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Intro project in Ohio City wins major economic-development award

Intro project in Ohio City wins major economic-development award

As Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors prepares to start leasing apartments at Intro, a 297-unit building on Cleveland’s near West Side, the developer is garnering national applause for its work on the unusual project.

On Tuesday, Oct.5, the International Economic Development Council recognized Harbor Bay and the Greater Cleveland Partnership for teamwork on the nation’s tallest structure built with mass timber. Representatives of the Chicago-area real estate company and the regional chamber of commerce accepted the gold award for excellence in public-private partnerships in large communities at the council’s annual conference in Nashville.

Construction on Intro, a $144 million project, began in March 2020, despite a pandemic that sidelined developments across the country. The apartments are set to open in March, and Harbor Bay already has booked more than 30 events for Truss, a top-floor event space.

Located at West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue in Ohio City, Intro brought a new construction method to Cleveland.

Mass timber is giant slabs of solid or engineered wood that can replace steel and concrete load-bearing structures, such as joists and beams. A second mass-timber building — the Cleveland Foundation’s future headquarters in Midtown — already is rising in the city.

Now Harbor Bay plans to focus almost exclusively on mass-timber construction, which devotees laud for its sustainability, resilience and aesthetics. And local economic development officials see a chance to position Cleveland as an innovator in the technique — and to develop a trained labor force and, perhaps, a broader industry around such buildings.

“Cleveland’s our flagship location for our mass timber projects. So everything we do from here started in Cleveland and grows from Cleveland,” said Steve Willobee, Harbor Bay’s vice president of government and public relations.

At nine stories and 115 feet tall, Intro won’t be the loftiest mass-timber building in the United States for long. A timber-framed residential tower is scheduled to open in Milwaukee next summer, and other ambitious projects are on the drawing board.

But Intro demonstrated how the public sector and private businesses in Cleveland can collaborate to do something new, said Deb Janik, senior vice president of business growth and development at the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

“This was a signature project that redefined the approach to roll up our sleeves and work together,” she said, adding that the city’s building department was strikingly receptive to the challenge.

In addition to 297 apartments, Intro includes underground parking, 35,000 square feet of retail, the rooftop venue and roughly an acre of public green space. Harbor Bay plans to put an office in the building, which will serve as a showplace for mass-timber construction.

“I can’t stress how much it’s changed the ethos of our company,” said Willobee, who added that Harbor Bay is considering mass-timber projects in southern and western states.

The Intro site is located in an Opportunity Zone, a federally designated area that offers short-term tax deferral and long-term tax savings to investors looking to redeploy capital gains. Harbor Bay took advantage of that program, along with aid from the city and the state.

Cleveland signed off on 30 years of tax-increment financing, which plows a portion of new property-tax revenues from the development back into the project. The apartments carry 15 years of tax abatement, which the city grants to residential construction that meets certain green-building standards. Together, those city incentives are worth $12.2 million upfront.

The funding for Intro also includes a $2 million city loan and a $10.8 million loan from the Ohio Department of Development.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority also played a financing role, through an arrangement that gives developers a sales-tax break on construction materials. And the port was the gateway for the mass timber, which arrived by ship from an Austrian manufacturer.

“There should be hundreds of other people accepting an award in hand with us,” Willobee said.

Harbor Bay bought the Intro site, across the street from the West Side Market, in 2019. The company razed the aging Market Plaza strip center on the corner and worked with nonprofit group Ohio City Inc. to relocate the retailers in or near the neighborhood.

The developer owns enough land along Gehring Street, at the southern edge of the site, for an additional phase of construction. And Harbor Bay is adding to that footprint.

On Tuesday, the company was in the throes of closing on the $2 million purchase of a parking lot just south of Intro. The seller is an affiliate of MRN Ltd., a local development company that plans to remake the former Voss Industries complex along West 25th as a mixed-use project.

For now, the parking lot will accommodate valet parking for Intro. But Dan Whalen, the Northeast Ohio native who serves as Harbor Bay’s vice president of design and development, has visions of developing it — perhaps with a tower mixing apartments and condominiums.

During a recent tour of Intro, Whalen pointed out the exposed wood ceilings, joists and beams that lend warmth to the apartments and commercial spaces.

Harbor Bay is launching its own hospitality and restaurant business, which will oversee a specialty coffee shop and café; a wood-fired sports bar, with a sprawling patio; and an upscale tapas lounge and steakhouse in the building.

The central green space, landscaped and outfitted with mass-timber benches, will include a beer garden and a custom Airstream trailer tricked out as a bar.

Rents for the apartments will start around $1,400 a month, Whalen said. Most of the units are studios or one-bedrooms. The top residential floor is broken up into 10 penthouses.

For the largest penthouse, a 3,900-square-foot unit with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, specialty millwork and custom features, Harbor Bay expects to seek $17,500 a month, Whalen said.

“We’re going to ask a big number and see what happens. … We’ve probably already gotten six or seven athletes and executives through here who haven’t even blinked,” he said.

Tenants will have access to fitness facilities, including an outdoor yoga deck, and a roof deck with a pool, a hot tub, sheltered kitchen areas and fire pits.

Harbor Bay expects Intro to support 299 jobs and $8.6 million in payroll, according to a project summary provided to the International Economic Development Council.

The developer and the Greater Cleveland Partnership, which helped assemble incentives for the project, highlighted the building’s proximity to transit — a Rapid train station and major bus routes — and anticipated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and stormwater runoff due to the unconventional design and construction.

Janik hopes the building serves as a model for other real estate projects and a launchpad for new skills and jobs in the region. Harbor Bay already worked with a Cleveland company, Nova Structural Steel, to design and produce timber plates for the caps and bases of Intro’s columns.

“I think we will see more of this in Ohio and Northeast Ohio,” Janik said, noting that most of the mass timber used in the United States still comes from overseas. “I think we have the potential to leverage this as a business-growth and business-development opportunity.”