Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Downtown Cleveland

Downtown Cleveland with a view of Lake Erie, Key Tower, and 200 Public Square

Real estate investors could be forgiven for skepticism about Cleveland, a city long known for its Rust Belt struggles, gritty environment, and hapless sports franchises. 

But times are changing. The 2020 Cleveland Browns have made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, and Lebron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title not too long ago. Similarly, although the city has plenty of room for improvement, it’s home to key bright spots, especially a revitalizing Downtown area. 

Real estate investors should consider several factors when making any investment, some of which are: population growth, jobs, public/private investments in the marketplace, and finally supply and demand. Using these criteria to evaluate Cleveland, it becomes clear that Downtown stands out for its recent positive track record and future potential.

Population growth

When evaluating population growth, a key indicator of real estate demand, a “tale of two Clevelands” emerges. The illustration below shows that, while many Cleveland neighborhoods have been shrinking, the Downtown area is a pocket of positivity.

(Source)

From 2000 to 2017 Cleveland’s downtown population doubled, according to the International Downtown Association, in stark contrast with the broader Cleveland area’s population decline. Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA), said in February that his organization was aiming for 30,000 Downtown residents by 2030. 

The Downtown area appears to have attractive fundamentals. As of 2018, Cleveland had the largest downtown population in Ohio and the largest jobs concentration in the state. Forty two percent of Downtown residents had 4-year or advanced degrees. In 2019 the Downtown Cleveland Special Improvement District accumulated $4.2 million in funds from local businesses to support cleanup and neighborhood efforts. The DCA says this effort has greatly improved the look and feel of the area.

While Downtown Cleveland accounts for only about 4% of the citywide population of 390,000, the neighborhood is growing much faster than the rest of the city, and it’s where the jobs are — 35% of Cleveland’s jobs are in Downtown, according to the International Downtown Association (an affiliate of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance). And Downtown jobs are also growing faster.

Job growth

Job growth is a key to any real estate investment. A strong job market tends to attract residents, and a strong economy can bring in more businesses, establishing a virtuous cycle.

In recent years Cleveland’s job market has been soft when compared to the U.S. overall, but once again there’s some reason to believe the Downtown area is a bright spot. 

The International Downtown Alliance is optimistic about Downtown Cleveland’s resilience, citing 4.3% overall job growth — 13% in private jobs — from 2010 to 2017. Jobs are disproportionately concentrated Downtown. Of all Cleveland’s jobs, 43% are in the Downtown Area; Downtown’s job density is about 10x that of the city as a whole. Downtown Cleveland is also more heavily weighted than the city as a whole to “knowledge economy” jobs in the professional, scientific, and technical service sectors — as well as in public administration. Median incomes are about 40% higher Downtown than they are for the city as a whole. When it comes to jobs, Downtown Cleveland bucks the Rust Belt stereotype.

Public and private investments in the marketplace

Local investment can meaningfully drive outcomes for real estate investors. New public or private projects can make an area much more attractive, helping support the market as a whole. Notable Downtown Cleveland private residential projects include:

In its Q3 2020 report the Downtown Cleveland Alliance pointed to $306.3 million in additional downtown construction residential projects.

Business investment is also critical. On that front, Sherwin-Williams plans to spend $600 million to build a new headquarters in Cleveland as well as a research facility just outside the city. The Fortune 500 paint company’s Downtown location is expected to be 1 million square feet. Together, the two buildings should accommodate 3,500 workers. 

The past decade has also seen notable public investments in Downtown. The Healthline is a 24/7 rapid bus service connecting Downtown to University Circle via the Cleveland Clinic established in 2008 for $200 million

Residential, public, and business investment in Downtown Cleveland all show signs of potential for future growth that’s out of proportion with the city’s stagnant reputation.

Supply and Demand

If you’ve taken high school economics, you know to consider supply and demand to help assess price and value for any investment. In real estate, a key indicator of potential value lies in how ready people are (demand) to occupy the buildings in the area (supply).

In terms of Downtown, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the International Downtown Association conducted a study in 2018 “that revealed demand for an additional 3,800 housing units between 2023 and 2030.” 

To meet this projected demand, several building projects are in progress. In its Q3 2020 report, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance said “Downtown Cleveland will have added over 1,900 apartments over a two year period.” Additionally, “investment in Downtown housing continues with planned projects including the City Club Apartments (received final design approval), The Centennial (announced plans for 860 workforce apartments), Rockefeller Building, Tower at Erieview (awarded State Historic Tax Credit), and Flats East Bank Phase III (construction planned to begin 2021).”

It’s encouraging to see continued interest in investment in the Downtown area, and jobs and population trends have indicated continued interest among residents in moving to the neighborhood. Supply and demand in Downtown Cleveland appear well aligned.

Conclusion 

Although no one would mistake Cleveland for a boom town, investors who completely overlook the city may miss some important nuances beneath the surface. A long-term trend in declining population has moderated in recent years, and efforts to revitalize the Downtown neighborhood have paid off. A growing population, a high concentration of quality jobs, and a great deal of investment have made Downtown Cleveland an exception to the citywide narrative. Despite moderate headwinds, the city may continue to benefit from an influx of educated young workers.

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