Downtown or the suburbs?
It used to be a no-brainer. For decades into the last century, if you owned a company, it would have a downtown headquarters. Cleveland’s first suburbs are evidence. They were bedroom communities — Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, Shaker Heights — with the major roads leading to and from downtown.
As interstates and highways roped through the region, commuters moved farther away from downtown. Far-flung suburban communities, eager to share in the tax dollars, became more aggressive attracting business and enticing companies with cheaper rent, lower taxes and acres of free parking.
Such was the impetus for IB’s Where You Work Survey, an unscientific study of our readers’ feelings about their companies’ locations. Close to 400 readers filled out at least a portion of our e-mail survey, which was sent to all subscribers. More than two-thirds of participants were from the suburbs, but downtown readers who responded were fiercely proud of their location. In fact, less than a third of them say they would consider leaving their urban environs for the ‘burbs. Likewise, the suburbanites say they relish being outside of the bustling city center — less than one-fifth report they would consider uprooting to downtown.
In the following pages we present the results of our survey and offer stories of four business owners, two located in the suburbs, one based downtown and one home-based entrepreneur who favors moving to a downtown office, but isn’t yet ready to make the jump. All four have strong opinions about the downtown vs. suburbs debate, but all agree they want to see Cleveland’s downtown continue to be a vital and vibrant part of Northeast Ohio’s future.
The Other Downtown
For Edge Learning of Ohio, a human resources consulting firm, central location is everything.
managing partner of
Edge Learning of Ohio
Photo by Thom Sivo
Just off one of the busiest business arteries in Cuyahoga County — Rockside Road — lies St. Lawrence Mission Church Cemetery.
Founded in 1851, this barely one-acre plot is home to more than 100 sites, with some of the deceased dating back to before the Civil War. A few headstones have crumbled, fallen into the nearby wooded ravine, or eroded from decades of neglect.
You can see the cemetery from Paul Meshanko’s second-story window office inside one of the many faceless and imposing glass and steel high-rises in Independence, a city that more than 35,000 people commute to and from for work every Monday through Friday.
“We have some quiet neighbors,” Meshanko says with a laugh. “It makes it easy for people to find our building.”
Meshanko, managing partner of Edge Learning of Ohio, a human resources consulting and training firm, which launched in 1997, didn’t move into this building for the view. Rather, he sublet this 1,100-square-foot office space from a colleague who moved out, and became the main tenant in 1999. Today, Meshanko is subleasing 300 square feet of the office to a startup marketing firm.
“This location is ideal,” says Meshanko, whose corporate clients include Cleveland Clinic, Parker Hannifin and Progressive Insurance. “We serve all of Northeast Ohio and this office is far and away the easiest midpoint for everybody. Whether you’re coming from the East Side,
West Side or Akron-Canton, everybody knows where 77 and 480 is.”
Central location was a top five priority for the readers who filled out IB’s Where You Work Survey, with suburban companies reporting it as the most important factor. Not surprisingly, the Independence/Valley View area was the most popular location among suburban participants.
Close to his Solon home, Meshanko can walk to several nearby restaurants for lunch, or hop in his car, which he can see from his window, and dine at more than a dozen other restaurants within a mile or less. Due to his unique situation, Meshanko never considered other Northeast Ohio locations for his business, but even if he had to move, downtown wouldn’t be on his list, he says.
“As someone who used to frequent downtown before I got married, I wish there was a more compelling reason to go down there,” says Meshanko, who is a member of the City Club of Cleveland and on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, both based downtown. “I’m down that way all the time. As far as me locating there, there just isn’t a real reason to do it. Everything we need is right here.”
Prior to Edge Learning, Meshanko worked in Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., for Elyria-based manufacturer Bendix. He wishes Cleveland would follow the urban design lead of those communities by capitalizing on this region’s greatest natural asset.
“You had two major rivers going through downtown [Portland],” he says. “A lot of the night life was overlooking the rivers, it was beautiful. Cleveland has such a poorly developed coast. We have this beautiful lake and do nothing to showcase it. To me that’s a tragedy, just a waste of resources.”
