Bedrock unveils $3.5B master plan for downtown Cleveland riverfront, Tower City – Crain's Cleveland Business

A conceptual rendering shows Bedrock’s vision for a key stretch of riverfront land in downtown Cleveland, at what is now the back of Tower City Center. 
A rendering shows a sheltered outdoor market hall, an extension of Tower City Center that will act as part of a corridor stretching from Public Square to the east bank of the Cuyahoga River.
A view looking east toward Tower City shows new riverfront public spaces, including a pedestrian path and a landscaped water feature.
A rendering shows a view of a proposed meandering riverfront walkway from the Carter Road Bridge, looking east.
A rendering shows a reimagined riverfront along the Cuyahoga River, behind Tower City Center.
Bedrock, the Detroit-based owner of Tower City Center and a key stretch of riverfront land behind it, has a $3.5 billion vision to transform those underused properties into a district where Clevelanders will live, work, shop and play.
A new master plan, developed by global design studio Adjaye Associates, shows more than 3.5 million square feet of development climbing toward the downtown skyline from the east bank of the Cuyahoga River. Bedrock, the real estate arm of billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Rock family of companies, unveiled the proposal Friday, Dec. 2, at the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland hotel.
The plan lays the foundation for deeper engineering and discussions with the city about how to finance extensive infrastructure work. The linchpin of the vision is a dramatic rethinking of roads and pedestrian paths to enable smooth passage from Public Square to the riverfront — and to create a sense of place once people traverse that 100-foot grade change.
“If you are going to come out to the riverfront, there has to be a riverfront to come out to,” said Kofi Bonner, Bedrock’s CEO, during an interview before the formal unveiling.
Guided by Sir David Adjaye, an award-winning Ghanaian-British architect, a project team that also includes Osborn Engineering proposes to transform the back of Tower City — a cascade of parking structures and pitted pavement today — into another front door.
“Our redevelopment strategy for the downtown Cleveland riverfront taps into the lost heritage of the city, establishing a new relationship between the urban core and the shore,” Adjaye said in a prepared statement. “As I became more deeply immersed, the need to build a more tempered flow of movement through the city became immensely clear.”
Images show 12 acres of public open space lined by a procession of new mid- and high-rise buildings. Those buildings could contain 2,000 new homes, a mix of rental and for-sale, and 1.4 million square feet of commercial space, including a hotel, offices, entertainment and retail.
Bonner described that development as a 15- to 20-year plan, one that might move faster if the right mix of public and private-sector partners coalesces around infrastructure needs. And though Bedrock is creating the framework, the company isn’t looking to be the sole developer.
“Our goal is to create a template here. … Success will be defined by others wanting to build next to us, and with us,” Bonner said.
Bedrock affiliates own the Tower City shopping mall and roughly 24 acres of riverfront land, plus other nearby buildings. But the master plan spans approximately 35 acres, including the Sherwin-Williams Co.’s Breen Technology Center and parking at 601 Canal Road.
The Cleveland-based coatings giant is building a new research and development center in Brecksville and erecting a new headquarters tower west of Public Square. Sherwin-Williams plans to vacate the Breen complex and its longtime headquarters, the historic Landmark Office Towers adjacent to Tower City, by late 2024.
Bedrock confirmed Friday that it has inked purchase agreements to acquire both downtown properties. “We have had very productive conversations with Sherwin-Williams,” Bonner said.
In an emailed statement, a Sherwin-Williams spokeswoman said the sales are scheduled to close by the second quarter of 2023, though the company will continue using the facilities until its new buildings are complete. Sherwin-Williams is not disclosing the purchase price for the 1.3 million-square-foot Landmark Office Towers, a trio of interconnected buildings at 101 W. Prospect Ave., and the 9-acre technology center site.
“Both facilities will be integral to the new Bedrock master plan, and we are pleased to support this significant investment in the city of Cleveland,” wrote Julie Young, the publicly traded company’s vice president of global corporate communications.
The master plan shows an expansive park on Sherwin-Williams’ riverfront land, at the western edge of the study area along Carter Road. That park will connect the riverfront site to a growing trail network. Bedrock views the public spaces as critical elements of placemaking and increasing property values in the broader area.
New steps would traverse the hillside near the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse, off Huron Road near the Detroit-Superior Bridge, creating a path between the water and the center city.
