Making Change: Emerging Real Estate Markets

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Things are a little incongruous in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, an area that runs roughly from East 30th to East 70th north of Chester Avenue. Commercial and residential buildings rub shoulders here, like a microcosm of the larger city. People usually have one of two reactions to this juxtaposition: who would want to live here? Or, how can I get a piece? The developers at Graystone Properties are part of that second group. They've acquired the 12+ acres that make up Tyler Industrial Park - that's two city blocks of industrial buildings between East 34th and 39th. The plan is to turn it into Tyler Village, a mixed use development for residential, retail and industrial use.

Paul Volpe: This is truly unique for Cleveland. It's unique as things go in the United States with urban land.

At a recent meeting with the project's stakeholders, Paul Volpe, principal at City Architects, presented the overall vision of Tyler Village. Volpe says the project represents a significant opportunity, and not just for the developers.

Paul Volpe: There's a much greater economic potential because you can leverage the real estate in different ways. You're not competing against yourself. And lastly, you have the ability to do things much bigger and generally better so the neighborhood reaps a bigger benefit.

The hope is that the success of such a truly mixed-use, large-scale development will attract smaller ventures that also maintain the core character of the neighborhood. St. Clair Superior Neighborhood Development Association Executive Director Diane Swander says developers are already investing: there's been more than $50 million of mostly private investment over the past four years and there's a potential $128 million more on the way.

Diane Swander: So the trick in a neighborhood where there's limited land is how do you smooth the edges between the industrial space. How do you create the connections, create new developments that honor the existing tradition, whether it's industrial or the residential community, and just integrate the housing products and the new residents into the neighborhood into those.

Although Tyler Village may be able to straddle those two worlds, it could still trip on some of the difficulties other ventures have faced. Mike Baird knows the quandary well. His company, Unicare, bought and renovated a building on East 40th a bit south of the future Tyler Village. It seemed ideal, Baird says.

Mike Baird: We identified that this was a 46,000 square foot warehouse. It would provide a lot of room for expansion. We liked the idea of the tall ceilings and windows all around. We thought it would be a nice work environment for our associates.

Unicare has done well at its current location - perhaps too well. Baird says the company will probably outgrow its current home by 2008. He says working with the city on expanding Unicare's current facility has been frustrating, at best.

Mike Baird: You would think that considering the circumstances, considering the current state of poverty in Cleveland and the need for jobs in Cleveland that there would be more attention paid to businesses, especially growing business. I think that's part of the reason you have a high vacancy rate. It just doesn't seem to be a priority.

Greg Huth, director of Economic Development for the city of Cleveland, says the city is aware of these issues, and that it's taken a while for the mayor's outreach initiatives to catch on. But he says those efforts are getting underway: most recently, the city's sent letters to businesses in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood to learn about their concerns.

Greg Huth: Whether he's a growing business or whether he's struggling or whether he has day-to-day issues with the city, he's got potholes out front or a dog in the lot next door. We want to get to what his issues are so we can get to him and make living and doing business in the city of Cleveland more profitable. And frankly, it helps us.

Residential developers aren't immune to the city's glacial pace, but they seem more willing to tolerate it. Developer Tony Asher with Graystone Properties says he first envisioned building residential units on the Tyler Village site 30 years ago. He says he's eager to get going now although there's a lot that has to happen first.

Tony Asher: The financing, historic tax credits, conservation easements, zoning... I dunno. I could go on - there's so many different things we have to get done. But we necessarily know that we need to work with everybody whether it's the city of Cleveland or state people the county people. Candidly, any other governmental agency you can throw at us, but we need to work with everybody and we think we can get that done.

Asher says once Graystone weathers the bureaucracy and Tyler Village becomes a reality, then more developers will line up who are willing to do the same. And perhaps, within a decade, St. Clair Superior will catch on as the place to invest in real estate. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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