The Cleveland Comeback: Urban Redevelopment Can Rebrand a City

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 By: Andrew Batson, Director of Research, JLL

Before the 2016 Republic National Convention (RNC), the city of Cleveland suffered a major image problem. After, however, the mindset of many of its residents and the general public changed.Cleveland Public Square

Two years of construction and planned redevelopment paved the way for Cleveland to make its way back into the spotlight—this time, with modern event facilities and trendy restaurants downtown and along the lakeshore.

Cleveland isn’t the only city using redevelopment as a tool to rebrand its image, but it provides a solid blueprint for doing so. Cities are investing more time and money into their downtown spaces in the hopes of being considered for large-scale events, becoming a tourist destination, driving business growth, and attracting top talent for current businesses.

Despite Recession, Cleveland Leads in Healthcare, Biotechnical Fields

Pre-RNC, Cleveland was the ultimate underdog—underrated and under appreciated. The city struggled along with the rest of the country through the 2008 recession, cutting nearly 20,000 jobs. The only difference was that Cleveland had seen similar struggles in the past.

From December 2007 to early 2009, Ohio’s manufacturing industry saw a decrease in manufacturing jobs of 13.5%, compared to the national rate of 9.5%. With major losses in one of Cleveland’s biggest industries and recession effects looming, momentum for new business offices and headquarters evaporated.

Still, Cleveland managed to force recognition in a number of industries. The Cleveland Clinic has consistently ranked in the nation’s best hospital systems, receiving national recognition for its expertise in cardiology and heart surgery. This, paired with the headquarters of some of the country’s top organizations, including Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the Eaton Corporation and NASA Glenn Research Center, positions Cleveland as a leader in healthcare, durable goods manufacturing and biotechnology.

Despite the city’s efforts, Cleveland was branded by the general public, and often referred to as, “the mistake on the lake.” However—a true transformation story—leading up to and following the RNC everything has changed for Northeast Ohio.

Convention Construction Leaves Lasting Impression

Cleveland residents voted in new county government following the recession, which started the city on a path to revival by voting on one singular official and 11 members of the city’s council. The new structure emphasized government transparency and efficiency, putting a focus on economic restoration in the city. As a result, new residential, dining, hospitality and entertainment developments included the East 4th District, Flats East Bank, the Cleveland Convention Center and more.

Cleveland Hilton

The Republican National Committee took notice of the city’s momentum and selected Cleveland as its 2016 host city in July 2014. The announcement set off a series of renovations and new downtown developments to prepare for nearly 50,000 visitors.

The city worked hard the following two years to complete developments in time for the RNC, including:

  • Cleveland Hopkins Airport renovations
  • Cleveland Convention Center renovations
  • The Kimpton Schofield Hotel
  • Drury Plaza Hotel construction
  • Public Square renovations
  • Hilton Cleveland Downtown construction
  • Downtown beautification and road improvements

Cleveland Public Square 2

Many RNC guests and visitors were surprised by what the city has to offer, noting the many tourist attractions, variety of buildings and aesthetic scenery. The overall perception of Cleveland shifted from a recession-stricken rustbelt to a vibrant hotspot.

The convention strengthened the commercial real estate market and drove renewed interest in a number of office buildings downtown. Renovations and new construction even reaffirmed Cleveland’s ranking as a travel destination. The positive publicity rebranded Cleveland as a flourishing city with plenty of opportunity for its surge of millennial talent.

An added bonus: the RNC also sparked more discussion of Cleveland as a top destination for the convention industry. Just one month after the convention, the Cleveland Convention Center received nearly 60 new leads for potential conventions downtown.

New Construction and Redevelopment Poise Cities for Growth

A number of cities in the surrounding region have shared similar experiences of revival as they work to rebuild urban cores, including Cincinnati, Columbus and Detroit.

With new, historically low office vacancy rates along its skyline, Detroit recently started construction at a new world HQ for Little Caesar’s in District Detroit. In addition, five redevelopment teams will invest a combined total of $45 million investment in Paradise Valley to accommodate the desires of young professionals moving back into downtown areas. The investment is expected to produce new retail, office and residential space.

Similar to Cleveland and Detroit, Grand Rapids rebranded itself under the title of, “Beer City USA,” for its leading efforts in the brewing industry. But, that’s not all. The city was recently named Michigan’s fastest-growing metro area. The population increase across Grand Rapids’ counties (i.e. Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa) from July 2014 to July 2015 was 15 times higher than the entire state’s. With expansions to the medical and education fields, Grand Rapids positioned itself to attract and retain top talent, claiming the No. 3 spot in the nation for having one of the best economies.

Both Columbus and Cincinnati have also started making room for the recent influx of millennials in its downtown cores. Cincinnati is in the process of a $75 million Uptown redevelopment, complete with plans for a new hotel, apartments and office space. Columbus, on the other hand, was recently ranked among the country’s top cities for millennials. To accommodate, Millennial Tower, a 25-story high-rise has been proposed, which would include apartments, office and retail space.

The renovations and redevelopments in progress throughout each of these cities are recreating their public images as up-and-coming hotspots, plentiful with unique opportunities.

Image Credits: Erik Drost


About the Author

Andrew Batson HeadshotAndrew Batson is a Director of Research in the Great Lakes region of JLL. Andrew is responsible for building and continuing to elevate a best-in-class research program that differentiates JLL and drives a competitive advantage in the marketplace through market expertise, analysis and insight. View Andrew’s bio or connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.