Axis @ Ansel joins Cleveland’s Hough community

By Carlo Wolff  | Photos courtesy of Signet Real Estate Group

When Brel Erskine arrives for work at Axis @ Ansel, he doesn’t have the Hough area’s troubled history in mind. To Erskine, the 163-unit apartment building he manages at Ansel Road and Hough Avenue in Cleveland’s newly dynamic east side represents promise, not bad memories of a disturbing past.

Erskine and Lisa Wren work for Axis owner/developer Signet Real Estate Group, an Akron-based real-estate developer and project manager whose investment arm is Signet LLC. Signet’s investment branch secured $30 million in financing for Axis, according to a February 2020 article. The money stack also includes revenue bonds from two separate authorities nurturing energy efficiency. 

Brel Erskine and Lisa Wren

Axis @ Ansel, which opened in August 2020,  is an energy-efficient, decidedly modern building. It includes a 24-hour fitness center, spaces for collaborative work, secured on-site parking (a cost normally not included in the monthly rent), and pet-friendly options and amenities such as a large pet-washing station with locker rooms.

Each rental unit features large windows, stainless-steel Energy Star appliances, walk-in closets, quartz counter tops, faux wood floors, a concealed washer-dryer space and understated gray-and-white cabinetry. There are also fully furnished opportunities. 

“We’re able to give back to the community and to the universe and to the earth, and at the same time, we’re able to keep” costs down, Erskine says.

Axis @ Ansel’s facade.

Axis @ Ansel is at one of the key intersections in a Cleveland neighborhood known for the Hough Riots of July 18 to 23, 1966. Days of robbery, pillage and arson erupted after the white owner of a bar at Hough and East 79th Street refused to give a Black customer a glass of water. During the rapidly escalating melee, which prompted then Cleveland Mayor Ralph Locher to call for the Ohio National Guard to intervene, four people were killed, all Black. The Hough Riots, along with the briefer, explosive Glenville Shootout almost exactly two years later, were neighborhood responses to years of substandard housing, government-sanctioned redlining, overcrowding and racial discrimination.

Now, however, the Hough and Glenville areas, sparked in part by development in University Circle, are showing signs of a new phase decades later. 

Turning the page

While “eds and meds” institutions are a walk away from Axis, overgrown homes and once-elegant apartment buildings – mute but eloquent evidence of the blight that has dogged much of Cleveland’s east side for well over 50 years – are just as close. At the same time, there’s development action from Glenville – a large area with its own systemic history of poverty – to the southwestern side of University Circle. 

At Axis, retail planned for 1,000 square feet on the ground floor and its robust occupancy are healthy signs. The five-story, 143,000-square-foot building contains 61 studio apartments, 61 one-bedroom apartments and 41 two-bedroom units. Respective monthly rental rates are $1,175, $1,375 and $2,088. The studios are 540 square feet, the one-bedrooms 615 to 785 square feet, and the two-bedrooms 1,025 to 1,305 square feet. As of mid-August, occupancy was 95%, maybe better, Erskine says. Not bad for opening during the pandemic, he notes.

A model living room at Axis @ Ansel.

Three years ago, One University Circle – Mitchell Schneider and James Petros’ 20-story, $116-million luxury high-rise apartment building on Euclid Avenue between Stokes Boulevard and Stearns Road – became the first new high-rise in University Circle in more than 40 years. 

What began with One University Circle seems to have become a wave.

More residential activity on Cleveland’s newly vital east side is in the works, like The Artisan at Circle Square, a Chester Avenue venture critical to the development of Circle Square – an ambitious, multi-use plan for five acres of land between Euclid Avenue and Chester. Other recent residential projects include The Triangle Apartments near Case Western Reserve University on Mayfield Road and Mayfield Station Apartments in Little Italy. 

There are related developments in the immediate area of Axis, like Innova Living on Chester Avenue at East 100th Street, and the mixed-use Glenville CircleNorth on East 105th Street near Superior Avenue. Notably, Glenville CircleNorth is the first project in former Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.

Contemporary and comfortable

Axis @ Ansel isn’t pitched to wealthy retirees eager to trade in their suburban home for a more urbane lifestyle in a luxury urban rental. Its target is professionals looking for a place to work – and live. 

“When you go to One University Circle, it’s absolutely gorgeous,” says Erskine, noting he used to work there. “You automatically feel like, I better not touch anything. At One University Circle, it’s a whole different feel.

“You feel just comfortable here,” he says of Axis @ Ansel. “We want you to be able to come in, relax in the lobby, take your shoes off, get a coffee.” 

Axis @ Ansel’s lounge.

Both Erskine and Wren, the director of residential real estate for Signet, tout Axis’ modern finishes, the soothing but not clinical palette of white, black and gray, and hallways carpeted in a subtle light brown pattern. The aim is to be contemporary and comfortable, without amenity excess.  

Most Axis tenants aren’t aware of the neighborhood’s history, Erskine suggests. 

“For someone who is not used to the experiences of this neighborhood, they may look at it as a threat,” he says. “For some people who live in this neighborhood, they look at it as survival. This place offers you … a different look. “

A model kitchen and living room in a rental unit at Axis @ Ansel.

Today, the location of Axis and its contemporary design are draws. 

Prospective tenants are interested in its location near the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel on the campus of CWRU, the Cleveland Museum of Art, CWRU itself and two major hospital complexes, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. It’s also near the veterans’ hospital, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

“You’re seeing a lot more positives than negatives,” says Erskine, citing the property’s safety features. “Once people get here, they start to see that maybe there is some history here, and they may ask questions. But I think that because of our response and the atmosphere, we’re completely safe.”

He also explains offering amenities like an indoor pool would have added to costs and hiked rental rates. Meanwhile though, “we’re able to give necessities such as a gym, a room to study in. People can go out and explore University Circle.”

It is a consumer-oriented venture. Wren also points to Axis’ preferred employer program, which offers a monthly discount of $50 to tenants who can prove they work for a dozen nearby institutions, including University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, the VA Medical Center, CWRU, the Clinic, University Hospitals and the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Veterans Administration workers also get free parking and free electricity.

As Hough is being touted for its proximity to University Circle itself, home to major hospitals and cultural institutions, Axis is within walking distance of the new Cleveland Clinic and CWRU Health Education Campus. 

“University Circle is the hip place to be at this point,” Erskine says. 

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