Developers hope the intersection of West 150th Street and Lorain Avenue in West Park will soon be the home of five new national chain retail locations and a new name. The project received final approval from the Cleveland Planning Commission on May 7, but has yet to name new tenants.
Three months ago, the planning commission approved land owner TLM Realty’s schematic plans to redevelop and renovate the plaza into the West Park Shopping Center (click here to view the presentation). The goal is to revitalize what has been an eyesore for area residents since its former Kmart anchor store shuttered in 2017.
Workers will retrofit the Kmart into three spaces that will contain a trio of national retailers and add a free-standing drive-thru restaurant for between $5 and $10 million. The stores are projected to bring 100 new jobs to West Park and raise the plaza’s parking capacity to 501 cars while adding a more pedestrian-friendly, landscaped environment.
In total, TLM Principal Michael Oestreich anticipated between six and eight tenants will move into the lots at the intersection once construction is complete.
But don’t expect ground to be broken anytime soon. A representative from West Park Kamm’s Neighborhood Development, which has been working to repurpose the site, said the retail revisions at the corner site are on hold until a commercial tenant vacates the plaza.
Even once the shopping center is clear for construction, some community members plan to oppose the project because it includes demolishing a 95-year-old apartment building.
Adam Rosen, a Cleveland attorney who’s been representing landholder TLM Realty since the summer of 2020, said one of the businesses is slated to be a grocery store and another will be a drive-thru coffee shop.
The names of the other national retailers and café that will fill the West Park Shopping Center were supposed be announced in a joint press release between TLM and West Park Kamm’s sometime in June, but that has yet to happen.
“I think we view this site as a catalyst for development in the West Park neighborhood,” said Rosen, who previously worked for the Detroit Shoreway CDC. “[This] big, vacant site that is frankly an eyesore, transforming into a multimillion dollar reinvest with national tenants sends a message that the neighborhood is open for business.”
New opportunities to work and shop
West Park Kamm’s Executive Director Rosemary Mudry said her organization, which has been overseeing the site prior to her joining the development corporation in 2019, also has big plans for the location, noting that the process sped up once TLM hired Rosen in summer 2020.
In total, WPKND’s Kmart Site Redevelopment webpage states the project will invite new opportunities to work and shop, expanding West Park’s selection of mostly small-scale national retailers. Mudry said it will also improve the aesthetic and pedestrian appeal of the intersection.
She also said that the site plan TLM reviewed most recently at the May 7 Cleveland Planning Commission meeting is considerably different than the one the developer initially presented, which was based on Cleveland State University’s Connecting West Park planning study from 2019.
That study had been commissioned by WPKND and Cleveland City Councilman Charles Slife, who represents the area of Ward 17 where the former Kmart lies and has been working with the CDC to find new tenants for the plaza since 2017.
“People internalize it and think it’s a reflection of the neighborhood at large,” explained Slife of the empty store. He has publicly referred to the spot as an “indictment of Kmart.”
“And this is very unfortunate to represent a strong, stable neighborhood. We have a lot of people moving in. There’s a lot of love in West Park, but seeing it and knowing there could be something else has been a focal point for the community.”
A well-trafficked location
John Abbott, who has called West Park home for 20 years, said he can imagine himself and other members of the community frequenting the proposed grocery store and coffee shop.
“We’re happy to know we’re going to have some improvements and investments in the neighborhood,” Abbott said, adding that one of the reasons he moved to West Park in the first place was its proximity to I-90 and I-71.
That latter fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by Slife, who said that West 150th is one of the most-used north-south thoroughfares on Cleveland’s west side. He also noted that new routes along the Cleveland RTA’s new “NEXT GEN RTA” bus line plan added in June will bring people to and from the plaza every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day.
Mudy also said she recognizes the importance of nearby thoroughfares in bringing visitors to the site.
“150th connects people to the highway, airport, those kinds of things,” she said of the corridor. For many people, this corner is the most visible crossroads of the neighborhood outside of Rocky River Drive and Lorain.”
If the unattractive, abandoned store space is the only thing people see when they drive through that part of town, West Park’s image will suffer, she added.
The importance of its location notwithstanding, the plaza has been little more than a red-light avoidance cut-through for the past four years, Slife said.
