Cleveland, its school district put 19 properties in play, seeking real estate developers’ proposals

Adelicia Caree

A dozen vacant Cleveland schools and seven pieces of surplus land — almost all of them on the East Side — are hitting the market, the subjects of a request for redevelopment plans. The city and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are jointly seeking proposals from real estate developers interested in […]

A dozen vacant Cleveland schools and seven pieces of surplus land — almost all of them on the East Side — are hitting the market, the subjects of a request for redevelopment plans.

The city and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District are jointly seeking proposals from real estate developers interested in remaking the properties, which the district no longer needs. The portfolio includes six historically and architecturally significant buildings, erected between 1903 and 1939, which are protected as city landmarks.

Some of the buildings, including the onetime Willson school on East 55th Street, have been empty for years. Others — namely the roughly 168,000-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. High School that sits on 11 acres in Hough — only recently went dark.

The district and the city released their request for qualifications late Monday, March 1. Responses from developers are due April 30. Winning project teams will get a preliminary nod from the city by the end of May, though the real estate deals will take much longer to consummate.

“When we developed a plan for the future of our programs and facilities in 2019, the Board of Education asked that we also look at the future of our vacant buildings and property,” said Eric Gordon, the district’s CEO, in a written statement. “We are excited to be partnering with the city of Cleveland in redeveloping unused properties and turning them into neighborhood assets.”

Under state law, the district had to give charter school operators the first chance to buy the buildings at fair market value, based on recent appraisals. Charter schools passed.

Developers who offer less than the appraised value for a particular building or plot of land will need additional approvals from the school board and city.

The appraised values of the former schools range from $25,000 for an old elementary school in the Woodland Hills neighborhood to $880,000 for Martin Luther King Jr. High School. The land parcels, of 1.3 to 3.7 acres, are worth anywhere from $38,000 to $185,000, based on the district’s records.

Buyers can pursue multiple sites, but they must submit separate proposals for each one. The city, which will oversee the process, is seeking detailed information about the project teams, their plans and their anticipated sources of financing, including tax credits for historic preservation, low-income housing or commercial investments in low-income communities.

The request for qualifications also asks bidders to demonstrate, based on past projects, that they’re committed to diversity, inclusion and sustainability and that they’re able to work with community stakeholders.

“These vacant school buildings and vacant land parcels provide opportunities for economic development in neighborhoods across the city of Cleveland,” Mayor Frank Jackson said in a written statement.

The city, he added, looks forward to working with the district “on repurposing these assets to foster redevelopment and equity in our neighborhoods.”

Developers hoping to rehabilitate or raze the landmark buildings would need approvals from the Cleveland Landmarks Commission. Those buildings are:

• The former Audubon middle school, built in 1922 and located at 3055 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, in the Woodland Hills neighborhood.

• The old Mount Auburn elementary school, also built in 1922, at 10110 Mt. Auburn Ave. in Woodland Hills.

• The defunct Central high school, at 2199 East 40th St., in the city’s Central neighborhood. The building dates to 1939.

• The long-languishing Willson school, the oldest of the bunch, at 1625 East 55th St., at the western edge of the Hough neighborhood. The former Richman Brothers Co. factory, just northwest of Willson, hit the market last year, putting a significant stretch of a highly trafficked but downtrodden corridor in play.

• The onetime Empire junior high school in Glenville, built in 1915, at 9113 Parmelee Ave.

• In the Jefferson neighborhood on the West Side, the Nathaniel Hawthorne school at 3575 W. 130th St. Portions of the building were constructed in 1917 and 1927.

Three of the historic buildings and three parcels of land sit in federally designated Opportunity Zones, tax-favored Census tracts where investors can redeploy gains to defer and eventually reduce their liabilities.

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