At the eastern end of the site, near Ontario Street, another series of steps would help pedestrians navigate the slope. And in the middle, a reimagined Tower City Center could act as a grand corridor linking Public Square to the riverbank, with an indoor shopping area giving way to a lengthy covered porch.
That approach will require Bedrock to demolish the middle, or Public Square, level of the mall to create a much more open, central space. That means razing the floor starting just past the ornate entrance to the complex, beyond where the Brooks Brothers store used to be.
Escalators still will transport passengers to and from Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority trains that run beneath the center. But Bedrock wants to remove other physical, and visual, barriers as part of its ongoing effort to transform the mall into a marketplace, an airier space with a blend of shops, food and beverage operators, entertainment and kiosks.
A cross-section of the Tower City plans shows that Bedrock hopes to close part of Huron Road between West Second and West Third streets. Adjaye’s images depict a decorative porch roof that would span Prospect Avenue, creating a tunnel over traffic; stretch above the existing Skylight Concourse; and reach past where Huron runs today to jut toward the river.
Underneath, the retail floor would gradually give way to ramps and steps, a landscaped area where the indoors and outdoors appear to bleed together. The complicated project would wipe out structured and surface parking, but Bedrock plans to reconfigure and replace lots and garages as it works through the redevelopment, phase by phase.
The proposal calls for redirecting traffic from Huron onto Prospect at West Second and West Third. Bedrock hopes to calm traffic in the area and to shift Canal Road, which runs past parking lots along the river, to create new development pads and make room for green space and trails. In some places, Canal would run closer to the water; in others, it would pull away.
At the eastern end of the study area, the plan shows a rebuilt Eagle Avenue, a ramp that once stretched from the south side of Ontario Street, across from Progressive Field, to the river. The idea is to create several gateways to the site, with easy access for pedestrians and cyclists.
Bedrock also is exploring ways to connect new riverfront buildings to an indoor walkway that links Tower City and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where Gilbert’s Cleveland Cavaliers play.
“It’s a classic redevelopment puzzle,” Bonner said of the property, where former Tower City owner and developer Forest City Enterprises Inc. once had similar aspirations.
Forest City’s Tower City Center project spanned Terminal Tower, an abandoned rail hub and troubled office and retail spaces. The property also included foundation supports from the 1920s, installed for buildings that never materialized. Forest City opened the 360,000-square-foot mall in 1990 and developed new office space, parking and the attached Ritz-Carlton hotel.
But the project, which debuted during a recession, fell short of Forest City’s ambitious vision. The riverfront real estate has been languishing, a sea of parking, for decades.
“One can solve, through engineering and design, most of the challenges,” Bonner said. “What one can’t solve for is the marketplace and the financing for these kinds of projects. … The strength of a public-private partnership that not only understands the challenges but also participates in the solution makes those complicated projects much more likely to succeed.”
It’s too early to say how much public financing Bedrock will seek. The company has had preliminary discussions with city leaders and early talks about what kinds of resources might be available at the county, state and federal level.
Bonner mentioned tax-increment financing, which captures new property-tax revenues created by development and pledges them to the project. Developers can borrow against that promised revenue stream to finance infrastructure, public spaces and other up-front spending.
“We need to get into much more sophisticated conversations about this,” he said.
Bedrock’s next steps will include assessing public officials’ response to the master plan. If Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration and City Council members are supportive, Bedrock will work with officials to hammer out a development agreement outlining goals and timelines.
Bibb and other city officials, including council president Blaine Griffin, joined Bedrock at Friday’s standing-room-only event.
“Today’s announcement is a prime example of what can be accomplished when the private and public sectors align on equitable initiatives in support of all Clevelanders,” Bibb said in a prepared statement. “Bedrock’s vision for the redevelopment of the Cuyahoga riverfront is one of the major projects that will help us realize Cleveland’s goal of becoming the 18-hour, 15-minute city we know it can be.”
Meanwhile, after working through supply-chain delays, Bedrock expects to begin streetscape improvements around Tower City within weeks. And the developer is continuing to pitch local retailers on moving into the long-troubled mall, where Bedrock is taking a business-incubator approach, hosting pop-ups and emphasizing programming, including holiday events.
“Even though we’re going through this uncertainty in the economy, I think that it is still true that if you give people a reason to come to downtowns — and downtowns are vibrant and active — people will want to be there,” Bonner said.
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