Two development projects move Cleveland Heights master plan forward

Two development projects are moving Cleveland Heights forward in its master plan to create growth and strong business districts within the city. The Top of the Hill multi-use project is moving ahead, while the city just began soliciting ideas for a vacant plot of land on Lee Road.

On Tuesday, February 20, the city council approved a development agreement with Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins to begin the design and construction planning phase of the long-awaited $75 million Top of the Hill project, situated on a four-acre parcel atop Cedar Hill. “We’re extremely thrilled with council’s approval to go ahead with this project,” says Cleveland Heights economic development director Tim Boland.

The Top of the Hill project has weathered five attempts at development since the city acquired the land in 1968, finally choosing Flaherty & Collins as the developer in May 2017 after negotiations with Fairmount Properties fell through.

“We’re very excited,” says Flaherty & Collins general counsel Deron Kintner. “The next step is to move the design forward and come to decisions on various uses for the design concept.”

The preliminary design concept includes market-rate luxury apartments, retail and restaurant space, a nationally branded or boutique hotel, structured parking, and the potential opportunity to include for-sale townhomes and Class A office components.

Flaherty & Collins has completed more than $2 billion in development projects since their founding in 1993, including mixed-use projects similar in scope to what is being envisioned for the Top of the Hill. The firm presented its similar projects to the city and residents during community meetings before they were selected.

Boland says they anticipate a meeting with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education this week to discuss the approval of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the project. This school compensation agreement would put the city in a position to establish a TIF that would exempt the project site from taxation by 100 percent on new improvements for 30 years.

“That will be a big step once we get that wrapped up,” he says. “It would signal the next phase of the project—going into detailed designs moving forward.”

The site originally held the 1913 eight-story Edgehill Apartment Building, which was acquired and converted to a hospital in 1946 by the Cleveland Memorial Medical Foundation (later becoming Doctors’ Hospital). Cleveland Heights bought the land in 1968, after which it tore down the building and built the parking lot that still exists today. The city solicited development proposals in 1972, 1982, and 1990, all of which fell through or were rejected. A nationwide financial crisis derailed the latest attempt at development in 2008.

But Boland says this attempt is different. “We feel that now we have the right development partner and it’s the right timing,” he says. “The city’s behind it, and the business owners support it.”

Boland adds that the city has been working closely with Cedar-Fairmount businesses and property owners to make sure the Top of the Hill project boosts the area bars, restaurants, retail, and apartments.

“The success of this project depends on how it fits with Cedar-Fairmount district,” he says. “It’s about how it builds on and complements it. That’s how it will be judged. It’s a great opportunity to complement the existing district that is already thriving.”

Kintner says they will break ground by the end of the year or early in 2019. The project is expected to take between 18 months and two years, with the completed early phases—such as a parking garage—opening within a year of construction onset. He says they are working with the city on parking solutions for the district as the existing parking lot is removed and the new parking garage is built.

In the same city council meeting, council also authorized the Request for Proposals/Request for Qualifications (RFP/RFQ) and preliminary development proposals for a 1.07-acre plot of land at 2223 Lee Road (at the corner of Lee and Meadowbrook Roads).

Known as the Meadowbrook and Lee site, the land was home to two gas stations in the 1940s, replaced by a bank and parking lot in the 1950s or 60s, and has been vacant since 2005. With all the recent development in the Cedar-Lee District and the $3.5 million streetscape installed in 2016, Boland believes the site is a prime location.

Additionally, in the adjacent 377-space parking garage and lot off of Tullamore Road, the city has earmarked 82 parking spaces to be assigned to whatever development goes into the Meadowbrook and Lee site.

The city is following the same model as it did with the Top of the Hill RFP/RFQ, and Boland is hoping that potential developers will follow the unique vibe on Lee Road while also thinking outside of the box. “We’re trying to attract diversity and mixed-use development,” he explains, citing the city’s master plan. “We want to encourage creativity and design.”

Lee Road has seen eight new businesses open since 2016, including the November opening of Boss Dog Brewery and the debut of Kensington Pub this spring. “Momentum is really moving toward some of the next steps,” Boland says of the neighborhood. “We anticipate this site can be developed to its full potential. We have a home run out there.”

Potential developers have until Monday, April 16, to submit proposals to the city.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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 20 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.