Letter From Cleveland: A City of Believers

Cleveland has risen, fallen and risen again numerous times in its 211-year history.

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Cleveland has risen, fallen and risen again numerous times in its 211-year history. Once a hub for the auto and steel industries, companies in this city along Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio tended to fall prey to suburban sprawl or leave in search of more prosperous waters.

But some remained loyal to Cleveland and its beloved sports teams, rich cultural institutions, resurgence of businesses and world-renowned medical community at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Many declare the city’s downtown is on the rise — again. Two developers in particular are striving to revitalize areas that could bring Cleveland back to life.

Scott Wolstein, chief executive officer of Developers Diversified Realty Corp., introduced a plan to energize The Flats, an area downtown along the Cuyahoga River. The Flats East Bank is a $500 million mixed-use project changing the face of the riverfront.

“I want to give Cleveland an environment that lets people live, work and play all in the same space. This is a neighborhood we’re building, not just a project,” Wolstein asserted.

The Flats East Bank includes 500 residential units, a 150-room hotel, 300,000 square feet of retail, potentially 1 million square feet of office space, 1,200 feet of public boardwalk and a riverfront park.

Retail will include specialty boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. The neighborhood will have a gourmet grocery store, fitness center, cinema and nightclubs. Wolstein declined to disclose specific retailers, but noted Ernst & Young has signed to relocate its corporate headquarters here, along with law firm Tucker Ellis & West, both in an office building 50 percent pre-leased with the two anchors.

Another believer is developer Robert Stark, president and ceo of Stark Enterprises, who is in talks to revitalize the downtown Warehouse District, a region dotted with abandoned warehouses and parking lots.

“Cleveland’s gotten a bad rap, but it’s reversible,” he said. “People who don’t live here might not believe that, but we do.”

The Warehouse District will have 1.2 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail and 1 million square feet of residential and hotel space, in a plan that incorporates existing historic structures.

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“The goal is to create that dynamic tension that exists when you have residents, office dwellers, shoppers and tourists all coming together in the same place at the same time, much like Manhattan. This is going to be the ‘SoHo of the Midwest,'” Stark contended.

Several restaurants and shops already have opened in the Warehouse District. Style Lounge, a boutique owned by Aja Lewis, has been here since February 2007, offering brands such as Kensie, Fidelity, True Religion and Miss Sixty. It also has a lounge offering a live DJ and complimentary beverages on weekend evenings.

Josh Foltz, manager-buyer, noted, “I’d say 60 percent of our business is from local residents who live downtown, the remainder are from outerlying areas. We love the development that’s happening here. Projects like The Flats will be so good for us, people are definitely moving back.”

The East Fourth District, minutes from the Warehouse District, is also witnessing a rebirth, after MRN Ltd. bought much of the area 10 years ago and opened residential units, restaurants and nightclubs. Nathan Zaremba, president of Zaremba Inc. and developer of The Avenue District (a residential revitalization project), teamed with MRN in the Uptown project, a $150 million commercial and residential complex in the University Circle neighborhood.

Hot shopping spots on the outskirts of town include Eton, with specialty boutiques that were also developed by Stark. “The whole point of Eton is to feature fashion offerings you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “We market this area as an actual district of boutiques that pay attention to their customers. It’s more personal, less commercial.”

Women’s shops include Indigo Nation, Joss and Chic et Mode. Bigger names, like Anthropologie and Chico’s, are here, too.

Like any other Midwestern city, the suburbs offer the bulk of shopping destinations. Crocker Park is an outdoor mixed-use project with Sephora, White House|Black Market and H&M, as well as residential and office units. Beachwood Place mall, east of Cleveland proper, features fashion names such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Coach, among others.

While shopping venues in the downtown area like Tower City Center no longer carry high-end designer names, retailers such as Brooks Brothers, MAC Cosmetics and Nine West remain, and the mall draws a fair share of weekday lunchtime visitors and tourists.

Said Stark: “The problem with any enclosed mall in any major urban center is that when people come to the urban core, they want to be on the street. That’s why mixed-use projects are an ideal approach to getting people back downtown.”

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