East 55th Street has thrived and struggled. Now developers think it's the next community to expand

Posted at 9:29 AM, Feb 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-14 18:22:51-05

CLEVELAND — The community area around East 55th Street now is checkered with abandoned buildings next to office space that seems active. Developers and business owners say it has the right mix of opportunity and interest to be the next Cleveland neighborhood to experience a big boom.

Walk into The Diner on East 55th around breakfast or lunch and the small square footage inside seems a lot busier than the community just outside the door.

Anagostos' The Diner on 55th serves the morning rush at the corner of East 55th and St. Clair Avenue.

"Regular people, every single day, seven days a week," said the owner, Demetrios "Jim" Anagostos.

When Anagostos first opened in 2001 he says business was booming.

Anagostos says opens the kitchen at 4:30 am to get ready for the diner to open at 6 am.

"All the shops around the area, they had two, three different companies in it," said Anagostos. "Up to 2008."

That's when the housing bubble burst, companies that once surrounded the diner left, taking their customers with them.

One of the diner's employees takes a phone order for pick up.

It was quiet for a few years, until recently, when Anagostos says the energy in downtown Cleveland started shifting east.

"People, they can't see it," said Anagostos.

Commercial printing companies use the brick building behind The Diner on 55th Street that county records indicate was built in 1925. Anagostos says the diner is supported by employees in surrounding buildings like this one.

Two people who can see it are putting roughly $100 million behind their vision.

"The more people you bring into the area, the better," said The Landmark Companies' John M. Carney.

The view outside the groundfloor conference room in The Shoreline Apartments. It is one of the only spots in Cleveland where residents can live this close to Lake Erie.

"It's basically a blank canvas," said Knez Homes owner Bo Knez.

This open plot of land used to be where the Howard Johnson Motor Inn stood near East 55th Street. The hotel is demolished and Knez plans to use the space for residential and commercial space.

Carney's company already owns The Shoreline Apartments and they're expanding to the land next door.

Carney says The Shoreline Extension will cost about $51 million, using 4.5 acres to add 214 apartments to the existing 167 across the existing parking lot.

The Shoreline Apartments (left) has 167 apartments right now. The Shoreline Extension (right) will add in another 214 units.

The project is expected to have a long list of amenities for residents and is one of the only options for living space right next to Lake Erie.

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The perforated line shows where The Shoreline Extension will go. The arrow shows the unused piece of land that will be turned into a public park.

But the expansion will also turn what is now unused land at the edge of the property into a public park with a bike trail connecting to the existing trail near the East 55th Street Marina. Carney says the bike trail will run the length of the Shoreline property so that it can connect to future trail development along North Marginal, which could eventually create unbroken bike infrastructure from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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An overhead view shows where the extension will go, and early plans for landscpaing and the bike trail that will travel across the entire property.

Carney hopes to start building at the end of 2020 with first new residents arriving in early 2022.

Across the highway, Knez is working on a $45-50 million project, Azure, to create 48 townhomes, commercial space and 88 apartments on the location where the Howard Johnson Motor Inn used to stand near East 55th and South Marginal.

Knez's project, Azure, will put townhomes, apartments, and commerical space on the land where the Howard Johnson Motor Inn used to stand near East 55th.

Knez grew up near by and says he used to frequent the Howard Johnson game room.

"So as we were looking for properties in Cleveland, we just happened to notice a 4.5-acre site," said Knez.

Developers say adding living space, like The Shoreline Extension and Azure (pictured) near East 55th will help bring even more development to the area.

Both projects will put hundreds of people just about three miles from Public Square at the northern tip of East 55th Street. Knez says it's a good location since there's still a need for residential units even with all the construction downtown, but both developers say the benefits can spread through the East 55th region, too.

A seemingly-abandoned auto body shop sits empty across the street from The Diner on East 55th. This is the kind of property developers say could be an opportunity for someone to redevelop.

"You're taking a blighted piece of property and you're making it into an economic engine that, in turn, invites other investment into the area," said Knez.

When shovels hit dirt to start both projects in the next few months, they'll be less than a half mile from Anagostos' diner, and a long list of other properties that could attract even more development.

An old painted sign remains on the side of what appears to be a vacant house across the street from The Diner on East 55th.

"As this becomes an area where there's going to be a more critical mass of people living, those entrepreneurs will fill in the space there," said Carney.

"I'm wishing I was 20 years younger so I could be here, enjoy it more, and see what's going on around here," said Anagostos.

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