Urban living at its finest: New apartments create a neighborly feel, embrace the city's assets

When you tour the latest urban living options in Cleveland, the list of upscale features and luxury amenities begin to feel ubiquitous and delightfully dizzying. Polished concrete. In-suite laundry. Stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances. Soft-closing cabinetry. Corian countertops. Granite finishes. High ceilings. Exposed columns, ducts and brick.

Giant windows with some of the best views the city and the lake have to offer.

Some of these details are front and center on websites promoting these new lofts and apartments in Flats East Bank, Fairmont Creamery in Tremont and The Shoreway, right across from Edgewater Park.

What’s also prominent on their web sites and in conversations with people involved in the projects is the kind of life you can live if you decide to move there.

“It’s about really trying to create this feeling,” says Jesse Grant, owner of J-Roc Development, one of the partners that developed The Shoreway. “What does it mean, without sounding in any way pretentious about it, to live that urban life style?”

The spaces aren’t just drawing young professionals. Empty-nesters are flocking to the city, too.

“It’s not necessarily for everyone,” says Grant, who also lives in the building he helped transform. “But I haven’t brought in anybody that hasn’t said, ‘Wow this is really cool.’  I’m biased, clearly. But I feel like it’s quintessential to what these types of buildings are trying to do.”

Creating community at the Fairmont Creamery

Christina Buccafurni has always wanted to live in the city.

“I’ve been slowly falling in love with Cleveland for the last 10 years.. I think I was one of the first people to say I knew it was going to be making a big comeback,” says Buccafurni, who now lives in a more than 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom space in Fairmont Creamery on W. 17th Avenue in Tremont. “I raised my kids in Fairlawn. I would come up here and stay downtown whenever I wanted to visit the city. When my youngest son decided to graduate early, I decided to start looking right away.”

Buccafurni came across an ad on Craigslist and thought it was too good to be true.

“It had everything that I wanted. I loved the industrial feeling and the play of the hard and the soft and the old and the new,” she says. “I wanted to see the city. Now I can see the skyline from my bed.”

She lives in one of the few two-floor units available in the 85-year-old building -- a space that had once been the creamery’s distribution and processing center for butter, eggs and ice cream -- yet sat abandoned for about 30 years prior to renovation. Outdated Google Maps street view photos from 2011 reveal the transformation the property has experienced since Sustainable Community Associates (SCA) committed to the project in 2013.

Photos depict scenes that have become all too familiar in Cleveland – abandoned brick commercial warehouses and factories with broken or boarded-up windows, layers of graffiti and threaded with plants.

Now, the building includes 30 mostly one- and two-bedroom residences that range from 840 to 1,800 square feet, and no two units are alike. The mixed-use development also houses businesses like Tremont Athletic Club, which offers a discount to Fairmont Creamery tenants, Twist Creative, Good to Go Café & Catering and Pandora (yes, that Pandora, the internet radio company that lets you create personalized stations has offices here in Cleveland).

Six apartments are reserved for people making $35,000 or less, and are just $851 a month, says Josh Rosen, who is one of the SCA founders and lives in the building. There is one three-bedroom unit, and the one- and two-bedroom spaces range from $1,200 to $1,900. All have been occupied since a year ago when the residential area opened.  

“The idea was always to preserve it,” Rosen says. “There was a lot of really good, embodied energy in the building. You couldn’t really build a structure like this again. In a lot of ways, this was a perfect building to save.”

The views of the city are what first drew Rosen to the building. But there are other reasons he and friends Ben Ezinga, his freshmen year roommate in college, and Naomi Sabel, all founders of SCA, selected this structure.

“We’re not the type of development company that’s going to come in, buy up people’s homes and try to change a neighborhood that drastically,” says Rosen. “This was a real interesting building [that served as a] connective tissue between Tremont and Ohio City, which was important to us.”

The group of friends secured a laundry list of tax credits, including federal and state historic tax credits, totaling about $7 million. They also received loans from the city, banks and funding from other sources.

“One of the things we were trying to figure out is what’s going to make people want to live here, what does the neighborhood need?” Rosen says, noting the decision to build a gym. “It was important to us not to just get people who live here to walk through the building, but historic preservation should reach as many people as possible.”

Though the building has been completely rehabbed and transformed, there are remains of the creamery’s past. Exposed red and glazed yellow brick, former walk-in coolers converted to bedrooms and locker rooms are just some of the historic features that Buccafurni appreciates. Pieces of a former water tower – visible from the roof deck that includes individual garden planters for each unit are other pieces of history

“This is my dream home,” says Buccafurni, who adds that she was interviewed as part of the selection process. “This has been more of a community than an apartment complex. We spent Fourth of July on the roof. I’ve made a lot of great friends. When I go up to the roof, it’s like you’re going out but you’re still home. I lived at my last place for eight years and there was only one neighbor I really knew or ever invited into my home. It’s just not the same.”

