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Challenge along the North Coast: maintaining momentum of 2016


Few people in northeast Ohio would argue that 2016 was Cleveland’s moment in the sun.

The city successfully hosted the Republican National Convention without a hitch. The Cavs became world champions and more than a million people celebrated the victory downtown. The Indians went to the World Series and fought a valiant fight, and the Monsters brought home the American Hockey League Calder Cup.
 
“2016 was an incredible year on so many fronts,” says Michael Deemer, executive vice president of business development for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “Not just to see the city on the national stage for the first time with the RNC, but to see that day in October with game one of the World Series and the Cavs season opening game.”
 
DCA estimates the RNC had a $200 million economic impact on the city, while the NBA finals playoff games contributed $36 million and the World Series brought $24 million. The new Huntington Convention Center also held its own, hosting 440,660 guest last year.
 
Of course the opening of the new $50 million Public Square brought a new reason to come downtown for the many events or just to relax in a new urban green space and people watch.
 
But 2016's memorable events were not the only sign of progress for downtown Cleveland last year. This month, the DCA released its 2016 Annual Report, indicating many people are choosing downtown to live, work, play and visit.
 


“The decision was made 10 years ago to form the DCA that set us on the course we’re on,” says Deemer. “We’ve worked with businesses, the RTA, to create innovative transportation and provided historic tax credits — all of those things working in tandem over the last 10 years created this environment.”
 
According to the report, downtown’s residential population is more than 14,000 — a 77 percent increase since 2000. Residential occupancy remained at 95 percent for the sixth consecutive year in the 6,198 market rate apartments and 880 condominiums.
 
More than 2,000 apartments were added downtown over the past six years, according to the report, with another 1,000 expected to come online in 2017 and more than 3,000 planned by the end of 2019. Deemer says he expects to downtown population to surge to 16,000 by the end of this year.
 
“2017 is shaping up to be a big year,” Deemer says of the residential growth.
 
Furthermore, Class A office space is at a 17 percent vacancy rate, with that number expected to dip below 10 percent in the next couple of years on account of new business and vacant office buildings being converted into apartments, says Deemer.
 
With the growing population comes new business to serve those residents. More than 30 new retailers opened for business in 2016 — 18 new restaurants and bars and 15 stores.  “We’re seeing a lot more resident-oriented businesses come in downtown, like Monica Potter Home, J3 Clothing and Cleveland Clinic Express Care,” says Deemer. “We continue to have a terrific restaurant and food scene.”
 
The residential population growth goes hand-in-hand with a highly qualified workforce living downtown, says Deemer, providing employers with a young, well-educated and diverse talent pool to draw from. Drilling down the numbers, downtown Cleveland ranks fifth nationally in the percentage of 25- to 44-year-olds in the labor force; seventh in the number of immigrants with four year degrees; and tenth in the number of candidates with advanced degrees.
 
Today, 95,000 people work downtown, with 70 employers leasing 1,213,141 square feet of office space and 6,932 jobs created or retained in 2016.
 
Furthermore, with Cleveland’s great healthcare presence, Cuyahoga County ranks fifth nationally in health services employment. Pair that with the number of quality secondary education institutions, and Cleveland becomes a lucrative place for employers to recruit talent.
 
“I think what I’m most excited about is the job growth because that’s what make everything else sustainable,” says Deemer. “As we lose the older, less skilled workers, they’re being replaced by younger, highly skilled and educated workers. Momentum begets momentum and as millennials find it an attractive place, more will follow. Cleveland is becoming the kind of place that already has great talent. Downtown in particular is becoming a place for young, skilled workers who want to live here and walk to work.”
 
RTA contributed to Cleveland’s transformation by working with the DCA on a accessible transportation. “We’re created an infrastructure of transportation options, complete with things like the free trolley to business and entertainment centers and hotels,” says Deegan.
 
Three new hotels — the Kimpton Schofield, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown and the Drury Plaza Hotel — contributed almost 1,000 new rooms for visitors to the city, further encouraging tourism.


 
Deemer cites the extension of Federal and Ohio Historic Tax Credits programs as critical to continued growth. “These have been an important tool to attract businesses to invest in downtown Cleveland,” he says, adding that the credits also help grow the residential market and get rid of unoccupied office space.
 
Transportation is another key factory in attracting millennials, says Deemer, who tend to forego car ownership and rely more on public transportation and walking.
 
“We have to make sure we’re offering a full variety of transportation options to millennials and generations beyond that,” he says. “We have to make sure we stay ahead of the curve on transportation. And we still need to grow our residential population. Office space has to be filled and we have to connect the neighborhoods with downtown.”

It all boils down to sustaining momentum.

“Most importantly, we cannot become complacent,” says Deemer. “We’ve had boom and bust cycles in the past. We must recognize the work we are doing, but keep working with partners.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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