Study offers hope for Larchmere area

Media Reports News

Study offers hope for Larchmere area

January 25, 2013 [Thomas Jewell,]

CLEVELAND The “good, bad and ugly” are all in the eyes of developers when it comes down to three large and vacant buildings identified in a Larchmere Neighborhood Real Estate Market Study.

And while “the condemned” can also be added to the mix in the case of Shakerlan, better known as “the Sedlak building,” officials don’t believe the Cleveland Building Department will be an obstacle — perhaps with a little help from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

Cleveland State University urban planning professor Robert Simons has been inside the building, located at the corner of East 127th Street and Larchmere Boulevard and still sees promise, or at least potential.

The same goes for the former Jesse Owens and Alexander Graham Bell school buildings, albeit in varying degrees.

If the recent condemnation of the Sedlak building “happened a year or two ago, it could have induced the owner to do something right quick,” Simons said, referring to a California company already owing substantial back taxes.

“But those boats have already sailed away, and the owner is already out of the picture,” Simons added. “It’s in the process of being acquired by the county land bank, which would wipe away back taxes for a buyer.”

There are 18,000 square feet of interior space in the main building, with ground floor commercial use as well as more than a dozen upstairs apartments, and that’s not counting an adjoining garage and warehouse.

While the study identifies Larchmere as having a strong demand for rental housing in the $1,000-a-month range, Simons noted an “integrated retail and service space” focusing on refurbished “collectibles” and build on the strengths of the eclectic corridor.

There is currently a 21 percent vacancy rate in the commercial space on Larchmere, which straddles Shaker Heights and Cleveland. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District still owns the schools, located further west toward East 116th Street.

Simons is especially impressed with the condition of Jesse Owens, which dates back to the 1920s and has oak floors and classrooms that could be converted to apartments or condominiums, although plumbing needs would have to be addressed.

“It’s not pristine, but it’s in very good shape,” Simons said. “And there’s an auditorium that could be carved out for some type of community or recreational use — another need identified in the study.”

There are also views of downtown from the third floor and “winter views” from the second floor, noted Organize Ohio representative Harriet Wadsworth from Cleveland Heights, who is working on fundraising for the rest of the study’s completion.

The best interests of the neighborhood at this point might be to tear down Alexander Graham Bell school, built about 50 years ago, although it boasts 70 covered parking spots and an indoor elevated playground, a throwback to its days as a daycare center and a school for the deaf.

But unlike Jesse Owens, the 80,000 square foot building was not secured after it was closed and as a result, all the copper pipes have been stripped from the building.

“The condition is terrible, and as a result, the path of least resistance may be to scrape the building off and put in new housing,” Simons said of the 3.3-acre property, which was previously zoned for duplexes.

The next step of the study will be to put together financing proposals to entice developers’ interests, a phase that will continue into the first quarter of 2013.

New York Community Bancorp., the parent company of Ohio Savings, agreed to fund half, or $52,500, of the $105,000 study after receiving a “Needs to Improve” rating last year from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., regarding its lending practices in Cleveland.

NYCB agreed to help subsidize the marketing study in an agreement with the FDIC and community organizers after the Ohio Savings branch at the corner of North Moreland and Larchmere boulevards was closed in December 2010.

A limited use ATM machine was installed in 2011 at the Fairhill Partners building, although residents and merchants would like to see more done, a little closer to home.

PNC Bank has also kicked in another $20,000 for the study, with Simons being assisted by graduate students Andrew Bryant Jr. and Yu Fei at CSU’s Levin College of Urban Affairs.

“The goal is to establish a ’SID’ — or Special Improvement District in Larchmere,” said Charles Bromley, director of the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, referring to the development funding mechanism authorized by the state in 1994 and already in place in Coventry Village, Cedar-Fairmount, Cedar-Lee and West 25th Street.