Heinen's Comes to Downtown Cleveland, Part 2: The Unique Rotunda

People walking along Euclid or 9th Street can’t help but stop and peer in an open door, wondering what this old remnant of Cleveland’s financial district is being transformed into. It will be Heinen’s only downtown grocery store, one with a 60 foot wide stained glass dome above the main floor.

Inside is architect John Williams of Process Creative Studios, a long time designer for Heinen’s. He’s worked on other historic buildings like the downtown Higbees. But putting a grocery store in the Cleveland Trust rotunda is like nothing he’s done before.

"It’s incredibly exciting and incredibly terrifying to be responsible for one of the most important buildings in the region. It’s been closed to the public for over 25 years and that’s why my first approach is to just respect what’s here."

Heinen’s is taking a gamble to open a grocery store downtown. There is no free parking lot and the company will have only about 30,000 square feet to work with, about 25% less than usual. Plus, the old bank does not fit the usual grocery store rectangle layout. Inside it’s a pentagon with no two sides the same length.

The round space and colonnade under the dome is off-center and because there are an odd number of 13 marble pillars, they can’t be evenly divided.

"You’d think there would be a good 90 degree axis in here and there isn't. And the spacing between the columns is not consistent either. It’s been a bloody nightmare."

Williams decided to use the center of the circle as a reference point and work outwards from there.

"We had surveyors come in and create an access point. So if you look and see those white strips of paint? They took lasers and shot lasers along this line so that the contractors had something to measure off of."

Urycki: "So we’re standing in first floor of the rotunda. Is this going to be the main part of the grocery store?"

Williams: "Well, ‘main’ is hard to explain [laughs]. There are multi-levels and it’s a very complicated building. The Heinen’s will be in the first and 2nd floor of the rotunda space which is what people associate with this project but to the east on Euclid Avenue there is what’s called the 1010 Building."

The main grocery shelves will be on the first floor of that adjoining building at 1010 Euclid Avenue. So the builders have cut a large doorway from the bank to that space. But for a grocery store, the rotunda already has too many doorways.

"There will be more than one," Williams says. "We felt that it was very important to have an opening on Euclid Avenue as well as on 9th. So there will be two entrances into the rotunda space as well as a third door that will not be an entrance but will be access to outdoor seating on nice days."

The developers have applied for more than $30 million in historic tax credits for the entire complex so preservationists in the region are watching closely to see what happens to the building. The rotunda has undergone several renovations through the decades and Williams is keeping some elements from each, including remaining bits of stenciling on the original plaster ceiling.

Williams says the floors are a mishmash of polished stone, marble, carpet and concrete placed at various decades through the building’s history.

"So our approach is where you have the marble we’re keeping the marble. And where it is now concrete we’ll pour new concrete. It will be polished and it will be sealed but it won’t be decorative. So it will be obvious what was new and what was old."

You’ll find chairs and tables on the first floor right under the dome and Heinen’s will offer prepared foods, hoping to attract the downtown lunch crowd. Up on the second floor balcony will be the wine and beer section. From there you get a better view of the 13 murals painted by Francis Davis Millet, who also painted murals for Cleveland’s post office.

"You’ll be able to sit here, right here, with a glass of wine and a table after work, converse with friends, and you’ll have unobstructed views of the glass dome and all the murals."

The Heinen’s store inside the Cleveland Trust rotunda is slated to open Feb. 25.

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