Now, Slife, Mudry and TLM hope it will be visited by pedestrians as well. The realty company’s initial site renderings show sidewalks and marked pathways for walkers and bikers.
Mudry said she hopes the shopping center’s more environmentally friendly, walkable design also will help earn TLM a Green Infrastructure Grant through the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to offset construction costs.
But that connectivity comes at a cost, in this case the demolition of a 95-year-old apartment structure called The Marquard Apartment Building. Prior to the planning commission’s approval of the demolition at the May 7 meeting, West Park resident Nate Lull had attempted to keep the historic building at 14373 Lorain Ave. intact via an online petition that received 923 signatures.
“I learned about the plans to demolish the building through Cleveland’s permit website, Accela,” Lull said after the demolition was approved, noting the website as an excellent tool to help Clevelanders prepare for city meetings.
“I’m always trying to encourage community engagement and openness between leadership and the residents,” said Lull, a student of regional planning at Cleveland State University. “[The Marquard] is a historical building, which housed the offices of the Marquard Sash and Door Co. as well as the Marquard Home Builders, who were responsible for many great homes in Cleveland. One example is the Newton Avenue Historic District, which [was] entirely built by Phillip Marquard, the president of the company and ‘patriarch’ of the family.”
Debate over the project has been friendly. Lull said community members have raised valid questions and made reasonable suggestions about additional landscaping and preserving portions of the Marquard. TLM, meanwhile, worked with local service organizations to help relocate Marquard residents, which Lull said was rare.
Still, Mudry said, there’s something undeniably sad about tearing down a beautiful historic building, one whose fate was essentially sealed when the plaza was constructed around it.
“I think it’s always sad to lose [an] attractive building, especially those that are well-built, but that building was also neglected for a long time,” the CDC director added. “So I think sometimes there is a tradeoff. If there wasn’t a grocer coming to the site and some [other tenants] that I think are possible, would it be worth it? I don’t know, but I think there’s economic realities sometimes and we have to make difficult choices.”
In demolitions situations like this, Lull said developers often apply for affordable or low-income housing tax credits that allow them to restore the building without raising rent.
“The developers would be able to tout the neighboring grocery and similar affordable housing on the street as a reason for the tenants to not be displaced,” he said.
An easy choice
For residents like Abbott, who said the plaza would be a good location for almost any business given its location and its high daily traffic count, the choice is easy.
“I think that’s a positive thing for any brick and mortar that’s looking to have drive-by traffic,” he continued.
According to Slife, that drive-by appeal will help keep dollars in the neighborhood as a matter of convenience. Most West Park residents, he said, currently have to travel eight miles to Steelyard Commons south of downtown whenever they want to visit a chain retailer.
The future of the project, and specifically the timeline, is uncertain. Slife said the goal is to begin construction this summer and have retail tenants in place by the warm months of 2022, but Rosen said that plan is subject to change.
The councilman said in late May that the names of the plaza’s new retailers had yet to be announced because the planning commission had to first approve the site plans. He said he expected a press release debuting the retailers to be announced in the weeks following the site plan approval, but TLM and West Park Kamm’s have both remained mum.
It is now August and such an announcement has yet to surface, dispelling any chances the developers had of meeting their most recent timeline.
Rosen said the plan is to release an updated timeline with tentative construction and opening dates whenever TLM and WPKND publish their joint press release announcing the names of the new stores.
“It’s kind of a moving target at this point. Material costs and everything are really, really crazy. We’re still working on the final set of plans with the city’s building and housing department so we can get those building approvals and begin work,” Rosen continued. “There’s just a bunch of moving targets and it’s tough to stay on some of those dates.”
Citizens can comment on development proposals through their CDC or council member as well as the Cleveland Planning Commission. Learn more about the Kmart site redevelopment at http://westparkkamms.org/kmart-site-redevelopment/, view Nate Lull’s petition to save the Marquard at https://www.change.org/p/tlm-realty-save-the-historic-marquard-building-at-14737-lorain-avenue, and view the Cleveland Planning Commission website at https://planning.clevelandohio.gov/.
Collin Cunningham is a freelance journalist who lives in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.