Campus District is getting an at-home feel

By Jay Miller at Crain’s Cleveland Business:

It’s been a while coming for Karen Perkowski, but it’s looking like big things will be happening in the Campus District, the area east of downtown Cleveland.

It’s gotten to the point where community development planners have set in motion a plan to create a business improvement district to turn an area once home mostly to machine shops, electrical supply firms and the like into a real residential neighborhood.

“We’re very excited to see the changes,” said Perkowski, who with her husband Dave and their firm Tower Press Development, developed the Tower Press building at 1900 Superior Ave. 15 years ago and have added several additional buildings along Superior to their portfolio more recently.

The building, like others along Superior, was a part of a turn-of-the-20th-century garment district. In 1911, more than 2,000 members of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union staged a strike here, seeking to improve working conditions by demanding things such as a 50-hour work week.

Now, the demand for downtown living is spurring the activity. Developers see the Campus District as an opportunity to meet some of that demand at a lower rent level than downtown. At the same time, the successful conversion of older office buildings downtown to apartments and condominiums has created a class of office tenants expelled from those downtown buildings who want affordable office space.

Campus District Inc., the nonprofit community development corporation, has tallied a list of in progress development that totals $249.8 million, with additional properties either currently on the market or with development potential.

Bobbi Reichtell, the group’s executive director, said her group is forecasting that the resident population in the neighborhood, now about 5,200, will grow by 1,000, or 19%, in three years.

“Five years ago, no one could have predicted the demand that exists now,” Reichtell said. “It’s the success of downtown that has driven us and given developers the confidence to sink money into a neighborhood that was on the edge.”

A trigger for Perkowski’s and Reichtell’s optimism is the commitment of a local investment firm that is assembling a handful of properties along Superior Avenue. The firm, Global X, has been investing for the long term, with the intent of developing its properties as both residential and commercial space. Global X is a 16-year-old investment firm and tax credit adviser specializing in historic preservation.

It first invested in the Superior Avenue corridor in 2013, when it bought the building at 2498 Superior. It added five more the next year.

State and federal tax credits that encourage the preservation of significant older buildings are a key to the renaissance of the area.

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