shoppes on clifton project inching forward in spite of opposition, says developer

The Carnegie Companies, a Cleveland developer, has been around since the 1930s. The firm takes a long-term view on its properties -- very long-term. That may help to explain why, after more than a decade of planning and two co-developers that left them standing at the altar, the property at W. 117th and Clifton Boulevard still is undeveloped.

Nonetheless, the firm finally is preparing to move forward with the Shoppes on Clifton project, according to a representative who spoke on condition of anonymity. Carnegie Companies is aggressively courting a lead anchor tenant -- a small grocer store or market -- as well as other food or restaurant tenants.

"Our timeline is as soon as we can get something done," says the representative, citing the need to secure an anchor tenant to seek approvals and break ground. "We're pursuing a grocery or market very actively. I can tell you if we can put together the anchors we're talking to, we have oversubscribed interest for the smaller spaces up front. We're looking at restaurants, specialty food retailers."

The developer would not comment on a site plan that was leaked to the media by Neighbors in Action, a group of residents opposed to the demolition of the historic Fifth Church on the site. Neighbors in Action wants the developer to reuse the church and develop buildings close to the street with the parking in back.

The developer did confirm that the site plan was being actively considered, though he stated it is not necessarily the final plan. Developed by architect Brian Fabo, the plan shows three structures of 16,000, 10,500 and 6,000 square feet plus a parking lot at the corner of W. 117th and Clifton. One building would be close to the street on Clifton; the other two would be set back to maximize visibility.

The developer says that the City of Cleveland, which owns Fifth Church, asked the Carnegie Companies several years ago to consider incorporating the church site into their project. Councilman Jay Westbrook has previously stated that the city will pursue demolition of the church, which many consider structurally unsound and beyond saving. Neighbors in Action believes the church should be rehabilitated.

"It would be an incredible undertaking to try to reuse the church," the developer says. "It looks like it's been bombed out because of water infiltration and other issues."

The developer adds the unfortunate reality is that the church site is useless unless parking is placed in front. No major retailer would consider leasing a space in the development without maximum visibility. If buildings were constructed along Clifton to the corner, it would obscure the church site in the northwest corner.

"In today’s world, they prefer, if at all possible, to have parking in front," he says. "It maximizes visibility and reduces liability for the retailers. If parking is hidden from traffic sources... Things happen in hidden parking lots. It's been an issue in the past."

Neighbors in Action commented in a press release: "The Shoppes on Clifton plan, being developed by Carnegie Companies, is nothing more than a suburban style retail strip center ill placed in a historic district deserving of quality, character and good urban design, and is a far cry from actual shops on Clifton Boulevard."

Prior to groundbreaking, the Carnegie Companies must seek approval from the city's Design Review and Planning Commissions, which may push for a project that retains the traditional urban character of buildings that are close to the street. Developers in Cleveland and other cities have built new retail or mixed-use projects with little setback (Uptown in University Circle is one example).

The developer says they will pursue the project with or without the church property, but the new proposal involves salvaging and incorporating major elements of the church. Specifically, the main entrance along Lake Avenue could be incorporated into pedestrian-friendly entrance to the new development.

Neighbors in Action stated in a press release that a "source" had informed the group that Giant Eagle Express, Chipotle and a dollar store were being considered as lead tenants in the project. The Carnegie Companies would not discuss tenant negotiations, saying that it was premature since leases have not been secured.

There is no specific timeline for the project, but the developer stresses that Carnegie Companies is ready to pull the trigger as soon as it lands an anchor.

"We think that it is a very positive project for all stakeholders."

Source: The Carnegie Companies
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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