Cleveland history will come alive when construction starts on downtown workforce housing project

The Union Trust Building in downtown Cleveland has gone by many names—the Union Commerce Building, the Huntington Bank Building, the 925 Building and the Centennial.

Regardless of the name changes, the 1924 building—built after bank mergers involving some of Cleveland’s historic notables like Marcus Hanna, Jeptha Wade, and George Worthington got together to create the largest bank in Ohio—is about to become the Centennial, with more than 800 apartment units, office space, retail, and even a museum.

Tom Mignogna, senior tax credit developer with The Millennia Cos., knows the building’s history well—and he says the development company plans to preserve the legacy while creating a home for hardworking Clevelanders.

<span class="content-image-text">The Centennial entrance</span>The Centennial entrancePartnering with the historic preservation firm Sandvick Architects, Millennia is transforming the building’s grand L-shaped lobby into a museum celebrating a century of Cleveland history. The Western Reserve Historical Society is providing artifacts for the space, likely pulling pieces currently sitting in storage.

As the former office interior resembles an airy museum atrium, its planned transition is an easy call, notes Tom Mignogna, senior tax credit developer at Millennia. Visitors may see an airplane that soared the skies at the Cleveland National Air Races, or an antique automobile from the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

“People pass the building and don’t know what’s tucked in there,” says Mignogna. “We look forward to activating the space and doing it in a manner that lets all of Cleveland enjoy it.”

Sitting at the northeast corner of East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue, the 1.36 million-square-foot property is near RTA’s HealthLine—an important and convenient distinction for another key project facet: Developing rent-capped apartments for Cleveland’s workforce.

The Millennia team says they expect to install 870 apartments in the 21-story building. Mignogna says the hope it to populate those units with hospitality workers, teachers, public employees, young professionals, and families earning less than $55,000 annually.

Rents will be capped based on Ohio Housing Finance Agency limits for average median income, or AMI. Based on 50% AMI restrictions, for example, two people with an income limit of $30,400 would pay $712 per month for a one-bedroom unit.

Mignogna says the expansive space will also include a restaurant—called the Century Club—as well as 90,000 square feet of offices. Construction is expected to start in the spring, with the first apartments slated to open by mid-2023.

Millennia purchased the building in 2018, originally planning for high-end apartments, a luxury hotel, 400,000 square feet of Class A offices, and restaurants and retail.The coronavirus pandemic sunk the project, leading the developer to meet a burgeoning desire for less costly living quarters downtown.

“We looked at the particulars and realized with business closures and a high joblessness rate, the need for workforce housing at a capped rental rate far exceeded the need for office space or another hotel,” Mignogna says.

A living history
Millennia is already one of the nation’s larger owners of affordable housing—building out 30,000 such units in 30 states. The Centennial preservation project, named for the forthcoming 100th anniversary of the Union Trust Building, received $25 million in Ohio preservation credits under a prior owner.

Financing also comprises federal historic tax credits, alongside a $15 million Section 108 loan recently approved by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

Construction will begin with a full historic restoration of the building and 480 apartments on floors four through 13. Commercial spaces will then be readied, followed by a phase-two placement of 390 apartments on floors 14 through 20.

The construction of the Union Trust Building in 1922 displaced the Lennox Building, the Euclid Theater, and a number of other commercial buildings. Reputedly the world’s second- or third-largest office building at the time, the gargantuan structure also boasted the planet’s biggest bank lobby, extending parallel along East Ninth Street and Chester Avenue.

The space’s Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings, skylights, and murals were designed by artist Jules Guerin, noted for the murals he created for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. For Cleveland, the Union Trust Building stood as the epicenter of the city’s bustling financial district, as well as one of the most important commercial addresses in the U.S. in an era of wealth and power.

Conserving one of Cleveland’s preeminent historic properties has been a challenge due to its massive size. The ongoing pandemic represents a further obstacle, though Sandvick director of preservation Peter Ketter says he is pleased to be part of the site’s recalibration—calling the building a “world-class resource” that will provide the city a much-needed housing option.

“It’s been a key piece of downtown for almost a century,” says Ketter. “Now it’s going to start feeling like a nice suburban neighborhood with all the amenities needed for someone to live their lives.”

Mignogna says a headline-grabbing project of Centennial’s scope can attract additional retail, office use and investment, potentially growing downtown thanks to an industrious workforce hailing from varied socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It represents changing times and the impact Cleveland is trying to make as a place people want to move back to,” says Mignogna. “This can make Cleveland a more diverse and inclusive city.”

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.