Like an old door that incessantly squeaks, the Rust Belt is in desperate need of lubrication. Clogged and corroded, the hinges of its economy are stuck, leaving industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Detroit stalled on the threshold between a blighted past and a prosperous future.
The door has been especially stubborn in Cleveland, where the unemployment rate is consistently among the nation’s highest. A prime illustration is Euclid Avenue, which stretches approximately 10 miles from Public Square in downtown Cleveland to the northeast suburb of Willoughby. Once one of America’s most affluent avenues, it was a world-famous address in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when its wealthy residents—including John D. Rockefeller—earned it the nickname “Millionaire’s Row.”
“In the early part of the 20th century, Euclid Avenue was recognized as the most beautiful street in the world,” says commercial real estate broker Scott Garson, senior vice president at Cleveland-area brokerage NAI Daus. “But then the area transitioned.”
As Cleveland grew, commercial development encroached on Euclid Avenue—so much so that by the end of the World War I, Millionaire’s Row was in decline. During the Great Depression, decline turned into free fall. Storefronts became vacant. Mansions became boarding houses. Gardens gave way to graffiti. By the time race riots erupted in Cleveland in the 1960s, the world’s most beautiful street had become the city’s most infamous slum.
Despite its fall from grace, Euclid Avenue remained a vital artery connecting Cleveland’s two most populous commercial districts: downtown on the west end of Euclid Avenue, and University Circle—home of Case Western Reserve University, University Hospital, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, and the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic—on the east end.
The potential was obvious. So, in 2010, Garson purchased and redeveloped a historic building at 7012 Euclid Ave. The product—a LEED Silver-certified facility known as Victory Center—turns a relic from Cleveland’s past into a symbol of its future.
If Cleveland’s economy is a squeaky door rusted shut, then the healthcare industry could be the WD-40 that gets it moving again. Using the institutions in University Circle as a foundation on which to build, the city is positioning itself as a national hub for healthcare innovation by developing a “health and technology corridor” along a three-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue. Along with a new medical mart—the 235,000-square-foot Global Center for Health Innovation, which opened earlier this year at the west end of Euclid Avenue—Victory Center is part of that corridor.
“This building is the largest building between downtown and University Circle, so we saw a really great opportunity to capitalize on efforts to create a hub of technology and innovation within the city,” Garson says. “The idea was to take this historic building and redevelop it to accommodate the growing health and technology fields in Cleveland.”
Originally, Garson was just an investor. In his position as a real estate broker, he sold the building to an out-of-state developer in 2005, then partnered with the group in 2006 as its local representative. Unfortunately, plans to turn the building into condos unraveled during the Great Recession, when the developer stopped paying property taxes. Because he believed in the project and didn’t want to lose his investment, Garson purchased the property and decided to redevelop it himself. There was just one problem: He needed financing, and as a first-time developer, getting it wouldn’t be easy.
With the help of a partner, Garson eventually secured financing from private investors and banks. He also received a grant from the state, which stipulated that the building include some amount of research or lab space in order to support the development of Cleveland’s health-tech corridor. Victory Center was born.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
Turning a historic building into a high-tech healthcare incubator, whose final program includes more than 165,000 square feet of lab, research, and office space for growth-stage companies in the biomedical and healthcare technology industries, posed several challenges, according to Garson, who completed construction on Victory Center in December 2013.
Perhaps the biggest was balancing historic preservation with sustainability, which was a major priority. In order to maintain the building’s historical integrity, for instance, crews had to install 337 new windows that matched in design the structure’s original windows. In order to achieve LEED Silver status, however, the windows also had to be energy-efficient. Garson worked closely with the National Park Service to choose double-pane windows—custom-made by Jamieson-Ricca—that were both efficient and historically accurate.
HVAC was another concern. “When we built the building, we planned for clean rooms and additional HVAC requirements that labs and research facilities might need by actually cutting the floor, which is a 16-inch concrete floor, to allow for the addition of more HVAC ductwork,” Garson says. “All you need to do is place the ductwork in there. The shaft already exists, and the floor is already cut.” To keep heating and cooling as efficient as possible, Victory Center utilizes a digitally controlled HVAC system that’s expected to save tenants up to 20 percent on their utility bills.
The building’s location adjacent to the HealthLine—a rapid-transit bus line servicing Euclid Avenue—likewise is a built-in benefit, reducing Victory Center’s environmental impact by allowing employees to access the building via public transit. Ultimately, though, the most sustainable thing about Victory Center is its role as a catalyst for urban renewal.
“My commercial real estate practice focuses 98 percent on the inner city of Cleveland, where this building is located. I live and breathe it every day,” Garson says. “You’re not supposed to get emotional about real estate, but when I decided to buy this building I got emotional. I love my city and I think it has a lot to offer. I believe this is the right building, at the right time, in the right location to take Cleveland to the next level.”