University Square poised for rebuild
University Square’s long-awaited and much-needed makeover could begin as soon as this summer.
“We are on the verge of doing what once seemed impossible,” University Heights Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan said. “The partnership led by Kowit & Company Real Estate Group is the right local developer for the redevelopment at University Square. They share our vision of something bigger, something better, something beautiful, something worthy of this city, worthy of this community, worthy of University Heights.”
In January, UH City Council approved new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to allow the redevelopment of University Square. The redevelopment plan was made possible through cooperation with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, the Cuyahoga County government, the county prosecutor’s office, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, and bond holders of the original 2001 University Square development.
A development agreement and a cooperative agreement are currently being drafted. Simultaneously, drawings are under way that will be reviewed by the University Heights Planning Commission, Architecture Review Board, and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Once plans are approved by those entities, and then city council, construction can begin.
Any interested UH resident or business owner can provide feedback at planning commission and BZA meetings, as well as at regular city council meetings. The city plans to update the community throughout the process via the media, and its own social-media platforms and publications (e.g., Mosaic magazine, At Your Service monthly newsletter). Feedback is also welcome on this issue, and all others, in the form of a call, e-mail or letter to UH City Hall.
Brad Kowit of Kowit & Company outlined Phase I of the redevelopment at a recent council meeting. Target and Macy’s will remain, and the space in between the stores along Cedar Road will be rebuilt as approximately 200 apartment units, leasing at rates of $1,400 to $1,900 per month.
Kowit explained there is a local need for an upscale, market-rate housing development. The University Square units will be mostly one-bedroom, but will include a limited number of two- and three-bedroom units. Kowit said the leasing prices will “be an alternative to Beachwood and University Circle.”
Phase I will include “live-work” and retail spaces, which could include a coffee shop, art studios, or professional offices. Amenities will likely include a fitness room, business center and conference center. There will be newly created outdoor space which could include a dog park, bocce ball courts, and a volleyball pit.
The redevelopment will fix another area of concern at University Square—the parking garage.
There is currently a dark alleyway between the garage and the back of the building. “One of the first things we’re going to do is take the garage and open it up,” Kowit said. “We’ll create about 100 feet of outdoor space, and area and light, and that’s accomplished by taking off just one bay of the garage.”
Kowit’s improvements to the garage will be in addition to nearly $1 million in safety improvements that were made in 2019.
Susan Drucker, former Solon mayor, was hired as University Heights’ economic development director to help make redevelopment projects like this happen. “While this is a team effort,” Brennan said, “it doesn’t get done without the strong work and diligence of Susan.”
Drucker said the long-neglected and mostly vacant University Square was a “black eye for this community,” and that local residents and small business owners deserved “so much more." She noted, “A redevelopment project of this type is not only desirable in order to serve the needs of the community, but it is essential to boost economic development across University Heights.”
Drucker said the plans for redevelopment at University Square have already sparked inquiries from several businesses that have expressed interest in locating there.
UH Vice Mayor Michele Weiss said the redevelopment will benefit local taxpayers. “The potential income from new tenants will enable the city to move forward with other initiatives that we simply do not have funding for,” she said.
Jodi Sourini, CH-UH school board president, said she is happy the project keeps what works at University Square. “Keeping Target and Macy’s was a key issue,” Sourini said. “I’m pleased we were able to work with the city to find a way to redevelop University Square.”
Construction could begin as early as this summer. “Our goal is to finish up our due diligence [and] finish up the development agreement [with the city] this year, and in the summer break ground and start building,” Kowit said. “It’s probably a 14-month process from start to finish.”
Kowit said Phase II planning will begin after “the feel” of the project is learned from Phase I. Options for the second phase could feature additional mixed-use space, including more retail and apartments, entertainment venues, and senior housing. The feel being sought is one of an active lifestyle, and a center in which to live, work, shop, and play.
Mike Cook is the communications and civic engagement coordinator for University Heights.