Breuer Facelift?

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In 2005, the Cuyahoga County Commissioners sent a shock wave through downtown Cleveland, announcing their intention to purchase the former Ameritrust banking complex at East Ninth and Euclid and transform it into their new administrative headquarters. That sparked two years of planning. Architects submitted their ideas about how to redevelop the property, which had sat empty for years. At the time, downtown Councilman and Cleveland Planning Commission member Joe Cimperman liked the proposals.

Cimperman: If the county commissioners are able to proceed with this plan as presented, that corner will be much more alive and, in my opinion, the economic vitality will be far greater than what we lost in terms of allowing for the deconstruction.

"Deconstruction". That was the nice way to describe the proposed demolition of the 1970's-vintage Ameritrust tower which rises behind the former bank's century-old rotunda building. Compared to the rotunda's classic columns and stained glass, the tower's repetitious honeycomb of pre-cast concrete sections make it look like a huge cheese grater. And besides, planners claim that the structure would have to be significantly redesigned to meet the requirements of a modern office building. For Cimperman, and a number of other city officials, tearing the thing down would be no great loss.

Cimperman: In my ten years on Council, no one has ever approached me in terms of landmarking this --- ever.

But, as word of the building's imminent destruction started circulating, preservationists from around the world noted that it was the only skyscraper in the country designed by internationally respected architect Marcel Breuer. One such advocate was New York architect Carl Stein who dismissed the charge that updating the tower would be too expensive.

Stein: Let's just say hypothetically that the work that would need to be done would be 50% of the value of the building. You're still getting a completely contemporary building, as far as performance goes, at half price. And, in the bargain, you're getting a Breuer building.

But, the city planning commission wasn't swayed and voted in favor of demolition, this past summer. Since then, though, a cooling economic climate has chilled the enthusiasm of the County Commissioners toward the Ameritrust property. With a new Juvenile Justice facility… convention center… and medical mart in the works, Peter Lawson Jones says there are too many high-priced development projects to deal with.

Jones: So, as a consequence of all of those factors, we began to consider selling the property. And we received a lot of interest… and interest at such a level that we decided to issue an RFP to sell the property.

Jones says the RFP --- or "request for proposal" --- will be issued soon to bidders.

Jones: What I have heard is at least one of the more serious prospective purchasers wants to retain it, and convert it into mixed-use --- condos, some office, and retail.

Councilman and Planning Commission member Joe Cimperman says that's his understanding, as well.

Cimperman: If the new owner is going to be able to do that project without demolishing it, we say "Great, how can we be of assistance?"

Which seems a departure from his stance several months ago, when he wanted to see new… "catalytic"… construction at Cleveland's downtown crossroads. Cimperman smiles while saying that's not a contradiction… and in the language of politics…it's probably not.

Cimperman: Catalytic rehabilitation and catalytic reconstruction are both catalytic.

An admitted advocate for retaining the building, Peter Lawson Jones expects a sales decision will be made early next year.

Jones: I hope, a couple years from now, you'll see me with a bright smile on my face, because the Marcel Breuer Tower has been saved.

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