Ulmer & Berne’s Lovett: Cleveland’s urban core is on the rise

Mary Forbes Lovett

Mary Forbes Lovett

by Dan Rafter

Mary Forbes Lovett has noticed something interesting about Cleveland: When people who’ve never been to this city visit, they are inevitably shocked, surprised at how much there is to do here and by the eclectic mix of Cleveland’s museums, restaurants, shops and parks.

This is why Lovett, partner of and chair of Ulmer & Berne’s real estate group, so enjoys introducing these visitors to the city in which she’s always called home.

“When people from the outside come to Cleveland, they are amazed,” Lovett said. “They think of the city’s reputation as the mistake by the lake. They think of the burning river. But when they actually get here and see the places we have to eat, the lakefront, the vibrancy of the city, they are blown away by it. That makes a difference. Once you visit Cleveland, you understand just how vibrant this city is.”

Today, Lovett has an up-close view of the new multifamily development taking place in and around the heart of Cleveland. Like many Midwest cities, Cleveland is seeing a surge of interest in its downtown. People want to move to the center of the city for its shops and restaurants. These people want to rent, and they want to be close to public transportation.

Lovett represents one of the largest developers of multifamily space in the Cleveland area, K&D Group.  This developer has already added new apartments to the city’s multifamily mix. Lovett said she is representing the developer as it readies another big apartment project in the city. That project, though, is still in the confidential stage.

Why is so much multifamily development taking place in Cleveland right now? Lovett points to Believeland, a 30-for-30 documentary by ESPN about the sports fans in Cleveland for a clue.

“We haven’t had a championship team in Cleveland for so long. But the sports fans here are still nuts. They’re crazy over their teams,” Lovett said. “There is this spirit in Cleveland. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been here, but people tend to come here and fall in love with the city. We are the underdog, but we are going to make it happen. That’s the feeling in Cleveland.”

A busy multifamily market

How busy was Cleveland’s multifamily market in 2015? Marcus & Millichap reported that Cleveland saw the addition of nearly 1,200 new apartments last year.

Marcus & Millichap says that this pace will slow this year, but that developers will still add an additional 620 apartment units to Cleveland in 2016.

These new units won’t result in a rise in vacancies, either. Marcus & Millichap says that the Cleveland-area apartment vacancy rate will fall 40 basis points in 2016 to 3.4 percent. At the same time, effective apartment rents will rise, with Marcus & Millichap predicting that these rents will climb 3.8 percent during the year to an average of $870 a month.

“People want to move back into the urban core here,” Lovett said. “They want to live in walkable neighborhoods. If you take that and add to it that passion for Cleveland that people have, you feel like you are part of a renaissance here. You want to do something, too, to help make the city better. That is helping to fuel the flames and accelerate development here.”

Lovett said that both young and older people are moving back into the city. She sees a steady stream of Millennials renting apartments in the heart of downtown Cleveland. But she also sees empty nesters leaving the suburbs and moving into the city.

“If you walk down Euclid Avenue at 10 on a Tuesday night, it’s filled with people of all ages,” Lovett said. “It’s a fun time in our city’s history.”

Lovett said that developers today are turning outdated office and industrial buildings into modern multifamily properties. This has two benefits: It adds to the multifamily mix here, meeting demand for apartment living, and it removes obsolete commercial space that is notoriously difficult to lease.

 New energy

Once people move into an apartment in downtown Cleveland, they find that the city offers plenty to do. Lovett said that Cleveland has turned into a foodie town, with celebrity chefs opening a steady stream of new restaurants here. Michael Symon is the leader of this trend, with restaurants here such as Lola, Lolita and Mabel’s BBQ.

The city is home to several new microbreweries, too, Lovett said. These hotspots are bringing new energy to the city, too, Lovett said.

Cleveland will have the chance to show itself off to a national audience this July, when it hosts the Republican National Convention.

“Time has faded on some of the bad memories that were associated with Cleveland,” Lovett said. “Today, we have gotten great press from travel magazines. People are learning that this is a great place to come and vacation. There are great things here for kids to do. We have a wonderful theater district, great museums. Cleveland is an affordable place to be, but it also offers a lot of amenities. The image of our city is changing.”

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