizen activists and the growing, land-hungry Cleveland Clinic. Demolition finally started Friday in quick order. Rumor has it that the Clinic plans to build a Holiday Inn on the 0.83 acre location at 8604 Euclid Avenue.

Evidently the church was already crumbling when it became the subject of a protracted 5-year legal battle that finally ended in 2011 when the for-sale signs went up. Estimates came in between $6 and $8 million to restore the church to its 'former glory.' I suspect I'm not the only one who is a bit skeptical about that number.

Another church to be flattened by the bulldozer:
the Euclid Avenue Church of God.
Credit: The Plain Dealer
The Clinic is the undisputed heavyweight in this area, which is bordered to the north and south by some pretty rough neighborhoods. Even in this area, with a multitude of poor land uses like seas of parking lots and even nearby vacant lots, the Clinic doesn't have try very hard to paint itself as the bad guy in this situation. It seems they would like to knock down every historic building within a five-mile radius. Across the street, owners of the Euclid Avenue Church of God also secured a demolition permit, no doubt with the Clinic in mind as an end buyer.

Wow, Clinic, if you want vacant land why don't you just buy and demolish that raggedy Burger King next door? Isn't fast food against your policy anyway?

It's something of a wonder that an organization like the Cleveland Clinic, the hospital that bills itself as a progressive champion of the city, could promote such wholesale demolition in favor of positively suburban office park land uses in a very busy residential area. East 105th and Euclid Avenue was once known as Cleveland's second downtown, and the site of the very first electric traffic light. What does this place look like now? Big grassy areas, empty plazas, and concrete and glass boxes of buildings. No doubt we're going to get more of the same in the years to come.

If this is economic progress, I want my money back.

Monday, January 13, 2014

West Shoreway Boulevardization Project

For many years, the powers have be have been planning to reduce the West Shoreway, also known as Route 2, from a limited-access highway to a tree-lined boulevard. This short, 2 mile freeway runs from Clifton Blvd. to downtown, enabling easy access to downtown chiefly by Lakewood residents. The new plan intends to allow easier access to the lake shore from the emerging Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood (named for its primary thoroughfares - Detroit Ave. and the West Shoreway).

As the above summary indicates, it appears that this project as well as the rise of the popularity of Detroit-Shoreway has spurred the proposal of no fewer than five mixed-use projects, some of which are already underway (like the Battery Park residential development). These projects are taking advantage of the critical mass created by the Gordon Square Arts District. Also deserving of honorable mention is 78th Street Studios, a group of over 40 galleries, art studios and creative spaces within a single building, located within the area designated with a "1."

As the Detroit-Shoreway gentrification marches westward toward the Lakewood city line, better access to Edgewater Park and the waterfront can only be a further boon for the neighborhood.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Columbus is kind of dangerous

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Null Value.
An ever-popular online trend is to glorify Columbus and condemn Cleveland. Whether it's the weather (a popular gripe), crime, employment or education, the shining capital on the hill plays very well to the statisticians to portray a modern-day utopia on paper. Well, there's a whole lot of people out there who love Columbus, so there's truth to the bias--but as the old Russian proverb goes, "trust, but verify."

There are many historical reasons why a place like Columbus pans out well statistically. In a nutshell, Cleveland, an "old" city, contains a small portion of the county population (34%) while Columbus, a "new" city, comprises 67% of its county. The two cities developed at two different times in different political climates. Columbus captures all the positive benefits from its affluent areas, while most of Cleveland's affluent live in independent city-suburbs with completely separate governments. It's as if the north side of Chicago were its own suburb.

For the purpose of comparing crime as it impacts a regular citizen, it's more useful to look at county statistics to level the playing field. The two cities' respective central counties, Cuyahoga and Franklin, have roughly the same population (about 1.2 million people), so crime comparison is a simple exercise. In any case, I reduced the statistics to a rate per 1,000 residents, which is how most crime is reported.

So is Forbes right? Is Cleveland really dangerous, and Columbus a utopia? This is what the crime statistics tell us:

I originally put all of these data on a single chart, but putting the Y-axis on a logarithmic scale just didn't do justice to the magnitude of difference in certain crime rates between the two counties.

If we buy the press-manufactured line "Cleveland is dangerous," then property crime in Columbus is absolutely out of control! We're talking nearly double the larceny/theft rate that Cuyahoga residents experience on a per-capita basis.  It's no wonder that Cleveland suburbs  dominate one list of the 50 safest cities in Ohio.

The trophy goes to Columbus for its relatively lower violent crime rates (except rape and murder!), but the only real difference between the two counties is aggravated assault and car theft--I'd be willing to wager that most of the former occur in or around bars and involve Steelers fans.

The statisticians are right when they examine crime rates in Cleveland and declare it a dangerous place, but the whole point of this exercise is to inject some sanity into the game and not unfairly compare just the bad parts of one metropolitan area with the entirety of another.