Green space in the Flats at East Bank Apartments

Buccafurni’s experiences are exactly the kind of relationships Village Green, the property management company overseeing Flats at East Bank Apartments, wants to establish among tenants in its new, 241-unit complex, part of the $750 million waterfront redevelopment project by Fairmount Properties and the Wolstein Group.

It’s clear after walking through the Flats at East Bank Apartments with Zack Taylor and Victoria Kirchhoff of Village Green that one of the aspects that sets the building and property management company apart from others is the services available.

The apartments, which range from about 720 to 1,700 square feet and about $1,600 to $4,400 a month, occupy floors three through eight above new businesses like Crop Rocks, Crop Sticks, The Big Bang and Punch Bowl Social. And it’s all right on the waterfront.

A concierge is in the lobby and available around the clock; Village Green investigates any repairs or maintenance requests within 24 hours; and they’ve thought of the little things, like the Pet Wash Station in the garage for residents to clean their dogs after a muddy walk.

The management like to call it, “Lifestyle for Rent.” Once open, the gym will be free to residents, but for now they can use the E B Fitness Club. The pool at FWD club will always be free to residents, and there’s a clubhouse and business center for residents to hang out in and reserve for parties.

Unlike other rental options in Cleveland, the building is brand new, not rehabbed, a distinction Taylor notes.

“It is an entertainment district and there are things happening outside,” Taylor says. “But the building is made of concrete, which we have found has been phenomenal for noise cancellation. Everything is top of the line: high quality insulation, high-efficiency windows. Are there parts of the building that might be more susceptible to noise than others? Sure, but we’ve been very up front in our leasing with anyone who has inquired and let them know.”

One feature management likes to highlight is the 40,000-square-foot courtyard terrace, built above the resident parking garage and meant to feel like one giant, private backyard. The space, which is still being finalized, offers views of the lake and city and will include grills and fire pits. The area is completely exclusive to residents and guests. Like the other new apartments, happy hours and other events are planned there.

Additionally, 235 of the 241 apartments have private balconies -- also with views of the downtown skyline, First Energy Stadium and the waterfront with its many bridges, boats and barges.

The penthouse level includes a private, exclusive terrace that overlooks the Flats.  
Residents began moving into the building in July, and now many of the new restaurants are open.

Taylor, who will also be moving in soon, is new to the city but has learned about the transformation of the Flats from giving tours and hearing residents reflect back on what it used to be like.

“I feel like I couldn’t have picked a better time to move to Cleveland,” Taylor says. “It’s pretty easy to fall in love with the city. There is a certain level of excitement of being there from the ground up.”

New views, revived appreciation of The Shoreway

Being close to the waterfront is another perk not offered in many residential buildings in the city proper. It’s something The Shoreway likes to emphasize. A public pedestrian tunnel under Route 2 gives residents easy, walkable access to the beach.

Standing on the 5,000-square-foot rooftop deck of The Shoreway, developer Jesse Grant scans the lakefront, the red lettering on the Battery Park Powerhouse and the city skyline.

“This is what it means to live in the city now. Here’s how you can feel in this kind of place,” Grant says on the unseasonably warm but windy November day. “We knew if we can get people to come here, it will sell itself.”

And it has. The 45 one- and two-bedroom lofts, which opened in August 2014, range from 940 to 1,570 square feet for $1,200 to $2,500 a month and were completely filled before Grant’s team finished construction. They’ve had one turnover, and the unit was leased in a day.

The building was once home to The Globe Machine and Stamping Company and was most recently used as storage for Pat Catan’s Arts & Crafts Stores, owned by the Catanzarite family, whom Grant is friends with. Historic tax credits were used, so many of the details of the original building have been matched or preserved, including “factory windows” that have a grid pattern.

Just like the other locations, restaurants are steps away, including Cha Spirits & Pizza Kitchen and Graffiti. Soon Vita Urbana, an artisan grocery store, will open in a space adjacent to the building. Grant is working on other modern, residential developments in the area, as is SCA in Tremont, because there is a demand for it in Cleveland.

“We like to think we’re really smart, but obviously we hit the market at the right time,” Grant says. “You’ve got this world of disconnection. All of this technology. You have this movement of people liking things a little smaller and authentic and unique.”

Michelle Simakis
Michelle Simakis

About the Author: Michelle Simakis

Michelle Simakis is editor of Garden Center magazine, a trade publication serving independent garden center retailers and lives in Cleveland. She has also covered Cleveland Heights for Patch.com, an online community news source.