red-hot rental market fuels ambitious new residential development projects

How hot is the rental market in and around downtown Cleveland right now? The owners of Fairmont Creamery in Tremont posted just twice on Craigslist that they're accepting reservations and they now have a waiting list of more than 90 people -- and growing.
The latest Cleveland housing developments not only are adding much-needed residential units to the city, thus increasing the vitality of urban neighborhoods, but they also are bringing with them new commercial spaces such as offices, restaurants, cafes and other amenities.   
For example, did you know that The 9, located in the former AmeriTrust tower, will boast not only a full-service grocery store, but also a theatre that will be used for comedy shows, movies and other performances? Have you heard that Fairmont Creamery will have a 13,000-square-foot gym where treadmill runners can “race” trains that zip right by the building?
Did you know that the vitality of the Campus District is spreading north thanks, in part, to the redevelopment of the historic M. T. Silver building on Superior, which is being turned into 39 apartments, plus a café, thus attracting a mix of students and young professionals? 
Nope, we didn’t either. So Fresh Water caught up with three urban developers who are debuting new projects this year to get the scoop. Your tour starts now.
A tasty piece of Tremont history
Until now, touring the Fairmont Creamery was akin to urban spelunking, with iPhone flashlights the only illumination as one travels through a warren of high-ceilinged rooms broken up by concrete columns. The building has been all but vacant since the 1980s.
But that’s changing. A trio of Oberlin-bred developers has broken ground on a bold new project to transform the building into residential and commercial space that will revitalize a corner of Tremont where factories currently outnumber hipsters and bistros.
The $14.9 million project, made possible by baklava-like layers of financing that includes New Market Tax Credits, federal and state historic tax credits, and vacant property funds from the City of Cleveland, will add 30 apartments to Tremont.
The project also will be home to the Tremont Athletic Club, a 13,000-square-foot, two-level gym that boasts access to a 3,500-square-foot roof deck. Sunrise yoga, anyone? Also in the plans is a second office and co-working space for Launchhouse, a café and additional offices that have yet to be spoken for.
“We’re knitting together Tremont and Ohio City by redeveloping this boundary area,” says Naomi Sabel, one of the partners in Sustainable Community Associates, which also developed the East College Street Project in Oberlin. Fairmont Creamery is located at the intersection of Willey Avenue and West 17th.
“This project was large enough to really make a difference in the community,” adds Josh Rosen, another partner in SCA, which has won national attention for its work. “It made sense to take everything that we learned in Oberlin and apply it to a second project.”
This is no cookie-cutter project. The units will feature 14-foot ceilings, open kitchens, large industrial-style windows and glazed yellow brick walls. Rents likely will be comparable to downtown, with an 800-square-foot unit going for around $1,000.
You’d be hard-pressed to beat the views from the roof deck. The five-story, triangular building is built on a hillside, affording unobstructed views of downtown. If you don’t snag one of the coveted apartments, try and make friends with somebody who does; an invitation for sunset cocktails on the roof doesn’t sound too shabby. 
The Fairmont Creamery, the “Walmart of creameries back in the day,” according to Rosen, was built in 1930 as part of a larger network linked by rail. Local lore says that employees used to toss ice cream out the windows to neighborhood kids. The ambitious project will repurpose that history, including the iconic signage, and give the building new life.
Downtown reaching new heights
Perhaps you've heard about The 9, a mixed-use project going into the former AmeriTrust tower and historic Cleveland Trust rotunda. The project is being developed by the Geis Companies and will feature a splashy new hotel, 105 apartments, Heinen’s grocery, Mediterranean restaurant and a “sky bar” perched high atop the building.
The 9 seeks to elevate downtown dwelling to new heights, literally and figuratively. The suites in the historic (and recently scrubbed) Marcel Breuer-designed tower boast rectangular windows that afford spectacular views of downtown and Lake Erie.
Suites in the 29-story tower range from 900-square-foot, one-bedrooms to 3,000-square-foot penthouses with near-panoramic views. The finishes are high-end, outfitted with roomy closets, stainless appliances and tiled bathrooms. Geis remains mum on pricing for now, but don't be surprised if the units establish a new benchmark downtown.
Adega, the ground-floor restaurant, aims to have the largest outdoor dining space downtown. The restored bank lobby, which boasts tall ceilings and marble walls, will be used for that restaurant's main dining room.
Lesser-known details about the project include a theatre to be used for a variety of shows, including comedy and movies, all of which will be open to the public. 
Tenants will have access to their very own indoor dog park -- on the 29th floor! -- complete with faux grass and an irrigation system to keep the facility fresh and clean, says Tom Charek, project manager at Geis.  
The adjacent 1010 Euclid Avenue building also is being redeveloped by Geis, and when completed will feature luxury apartments that are priced slightly below the high-end units in the tower.
The historic Cleveland Trust rotunda, with its vintage murals, majestic stained glass dome, twin mezzanines and marble floors, has been handsomely restored by Geis. Heinen’s, which is going into the space, is busily working on plans for what will be a full-service store geared to an urban market (read companion story).
The Campus District grows
According to a recent study conducted by Campus District Inc., the nonprofit group that serves the area, there is unmet demand for 1,200 additional apartments in the area around Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College’s metro campus.
Well, you can lower that figure by 39 units thanks to Karen and Dave Perkowski. The couple is in the process of converting the historic M. T. Silver building, built in 1909 as a textile facility, into 2320 Superior Avenue, which will help ease demand for rental units in the area when it opens later this year.
“We’re really excited about it,” says Karen Perkowski, whose husband began rehabbing homes in Tremont 30 years ago using student loans. “Once CSU started moving north with development, that really drove what we were going to do with the building.”
Perkowski, who also owns the Tower Press building and its Artefino Café, currently is transforming this high-ceilinged structure into spacious loft units geared towards students and other professionals who want to live in a quiet section of downtown.
Sporting 16-foot ceilings, beefy columns and vast, warehouse-style windows that flood the suites with natural light on even the grayest of winter days, the units will be priced by the bed. They’re geared to students who prefer to not live in dorms, but Perkowski believes the project will attract a mix of young professionals as well.
“One of the interesting things we’ve learned is that CSU students prefer to live with a mix of students and nonstudents,” she explains. “Many CSU students are older. They’ve already lived on their own, and they want to continue to do so, but live near campus.”
A three-bed, two-bath unit will rent for $1,500 per month, which would average less than $400 per person if four roommates shared the space. That's significantly less expensive than on-campus student housing. Moreover, there’s plenty of on-site parking. Perkowski also is on the hunt for an operator to manage a small café in the building.
The building is a short walk to the heart of the Campus District, which has been growing in vitality. Campus District Inc. Director Bobbi Reichtell says that a new partnership in the works with Downtown Cleveland Alliance will enable the District to utilize DCA’s expertise and help the community grow to the next level.
“We want to be a part of the goal of getting 25,000 residents downtown,” says Reichtell, who believes that the M. T. Silver project, along with other planned student-oriented housing developments, are a strong sign of better things to come.

Photos of The 9 and the Fairmont Creamery: Bob Perkoski
Photos of 2320 Lofts
 Dan Morgan
The 9 renderings courtesy of Geis companies
The Fairmont Creamery renderings courtesy of Sustainable Community Associates 

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.