In any case, if you're going to Columbus, lock your stuff up.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cleveland Scene sold

Cleveland Scene Magazine, our local free entertainment magazine and arguably the only outfit in town with decent journalists, was recently reacquired by local interests Euclid Media Group, comprised in part by Scene publisher Chris Keating. The acquisition also included the San Antonio Currant, Orlando Weekly, and the Detroit Metro Times.

Read more on the Scene website. The Scene staff published an entertaining podcast interview with the new owners that's also worth a listen.

Apartment occupancy up, vacancy down for fourth straight year

Photo Credit: Usaf 1832
According to this report, new apartment construction, rents, vacancy, and total units are up, while household formation is down and population is down. Check it out:

Here's another interesting phenomenon: household income is up over 13% over the four-year reporting period and an average of 4% observed growth per year. A good sign for a coming recovery.

Northern Lights may be visible over Cleveland tonight

Photo credit: Visit Finland
WASHINGTON -- Northerners thawing out from a bitter freeze may get rewarded with shimmering northern lights the next couple days.
Federal space weather forecaster Joe Kunches said the sun shot out a strong solar flare late Tuesday, which should arrive at Earth early Thursday. It should shake up Earth's magnetic field and expand the Aurora Borealis south, possibly as far south as Colorado and central Illinois. He said best viewing would probably be Thursday evening, weather permitting.

Story here: http://www.wkyc.com/story/weather/2014/01/08/northern-lights-from-solar-flar/4375371/

If we have clear skies tonight, the Aurora Borealis is an incredible sight and it's likely we're not going to get an opportunity to see this again here for a good while.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fairmont Creamery deal in Tremont closes

Fairmont Creamery deal in Tremont closes; construction on apartments, offices, retail to start
Dimit Architects
By Michelle Jarboe McFee, The Plain Dealer 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on January 06, 2014 at 2:25 PM, updated January 06, 2014 at 2:32 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Despite the frigid temperatures, work will start this week to turn a former creamery building in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood into a home for apartments, a business accelerator and other tenants.

A developer trio has purchased the Fairmont Creamery building on Willey Avenue for $450,000. Real estate records show that the sale, part of a $14.9 million redevelopment deal, closed Dec. 30th.

In a testament to the strength of the rental market, Ben Ezinga, Josh Rosen and Naomi Sabel say they have a waiting list of more than 85 people for 30 apartments. That's after just two weeks of casual marketing on Facebook and Craigslist, for a project that won't open until October or November.

Read more: http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2014/01/fairmont_creamery_deal_in_trem.html


Author's note: This development is uniquely located in the previously industrial valley between what is commonly considered Tremont, Ohio City, and Clark-Fulton. Although it is located in the Tremont neighborhood, it would definitely be considered outside the periphery of Tremont residents and visitors. It is the first of its kind.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vacancy in the City of Cleveland, the untold story

Apartments in Slavic Village - by Stuart Spivack

As of the 2010 census, Cleveland proper's vacancy rate has reached 22%--about twice as high as the national average and higher than every major U.S. city except Detroit. Abandonment is a common sight in the center city, and the numbers don't lie about this.

There's a notion about town that population decline in the center city is to blame for the abandonment problem. It's like a meme--repeated by amateurs, experts, public officials and residents--that Cleveland was a city built to house a million people, and needs to "right-size" to house its current population. These ideas in turn lead public officials to pursue somewhat misguided policies like indiscriminately tearing down houses. Entire political campaigns are founded upon the idea that Cleveland is "too big" for the number of people living in it, and the solution to all its social ills is to destroy perfectly livable homes, and even entire neighborhoods.

There's something about this argument that just doesn't sit right with me. Vacancy was not a major issue before the foreclosure crisis:

There are two clear points of interest in this chart: 1960-1970 and 2000-2010. The first jump in vacancy can probably be attributed to the aftermath of social unrest reflecting the time of the Hough riots, social and civil unrest and white flight. The demographics of entire neighborhoods changed overnight as the result of this intense social change as white residents flocked to the suburbs.

This leads us second point of interest: 2000-2010. Vacancy doubled during this period. I can't think of any better explanation than banks evicting people from their own homes post-foreclosure, or people moving out as soon as they realize they can't afford the payments. This had nothing to do with the city's slow population bleed: this was quick and sudden.

So assuming that the current vacancy problem wholly stems from the foreclosure crisis, why did vacancy stay flat from 1970-2000? Can the vacancy problem not at least partially stem from the loss of population, especially when population is off by 59%? How can a city with a housing stock built to house a million people not experience abandonment when the population has fallen this much? The answer is something of an urban legend because it wasn't well-observed when it was happening, but the census data tells the story alright. The answer is overcrowding.

