fairmont creamery developers aim to bridge gap between tremont and ohio city

The trio of Oberlin developers written up in the New York Times for the perseverance and creativity behind their successful East College Street project have selected the long-vacant Fairmont Creamery in Tremont as the site of their next real estate deal.

Sustainable Community Associates
, which marries for-profit development with a community development philosophy, aims to bridge the gap between Tremont and Ohio City by filling it with an interesting, sustainably-built apartment, retail and office project.

"People want to live here, to be close to downtown and the West Side Market," says Josh Rosen, a principal of SCA with Naomi Sabel and Ben Ezinga. "There's an opportunity because of the work other groups have done to get to this point."

"Tremont and Ohio City are thriving neighborhoods, and the creamery sits at the intersection," adds Sabel. "This is the logical flow for the two neighborhoods to meet."

The developers hope to use a combination of equity, conventional financing, state and federal historic tax credits, New Markets Tax Credits and other incentives to redevelop the 1930s brick building into dozens of new apartments. They're also hoping to add office space for entrepreneurs, a full-size gym and rooftop deck. The building, perched on the edge of the industrial Flats, has downtown views.

SCA currently has a two-year option on the 100,000-square-foot property at 1720 Willey Avenue. It is empty but for a nickel-plating business operated in the basement by 75-year-old owner Donald Dickson, who is eager to sell.

The developers aim to start construction by November and finish by late 2014. They hope to lease units as they renovate the building, meaning that the first tenants could move into the property as soon as next year if all goes well.

Although some might view the property as isolated and disconnected from the bustling heart of Tremont and Ohio City, these developers have a different vision. They see a well-kept, underutilized neighborhood that could be so much more.

"When we developed the East College Street project, they said people wouldn't walk that far," says Rosen, whose fully-leased project in downtown Oberlin includes a coffee shop, ice cream shop and other retailers. "Yet once you add bike paths and other amenities, people get an expanded sense of where to go."

This is perhaps the most ambitious aspect of SCA's $13 million project -- beyond the long-vacant building. The developers understand the need to not simply redevelop a building, but leverage that investment for the neighborhood.

"If you can successfully put together financing, what you end up seeing is a project that not only changes the built environment but also the local economy," says Rosen. "We want to use the project to help entrepreneurs open businesses."

"Cleveland doesn't just need more development, but the right kind of development," Rosen adds. "We hope to be able to bring that about."

Source: Ben Ezinga, Josh Rosen, Naomi Sabel
Writer: Lee Chilcote