Building hope: Suburban construction projects press on despite virus

This is the fourth story in FreshWater Cleveland's series First Suburbs: A Closer Look, focusing on the suburbs surrounding Cleveland. Built mostly before the 1960s, these “first” suburbs face challenges ranging from urban sprawl to disinvestment. But shrinking news coverage reports mostly on crime. This series instead will look at the unheralded people and innovative programs that are making a difference, through a solutions-based journalism lens.

In March, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine deemed construction an essential industry, allowing work to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

While a few projects in the state have been delayed because of the pandemic, two major endeavors in Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs are forging ahead, bringing excitement as well as needed economic development to the region.


Top of the Hill groundbreaking ceremony.A ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday, Wednesday, June 24 on Cleveland Heights’ highly anticipated Top of the Hill development marked the official launch of an investment city leaders are calling a “game-changer” for the community.

 

The $83 million mixed-use, residential apartment complex will rise at the junction of Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, just up the hill from University Circle. As a “gateway” to Cleveland Heights’ historic Cedar Fairmount business district, the project positions the city for additional expansion in the future, notes economic development director Tim Boland.

 

“It’s a prominent site for us,” says Boland. “We wanted to make sure we had a project that complimented the area and fit in harmoniously.”

 

Work on the site is underway, more than a month after city officials closed on a financial package for the project. Developer Flaherty & Collins Properties of Indianapolis—alongside contractor Cleveland Construction—demolished a building on site, with security fencing and asphalt removal subsequently taking place.

 

Construction is set to begin on a 500-space parking garage, with developers projecting an 18- to 24-month building cycle that should be complete by early 2022.

 

Once finished, Top of the Hill is expected to include 261 luxury apartments and over 11,000 square feet of first-floor commercial and retail space. A co-working area, pet spa, and fitness center are the type of amenities that can attract new residents, leading to community-changing jobs and increased economic activity, Boland says.

 

Cleveland Heights estimates a $14.3 million revenue boost over 32 years from the development, with Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools getting a $12.3 million infusion over 30 years.

 

“The bottom line is the project will bring vibrancy to the city,” says Boland. “[Top of the Hill] is up the street from Cleveland’s health and culture assets. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and shows Cleveland Heights is open for business and investment.”

 

Despite its prime location between the Heights and University Circle, the site has shuttled through numerous development proposals throughout the years—in 1972, 1982, 1990, and 2008—proposals that were either rejected outright or a victim of recession.

 

Refurbishment of the former Doctor’s Hospital plot has not been slowed by COVID-19, as most design and financing elements had been approved prior to any state shutdowns.

 

“COVID-19 didn’t impact the project the way it could have,” says Boland. “We had the important pieces in place. The city has been trying to redevelop this site for years, so we’re quite excited about it.”

 

GOJO Industries headquarters located in Akron, Ohio.A clean start

The need for products that are effective against the novel coronavirus is putting manufacturers on a wartime footing. Therefore, GOJO Industries—the Akron-based maker of Purell hand sanitizer and soaps—is ramping up production to help aid the nationwide COVID-19 response.

 

Maple Heights will be a focal point GOJO’s virus-fighting efforts, thanks to a planned production facility set to bring 100 jobs and an estimated $5.1 million payroll to the city. The 320,000-square-foot facility, at 5700 S. Lee Road, represents GOJO’s first expansion into Cuyahoga County, says Maple Heights mayor Annette Blackwell.

 

“Maple Heights has never been a strong manufacturing and production area,” says Blackwell. “This will give us an (industry) mix so we’re not dependent on the retail market.”

 

To meet the increased call for sanitizers, GOJO’s new facility will serve as production space for Purell Surface Spray, a no-rinse disinfectant used on surfaces that touch food.

 

A $25 million renovation process on the building kicks off early July, with an initial opening set for later in the month. The facility will not be fully operational until early 2021.

 

Attracting a household name is a tremendous boon for a community still battling its way back from state-appointed fiscal emergency status. Maple Heights ended the last two years in the black, a positive trend Blackwell says she expects to continue with GOJO adding to the inner-ring suburb’s income tax coffers.

 

A job-creation grant is part of a financial package offered by the city, with the company committing to hiring diverse group of employees from Maple Heights and the surrounding region.

 

Nearby rail access will allow GOJO to ship the alcohol used in its products, while proximity to Interstates 271 and 480 offer further incentive for the global leader in skincare and surface solutions.

 

“GOJO is a big company that could have chosen to go anywhere, so we couldn’t come to the table empty-handed,” says Blackwell. “The company believes it can help us have the kind of revitalization people here deserve.”

 

Average salary for the machine operator jobs coming to Maple Heights is $50,000, which Blackwell says will eventually domino into increased home sales and growth of the type of service businesses the suburb is lacking. Considering the coronavirus’ projected longevity in American life, GOJO’s impact on Maple Heights will be felt for years to come.

 

“We have a workforce willing and able to work,” says Blackwell. “Kudos to GOJO for seeing that.”

The series is made possible through the support of Citizens Bank, the First Suburbs Consortium, and the First Ring Schools Collaborative.

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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