Developer Jim Miketo has always been passionate about redeveloping Cleveland’s historic neighborhoods. When he lived in New York City, his friends used to call him “the kid from Cleveland” because he talked about his hometown so much. Now the owner of Forest City Shuffleboard is turning his attention to Lakewood’s Birdtown neighborhood with a $4 million mixed-use development.
“I want to revive a great property in a great area,” says Miketo of his project, which aims to take a former grocery store and turn it into 18 apartments and first-floor storefronts. “The East End, and more specifically Birdtown, has seen development and new businesses opening in the past few years. It is a great part of Lakewood that is extremely walkable and has a number of shops, bars and restaurants that people can frequent. In terms of our building, we believe that the new product will attract renters looking to move into the area.”
The project at 12501 Madison Ave. was recently awarded a $657,101 state historic preservation tax credit by the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA). Last month, ODSA awarded over $31 million dollars in historic preservation tax credits statewide, and $12 million in Northeast Ohio.
“This property has been an eyesore for a number of years,” says Heather Rudge of the Historic Preservation Group, a consultancy that has worked on developing plans for the project. “It’s just a building that needed to be acquired by the right person to do the right thing with it. And up until the time that Miketo bought it, the pricing on it was unrealistic.”
Birdtown initially drew Miketo’s interest because he saw the historic area as ripe for redevelopment. Yet that is causing tension with some city council members who are concerned the area is losing its affordability and diversity. With Lakewood one of the hottest housing markets in Northeast Ohio, that tension is likely to continue.
“This is happening over and over again: a company comes in, they buy a building and gentrify it,” says city council member Tristan Radar. “We are seeing this trend in people moving to Lakewood as a more affordable and desirable place, but now housing affordability is becoming an issue.”
Construction to start this year
The developer plans to transform the 20,471 square foot property into two studios, 11 one-bedroom apartments, and 5 two-bedroom apartments. The average size will be about 715 square feet, and price points will be in the $1.50 per square foot range, slightly higher than Lakewood’s average of $1.24 per square foot. The target audience is likely couples or single renters, rather than families, Miketo says.
The units will feature hardwood floors, high ceilings, granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, and the building will have an elevator and a communal roof deck. Each apartment will also come with an on-site parking spot behind the building. With construction set to start later this year, Miketo predicts the Madison property will be completed by the end of 2021.
The exterior and storefronts will be painstakingly restored, including the original tin ceilings. The developer will also remove alterations made in the 1980’s, including the standing seam metal awning over the first floor and the bricked-up storefront windows, based on historic photos of the property.
Birdtown initially drew Miketo’s interest because he saw the historic area as ripe for redevelopment. Birdtown was originally developed in the shadow of the National Carbon Company, which began manufacturing batteries and carbon-filtered gas masks on the border between Cleveland and Lakewood in 1891. The company employed a large network of Eastern European immigrants and their families, and built worker housing for its employees.
The building at 12501 Madison was originally built as a department store and was last used as the BiRite grocery store. The second floor was also rented out by the Lakewood Slovak Civic Club, the largest immigrant group in the community.
Concerns about affordability
With the addition of businesses like Lusso Cosmetics, Hola Tacos, and Barrocco, the Birdtown area has been gaining momentum for years, yet Birdtown’s origin as an enclave for immigrant factory workers contrasts sharply with the current redevelopment trend.
According to a Cleveland.com article earlier this year, Lakewood had the sharpest increase in prices for single-family homes in 2019, higher than any other community in Cuyahoga County. In 2019, the median sales price for a single-family home in Lakewood was $197,000, up 51 percent from just five years ago.
U.S. Census data shows an increase in people moving to Lakewood from 2013 to 2018, yet most of that growth has come from people ages 20-44. Meanwhile, its Black population has decreased from 9.8 percent in 2013 to 8.3 percent in 2018, and more than 90 percent of its residents are White.
The number of refugees coming into Lakewood has also declined steadily since 2011, when the number peaked at 93 new arrivals. In 2018, there were only 7 refugee arrivals. Lakewood’s Hispanic and Latino population has increased from 3.8 percent to 5.6 percent from 2013 to 2018, but is still a small fraction compared to the majority White residents.
While Radar and some of his colleagues have concerns that the city is losing its diversity, they support Miketo’s project and are cautiously optimistic that it will contribute to the holistic redevelopment of Birdtown.
Lakewood also launched an affordable housing strategy in 2019, which includes providing gap financing for affordable housing and creating more home ownership opportunities for low-income families.
Miketo said he has been in contact with the city, but he is still in the early stages of seeing what programs could be beneficial for both the city and the project.
Meanwhile, Rudge says that this project has already started to raise investor interest in other properties in Birdtown. “We have talked to a couple of other developers who are interested in doing something adjacent to other properties right around that area,” she said. “Tax credits are definitely an incentive for the investment.”
Jordan Walker is a Cleveland-based journalist whose writing has also appeared in The Progressive, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Satirist, and The Smart Set.