Howard Landau views his Downtown Cleveland Location ad an extension of his public relations firm's brand.
owner of Landau
Photo by Eric Mull
Most suburban office buildings offer free parking and lower rents. Howard Landau finds they also offer other qualities: boredom and isolation.
“I get energy off an urban atmosphere,” says Landau, owner of Landau Public Relations, a Warehouse District-based firm. “That’s where business is done. If you’re in a suburban office park you might have three or four neighbors. Here, I’ve got 100 neighbors.”
Landau, who has been in the Cleveland advertising, marketing and public relations market for 25 years, has always worked in a downtown office. An employee for other firms for most of his life, Landau spun off and bought the public relations practice of Wyse Advertising in 2002.
By 2004, his firm had outgrown the space it was subleasing from Wyse.
“Much of my staff said we’re more interested in going into the suburbs, so I had to decide whether I wanted to stay downtown or go into the suburbs,” Landau says. “… It’s what’s best for us and our image. After all, we’re in the image business and I want to be viewed as part of the urban scene. I want my address to be Cleveland.”
After hunting office space in skyscrapers and low-rises in every downtown neighborhood, Landau was smitten with the 6,500-square-foot corner suite in the Hoyt Block building, also home to the popular Blue Point Grille restaurant.
“I have the best office in downtown Cleveland,” he says. “The price difference [between downtown and the suburbs] is not that significant. You have to ask yourself, if it’s not about the money, where do I want to be? What are the amenities I’m most looking for? For me, that was easy. It was downtown.”
Indeed, the price difference is minimal. Space in a Class A office building — typically the most expensive facility with the most amenities — carries an average cost of $21.01 per square foot downtown, according to the most recent quarterly report by the region’s largest commercial real estate broker, CB Richard Ellis. A Class A building in the suburbs leases for an average of $19.58 per square foot. Lower-tier office space leases for as low as $11 per square foot in the suburbs and $14 per square foot downtown, according to CB Richard Ellis. Often times, even cheaper deals can be found through subleasing or renting directly from a building owner.
Saving a few dollars per square foot, however, wasn’t a top priority for Landau. He thrives on the sense of community from being downtown. While office parks may offer amenities like green space and walking trails, they also can be isolating, especially if your company is the only tenant in the building, he says.
“It’s very different here,” Landau says. “It’s much more dense, much more impactful. I’m going to the City Club today and all I have to do is take a walk up the street. I’m going to see 20 people there that I know — that I’m not expecting to see, by the way. It’s just like going to a meeting at the community center. I couldn’t be more happy here.”
Beyond the Home Front
John Doucette of Liquid Capital of Northeast Ohio wants to move his home-based business to a Downtown address, but the suburbs have an appeal.
John Doucette and his wife, Maryann, of Liquid Capital of Northeast Ohio
John Doucette has lived in Boston. He’s lived in Denver and London. Cleveland drivers who complain about our traffic don’t know about real gridlock, he says.
“Boston is where I learned how to drive, so I’m pretty much fearless,” he says. “Living in Cleveland compared to some of the other places I’ve been, there is no traffic in this town.”
Yet Doucette, president of Liquid Capital of Northeast Ohio, isn’t certain he wants to move his growing financial lending firm downtown. Although it would make sense to be with the other banking powerhouses of the region, Doucette, who is now based out of his Westlake home, is still on the picket fence.
“It would be advantageous to stay where I am because that’s really where I developed most of my networking,” he says. “But again, looking at where the financial activity is in Cleveland, it’s all downtown. And most of my competitors are based there. They must know something.”
Liquid Capital offers business loans based on a percentage of a company’s outstanding invoices. Once a loan is granted, on behalf of its client, Liquid Capital collects those invoice payments and retains the proceeds.
Doucette learned the financial business when he worked in computers and financial-related applications for BP, first in Cleveland until 1992 and then in London for five years. When BP closed its Cleveland office, Doucette worked for entrepreneur Dave Snyder’s consulting firm, RealLogic, in two locations downtown and then moved to Independence when Computer Associates bought out Snyder.