The chart tells a historical narrative--in the city's most growth-heavy years of 1890-1930, housing concentration is at its greatest. People moved to the city in droves, often taking up residence in crowded residential hotels with shared facilities. It took until the 1940s for the supply of housing to catch up with population growth. Locals will regale you with tales of growing up living with their entire extended family in a single small home or duplex, simply because no vacancy was to be had, and rent was expensive. The average occupancy rate per unit hit seven people per unit at its height.

Here's another method of analyzing overcrowding. In 1950, the census began logging the average number of persons per room of a unit and whether that unit shared or lacked facilities. We can assume that more than one person per room in a unit is a sign of overcrowding. Along the same lines, units lacking dedicated kitchen and bath facilities, such as flophouse rooms or single-occupancy residential hotel rooms, are obsolete and don't impact the city's current housing stock because of their rarity.

As the chart shows, as the population fell, these units "right-sized" themselves by being pulled off the market. Whether the flophouses were torn down, reconverted to single-family homes, or repurposed entirely is not evident from the data, but what we do know now is that these units--some 54,000 at their peak--were phased out when they were no longer needed as the population fell.

The trend of declining household size is a national phenomenon. It's not a Cleveland-specific problem, nor should it be viewed as a problem at all. Smaller households are now able to afford to purchase or rent more square footage per person, which in any case could be construed as an indicator of wealth. There's no need to tear down these houses in order to artificially prop up home prices--these actions only make housing more unaffordable for us all.

Yes, the abandonment issue is rooted in a simple economic problem--home prices are so low here that an outdated and beat-up foreclosure isn't worth investment--but that's not because "we're too big." There's no deeper local economic issue that caused all of this overnight vacancy, nor is it accurate to state that vacancy is the way it is because everyone left. We may have an abundance of cheap houses in this city, but by no means have we run out of people to occupy them.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A peek at the new Heights High

This November, Cleveland Heights and University Heights residents passed a $134 million ballot initiative to return Heights High to its stately 1925 appearance with a complete renovation. (Two middle schools are also slated to be renovated.) Although the price tag seems steep, deferred maintenance has taken its toll on the building and many facilities are unsafe or functionally obsolete. Here's a rendering of the proposed frontage on Cedar Rd.:

Filling the Donut Hole: Migration Patterns in Cleveland

Ohio City Inc., the community development corporation for the Ohio City neighborhood, recently commissioned a white paper entitled "From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland" (authored by Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell) found here. The paper addresses a wide breadth of subjects, but the most important takeaway is the confirmation of a trend of urban in-migration among young people, put in graph form.

City populations change by means of four basic events:
1. People move in
2. People move away
3. Births
4. Deaths

Large cities like New York and Chicago have abnormally high rates of both (1) and (2) such that they're constantly churning residents as people move in for a few years and then move away. Cleveland, by contrast, has very low rates of both move-ins and move-outs, but slowly leaks away population as the replacement rate by move-ins and births do not balance out the formula.

A 30,000 foot view of the population of the greater Cleveland area indicates a slow, drawn-out decline:
Source: City of Cleveland, City Planning Commission
Two alternative examination of population growth trends tells us a different story, and serves as a leading indicator for things to come. The first is the much-ballyhooed increase in downtown population, especially when compared with other neighborhoods:

Source: MetroTrends Urban Institute
The real story behind the decline in downtown population in the 1950s and the subsequent rebound in 1970 was because of urban renewal and the construction of housing projects. Different about this new wave of growth is the absence of public housing construction driving it -- these are almost entirely privately driven, market-rate apartments occupied by urban professionals.

Another method of making sense of the aggregate data is is to break down the data by age cohorts. As seen here, "unexpected" downtown population growth is off the charts for the under-35 age group, and the adjoining residential neighborhoods Ohio City and Tremont are experiencing the same kind of growth among 25-34-year-olds. 

Source: MetroTrends Urban Institute
With this data, it's easy to hypothesize that the younger cohorts are following the predictable pattern of graduating school, moving to the city from their parents' sleepy suburb, getting a job downtown. When the late 30s and 40s roll around, it's time to get married, move to the suburbs, have kids, and repeat the process. This is a pattern that we've witnessed before in places like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, although the recession is causing delays in family formation (we've even fallen below the replacement rate in the aggregate).

The author's explanation of this trend all align to tell the story of declining opportunities and degrading quality of life offered by the nation's "global" cities:

[W]hat cannot be overlooked is the “cool fatigue” that’s affecting many global city inhabitants. There is an increasing chorus of concern that global cities are turning into “vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself”. Here, rising housing costs, deepening income inequalities, cultural homogenization due to vast commercialization of local neighborhood identity, it all provides psychogeographic fuel for seeking alternative, “frontier” locations...Taken together, talent is slamming into a ceiling in thick labor market metros. They are increasingly finding a better return on their skills in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland. 
(Source: Balkanization)
This is positive news for Cleveland and the rust belt in general, but the one key missing agreement is the attraction of talent via in-migration. We need to be more proactive to attract immigrants to this city. And it might even be time for City Hall to consider opening its mind to the attraction of international immigrants, too.