By Carlo Wolff
A one-bedroom unit in The Athlon at the Cleveland Athletic Club looks and feels like a great, relaxing getaway after a hard day’s work. It’s a two-story space, the bedroom up a flight of stairs. Enclosed by a low wall, those sleeping quarters hold tall, narrow windows that look upon intriguing slices of downtown Cleveland. It’s a safe space in the thick of things.
A three-level suite in the latest Playhouse Square-area redevelopment delivers a very different vibe. It feels like a castle, with ceilings so high you have to crane your neck. Above all, it feels expansive, its long hallway a trademark of the designer, Sandvick Architects of Cleveland.
The one-bedroom is just what millennials want, says Allison Burke, marketing assistant for J&S Management, The Athlon’s property manager. Empty nesters done with rattling around big suburban homes are intrigued by the larger suites, she says. The smaller one-bedrooms are leasing quickly because millennials “just want their own little space and a place to sleep,” says Burke. “They’re not spending too much time at home. I haven’t seen families, but I have seen baby boomers who are selling their houses in the ’burbs and want to come downtown for the action.”
Millennials and boomers alike will soon be able to use the walking track and then wind down in the near-Olympic-sized pool at The Athlon, the new, mixed-use transformation of the storied CAC. The building proudly nods to its ancestry with the vintage CAC logos on the elevators in the brightly lit first-floor lobby, the vintage-fixtured, technologically updated ceiling in the ballroom and the beautifully restored tile in the pool.
Joining the residential fray
The Athlon – the name is a conflation of the Greek words for “athlete” and “contest” – is the newest contender in downtown Cleveland’s highly competitive residential market. Begun in 2017, 10 years after the club’s abrupt closing, the $61.2 million project should be completed by year’s end. Financing consists of $29.1 million from First National Bank, $7.8 million from TriState Capital Bank of Pittsburgh, $6.9 million from Huntington Bank, $3.6 million from the Ohio Water Development Authority, $10 million in federal historic tax credits and $3.8 million in state historic tax credits. While the one-bedroom suites are most numerous at The Athlon, the renovated building also is set for retail on the first floor and offices on the seventh. As of early November, finishing touches were being applied to the pool, a 3,000-square-foot fitness center and a deck – open to residents only – on the roof of the 15-story structure.
The imposing building at 1118-1148 Euclid Ave. began leasing in April and is now close to a quarter rented. It is by no means a conventional, cookie-cutter building: Sandvick Architects designed more than 80 different floor plans, and the views include Euclid Avenue, Lake Erie, Progressive Field and the terra cotta exterior of The Residences at Halle, another recent adaptive reuse immediately to the west. Like the Halle project and The Centennial, a planned residential repurposing of the old Huntington Bank building at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, The Athlon trades on its history.
Not only was it known for its Vegas Nights and St. Patrick’s Day parties, it also is the site of a world record: Johnny Weissmuller, the champion swimmer who portrayed Tarzan in early films, set the 150-yard backstroke record there in 1922.
Like residential units in other recent adaptive reuses in downtown Cleveland, The Athlon offers high ceilings (some are downright stratospheric), state-of-the-art, stainless steel appliances, a stacked washer and dryer, tiled showers and available bathtubs, ample closet space and community events. It includes a basement garage with some 35 spots, valet service and self-park at an offsite lot, says Burke. There are monthly parking rental rates. The place is pet-friendly, too.
The site boasts 109 one-bedroom units and 54 two-bedroom units; 23 of the latter are multi-level. The one-bedrooms start at $1,250 a month, the two-bedrooms at $2,300. Three-level suites rent for in the $3,000s, says Burke. Those three-level suites are extra-dramatic in an imaginatively designed complex, where the smaller one-bedrooms are going especially fast. One-bedrooms are 500 to 950 square feet, multi-level one-bedrooms 650 to 850 square feet, two-bedrooms 900 to 1,350 square feet, and multi-level two-bedrooms 950 to 1,550 square feet.
“It’s a modern, vintage building with a lot of originality,” says Burke.
Apartments are on floors two through six, half of floor seven and the eighth floor, where there is also a comfortable, relaxed resident lounge. The other half of the seventh floor is a former ballroom, which real estate firm CBRE hopes to rent for office space. The 10th and 12th floors feature 23 two- and three-level suites. The three-level suites are throughout half of the former basketball court on the 12th floor. The 12th floor also features men’s and women’s locker rooms, a platform for yoga, the fitness center and the pool and walking track. Retail is planned for the first floor.
While the pool and rooftop deck are unique features, a resident who is a veteran of downtown living tells Burke the resident lounge is special, too, giving The Athlon a particularly homey feel. “The design and architecture make it feel a little bit more like a home,” says Burke.
According to Burke, the transformation of the Cleveland Athletic Club started as the “passion project” of Ned Weingart, a former CAC member and Cleveland Heights investor who allied with Precision Environmental, Tony DiGeronimo’s demolition and remediation company, and the Bobeck family, which owns Great Lakes Financial Group. Also in the redevelopment mix: Welty Building Co. of Fairlawn and Whitestone Realty Capital, based in New York.
When Joe DiGeronimo, vice president of Precision Environmental, walked into the shuttered building for the first time in 2017, he was shocked. Trashed by 10 years of closure, water damage and deterioration, the former CAC was a mess. “We’ve been in construction/demolition mode for the last year,” he told Freshwater Cleveland, noting Precision Environmental had to remove tons of debris. According to various accounts, the closing of the Cleveland Athletic Club on Dec. 31, 2007, was sudden, and the deterioration was profound while the closed building froze, sweltered and marinated for 10 years.
Founded in 1908, when women weren’t allowed in, the CAC was a private club targeting athletes with its pool, a bowling alley (not in today’s options), a billiards parlor, a card room and 12 overnight guestrooms. It opened in the old National City Bank building at East 6th Street and Euclid but soon outgrew that space, and in 1911, moved into its most enduring home at its current address. The building was designed by J. Milton Dyer, who also designed Cleveland City Hall and the U.S. Coast Guard station on Whiskey Island.
The Athlon has always had good bones, and now that it has been restored and reconfigured, it’s poised for contemporary success. But it faces stiff competition – 2,518 new residential units are planned for downtown in the next five years, according to the Downtown Cleveland Alliance – and it needs retail and office tenants. Kevin Moss, who handles Athlon retail for CBRE, has retail that “compliments downtown” on his mind.
Moss, who lives in Mentor and was bar mitzvahed at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood, would like a bank, a salon or a home goods store to occupy an 8,500-square-foot space on the first floor. Or maybe a pet store.
If you live in downtown Cleveland and want to buy a toaster, you have to go to the suburbs. Same with pet supplies, Moss says, so The Athlon would be an ideal spot for a business that sells such items. The space available for first-floor retail would likely have to be split up to accommodate multiple tenants.
When Moss became involved with The Athlon eight months ago, the greatest hurdle was that it still was a construction zone and there was scaffolding in the road. It took a while to complete, Moss says, so it was challenging for tenants and brokers to look at the property, to get people to visualize “what this project can and will become. Now that it’s complete, it’s easier to visualize the space in the project, so it’s more accessible and easier to pitch.”
Living at The Athlon, apparently, already has unique perks. Expect more to come.