‘Watch us Grow:’ Historic May Co. building becomes The May, with modern living, retail

Cleveland’s iconic downtown department stores that once had residents flocking to Public Square for leisurely lunches, day-long shopping trips, and fashion shows may be an experience that most people associate with the mid-20th century. But recent projects, like the transformation of the former Higbee’s building into Jack Casino and other more nostalgic efforts honor much of Cleveland’s past.


The 1915 May Co. building is the latest reinvention in Public Square. May Company closed its downtown store in 1993, and the building subsequently sat largely empty—until now. Pura Vida Taco Bell Cantina, and Cuyahoga Community College’s Hospitality Management Center were already settled in the building when Detroit-based Bedrock took over in 2017.


After acquiring the May building in 2017, Bedrock received a $25 million state historic preservation tax credit and proceeded to transform the former department store into high-end apartments while preserving all the history and flair on the 105-year-old building. The total project cost is undisclosed.


“The May is one of the largest adaptive reuse developments in the city’s history and a recipient of a highly competitive award of State catalytic tax credits,” says Ken Till, vice president of development for Bedrock Cleveland. “The Public Square site where the May Company building is located has historically seen a great deal of activity and commerce until it was vacated nearly two decades ago.


Luxury living and lucrative retail

With 307 pet-friendly apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail space in the nine-story building, Bedrock, partnering with Geis Residential Management to handle residential leasing efforts and CRESCO Real Estate for the commercial side, in late summer unveiled the The May. Tenants began moving into the new units in August and officials report a continued interest in the apartments, despite the pandemic.


The one-, two-, and three-bedroom units are available in 45 different layouts and range from 688 square feet for a one-bedroom, all the way up to 1,413 square feet for a three-bedroom, 2.5 bath unit. Rents range from $1,490 per month to $2,990 per month.


The May is truly an example of 21st Century living—with contemporary finishes and stainless appliances, quartz countertops, in-unit washers and dryers, modern cabinetry, digital programmable thermostats, keyless entry, and large windows overlooking the city.


Community areas include a three-story open-air atrium, a fitness center, yoga studio, pet grooming stations, community center and residents’ lounge, and a bike storage and repair area.


As residents continue to move into the new apartments, Bedrock is also promoting 80,000 square feet of commercial space, including six commercial spaces on the ground floor that range from 350 square feet to 18,000 square feet and an 11,000-square-foot rooftop patio, says Till.


“For the May, the [retail] spaces may be best suited to daily needs or soft goods type tenants – something that, right now, is scarce in downtown Cleveland,” says Till of potential tenants. “We are dedicated to creating a unique shopping experience—and one that contributes to the retail and services mix around Public Square.”


Till adds that the location and available space are luring potential tenants. “We’re seeing significant interest in our available retail spaces,” he says. “We are also pleased to see new retail openings at adjacent properties—such as Beyond Juicery and Eatery—despite the uncertainties posed by the pandemic.”


On the rooftop, Till says an 11,000-square-foot patio along the Prospect Avenue side of the building, with sweeping views of the Cleveland skyline and downtown’s sports and entertainment venues, is ripe for leasing.


A 2,000-square-foot portion of the roof on the Euclid Avenue side is reserved for residents to grill, entertain, relax around firepits, or work outside.


Architectural history preserved

Bedrock took great care in preserving the building’s historic exterior. Built by renowned architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (who also designed Cleveland’s Group Plan and Mall), May Company was considered the third-largest store in the country when it opened in 1915.


Influenced by the City Beautiful Movement, the building stood out with its white terra cotta walls, clean lines, and symmetrical detailing, with a steel and concrete frame that allowed for large windows facing Public Square.


“They lend themselves well to showcasing the sweeping views of downtown Cleveland that residents will be sure to enjoy,” says Till.


Bedrock restored the facades on Prospect and Euclid Avenues, with newly cast white terra cotta brought in to replace damaged pieces. “This also included the complete restoration of the original wall sconces, new storefronts on Prospect to replicate historic features, and a refurbished painted canopy on Euclid,” says Till. “The illuminated May Company signage and iconic pediment clock were also restored.”


Bedrock gave equal attention to the interior architectural details. “We recreated the interior historic column bases and, where ceiling heights permitted, the entire column capitals,” explains Till. “The original windows of the lower levels were fully restored, including expansive etched glass panes bearing the familiar ‘M’ insignia.”


Shoppers inside May Company building in 1965.Other details include using the original treads on the interior stairs, restored handrails and balusters, and restored ornate chandeliers.


Till says the vast open-air atrium is one of the building’s large selling points. and it includes a snow-melt system so the boardwalk running around the building’s perimeter may be enjoyed year-round.


Till adds that the three-story atrium was created to provide natural light to the interior of the building. Units on the sixth floor have private patios overlooking the atrium and direct access to the community spaces with lounge seating, fire tables, and lawn games. Units facing the atrium on the seventh and eighth floors have recessed balconies.


“We’ve returned nearly one million square feet of space to productive use,” boasts Till. “And, in doing so, [we] have contributed to the transformation of Public Square and Historic Euclid Avenue, and we expect [it] will continue to gain momentum.”

Read more articles by 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.