“I hated Independence,” Doucette says. “There is nothing there. There’s still no shopping. They’ve gotten a few more restaurants in the last few years, but even so, there’s not a lot of choice.”
When he purchased the Liquid Capital franchise in March 2006, Doucette kept it simple by starting from his home. Nearly one quarter of the suburban readers who filled out IB’s Where You Work Survey are also home based, enjoying the financial advantages and enduring the space disadvantages.
“It’s not a convenient place to meet clients, so I end up spending a lot of time at Starbucks and Caribou and places like that,” he says. “It’s a good thing I like coffee.”
For now, Liquid Capital is only Doucette and his wife, Maryann. But if the firm begins to add employees, office space will be necessary.
“It’s a matter of being centrally located,” Doucette says. “Having worked downtown for years — back when there was a downtown — I would much more prefer to be there. It’s much more vibrant, many more things to do.”
Although he’s not quite ready to start office hunting, Doucette puts proximity to his clients as his top priority. The real estate, tax and parking costs are his other concerns.
“The commute is not that much of an issue,” he says. “And with a little haggling you can get as good a deal (on rent downtown) as anywhere. It’s the parking and the city tax.”
After 48 years Downtown, Beth Paddock's only regret about moving her family's trophy business to the suburbs is that she didn't do it sooner.
president of PS Awards
Photo by Thom Sheridan
What Beth Paddock misses most about her company’s former Superior Avenue and East 15th Street location is Danny’s Deli.
At least once a week, Paddock and her husband, Dorian, or any of her 12 employees at PS Awards would order corned beef and other sandwiches from Danny’s, just a block down St. Clair Avenue.
“I know everybody talks about Slyman’s (Deli), but we are all loyal Danny’s fans,” says Paddock, third-generation president of the trophy and corporate award design firm. “For 21 years I ate lunch there.”
Paddock can’t seem to find sandwiches like that in her company’s new location in Garfield Heights — mostly chain restaurants. After 48 years downtown, Paddock moved her family’s company in April last year to the end of a business cul-de-sac lined with one and two-story brick office buildings like hers. Paddock didn’t want to uproot, but a sudden lack of parking and the dream to own her own building forced her hand.
PS Awards was formerly known as Pete Sudyk’s Trophies and was founded by her grandfather who launched the company in 1958 as a bowling alley pro shop.
Although five businesses shared metered parking spots in front of PS Awards’ downtown building, parking was rarely a problem. That was until the Euclid Corridor project, a $168 million transportation project on Euclid Avenue, rerouted traffic to Superior and created a bus-only lane where PS Awards had its meters. At the same time, an adjacent city parking lot was swallowed by a condominium project.
“We would have customers call us and ask, ‘Where do we park?’” Paddock says. “We would have trucks circling the building looking for a way to get freight in and out. We knew we had to do something.”
Although parking is not the most popular reason why readers say their company is located in the suburbs, more than 15 percent of them say parking, as well as traffic, are top concerns about moving downtown, according to IB’s Where You Work Survey.
Searching as far away as Twinsburg to as nearby as other downtown neighborhoods, Paddock found her Garfield Heights building through a broker. Instead of renting, Paddock invested company and personal funds to purchase her 10,000-square-foot building, which is actually smaller than her downtown location. The showroom, however, is three times as large and the parking lot — which was repaved — has close to 50 spots.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” says Paddock, who worked 90 hours a week during the three-month move, which required 20 trucks and a larger-than-expected renovation and relocation expense she declined to reveal. “But I cannot tell you what a warm welcome we received in this community. I was not prepared for that.”
Despite the secluded location, PS Awards has more walk-in customers than it did downtown, Paddock says, even on Easter Sunday in 2006, which was the day before its grand opening. Some days the lot is full of customers picking up trophies or shopping, even her downtown accounts have made the commute.
“Knowing what I know now, I would’ve moved sooner,” Paddock says. “There are some things I miss about downtown, but for what we do, the suburbs make more sense. This exceeds any dream I’ve ever had.”