Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cleveland’s Shameful Eyesore: Lakefront "Howard Johnson’s"

Cleveland's Eyesore, sitting behind Fox 8

One of Cleveland’s ugliest sights – at least for those who have to drive past it every day – is the old Howard Johnson’s Hotel (5700 South Marginal Road) - viewable from I-90. It sits right behind Fox 8 studios, much to their dismay, I am sure.

The location itself has possibilities. It has a nice view of the Lake, and easy freeway access. Yet, it continues to sit there, looking ready for demolition, rather than ready for development.

When it was first opened in 1965, this “HoJo” was also known as the “Lakefront Lodge” and also included a restaurant called the Red Coach Grill. The restaurant and rooms all had sweeping views of Lake Erie. It lost the Howard Johnson’s name in 1986, although to me it seems like it’s been abandoned long before that.

Cleveland's Lakefront Howard Johnson's, in its heyday

In October of 2006, Crain’s Cleveland Business reported the following about this property, which sounded promising at the time:

New owner eyes condos for former HoJo hotel
4:30 am, October 23, 2006

A new owner with a new plan, this time for condominiums, is in control of a long-empty, 12-story hotel overlooking the lakefront near downtown Cleveland.

The new owner, Bapaz Real Estate Ltd. of Wickliffe, received a sheriff’s deed Sept. 14 for the one-time Howard Johnson Motor Inn and Restaurant, which now has a weed-covered parking lot and a weed of tree-like proportions rising from its roof at 5700 S. Marginal Road.

“We’re planning to do condos,” said Moshe Bohbot, owner of Bapaz. But, he added, “As of now, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Bapaz paid $633,334 for the foreclosed-upon property in a sheriff’s sale, according to Cuyahoga County land records. Bapaz also coughed up more than $300,000 in cash to pay delinquent property taxes to secure title to the hotel from the sheriff’s office.

Though not ready to talk, even about his real estate development background, Mr. Bohbot is taking steps toward redeveloping the graffiti-pocked eyesore.

Bapaz has applied for a variance from the city of Cleveland that is on the agenda for the Oct. 30 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. The variance would allow the planned residential project to proceed despite the property’s industrial zoning.

Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott, whose Ward 8 includes the structure, has met with Mr. Bohbot and plans to support the variance. The variance would apply only to the hotel and would have no bearing on the surrounding area, she said.

However, given the unfulfilled projects previously proposed for the building, Ms. Scott said, “As optimistic as I’d like to be, we’re holding our breath and keeping our fingers crossed about the project.” She estimates Bapaz is the eighth group to approach her about the building during her five years in office.

Jamie Blackson Baker, executive director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corp., said the neighborhood group plans to support the variance because it suits the one-time hotel, the views from which she described as “spectacular.”

“Having someone do a quality job there would be catalytic in the neighborhood,” said Ms. Blackson Baker, who has not met Mr. Bohbot. “It’s such a highly visible site. It’s big news. We’ve tried to talk several other developers into considering it.”

The prior owner was Leisure Time Hospitality Inc., a gaming concern in Avon, which paid $1 million for the vacant property seven years ago.

Alan Johnson, president of Leisure Time, at the time planned to renovate the hotel and use it as an exhibition parlor for video pull-tab machines benefiting charities, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in 1999. However, that transformation never happened. Mr. Johnson’s Avon phone number is unlisted.

Cleveland architect Paul Volpe said his City Architecture firm evaluated the building and prepared preliminary drawings for Leisure Time to install a Radisson Hotel at the site.

Despite its forlorn appearance, Mr. Volpe said the building was sound structurally in the late 1990s and that the work that most needed to be done — such as replacing inexpensive glass and walls typical of the building’s 1960s vintage — would need to be replaced anyway.

“The outside looks terrible, but it has great, great views that make it worth considering,” Mr. Volpe said.

City Architecture in 2002 sued Leisure Time for more than $25,000 in unpaid fees in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The case is still pending.

Prior to Leisure Time’s ownership, the property twice had undergone foreclosure proceedings. At least three other groups have lofted plans for the building since the hotel was closed in the early 1990s.

How it looks now

Still, years later, nothing has changed with this building. My attempts to locate any information on, or the whereabouts of, the Bapaz Real Estate company has turned up nothing. The building still looks like a massive eyesore, with apparently nothing going on to change that. As this building is visible from I-90, one of the major arteries of the city and where many out-of-towners pass on a daily basis, the City of Cleveland should be working harder to force either its repair or its demolition. Nothing says a poorly run city like a large abandoned building. While the city continues to talk about lakefront development, it’s hard to imagine that anything will ever come of that, considering that this Howard Johnson’s has been left to ruin for so many years.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the interiors and the views from this building in its current condition, check out Illicitohio.com.

The Lake Erie View (from Illicit Ohio, link above)

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.


Angry Man In The Basement said...

This is a shame. Love the 1965 photo! This place should be renovated. Great site.. Wrote about it on my blog and linked it to mine!

All Things Cleveland said...

Thanks for your feedback and thanks for the mention on your "Quality Chatter" blog. It's always great to meet another fan of Cleveland. I think there are more of us out there who see more of the good - and not the bad - in the city. The city isn't perfect but it certainly doesn't deserve all the negative commentary it's received over the years.

Daniel said...

It seems like this place might finally be coming down. Construction crews showed up last week, and there are piles of rotten lumber and other junk piled up outside the second floor windows. The firm that's there seems to specalize in asbestos removal and demolitions, so I assume they're demolishing rather than remodeling. We'll see what happens!

All Things Cleveland said...

Daniel, thanks for the heads up!

Anonymous said...

It almost appears that something is going on with this building now. On the west side of the building from the front, it looks like it's being demolished, but I can't be sure.

Daniel said...

As of yesterday (4/29/09) the restaurant in front and the roof over the pool area have been demolished. I'd love to send a thank-you card to whoever is responsible for eliminating this eyesore from Cleveland's skyline!

All Things Cleveland said...

Daniel - thanks for the update!

All Things Cleveland said...

The demolition of the main building is now progressing, update here:


Angry Man said...

I agree.... The building could have been made into something. We have been tearing down valuable structures throughout the entire nation for years...in our brief history. Our biggest architectural legacy will be "Sprawl-Mart" AKA.. "Mall-Wart"

All Things Cleveland said...

I blame the numerous "developers" who bought the property and then let it fall into such horrible ruin. In all honesty, I think the problem with this location is that it was just a little to far from downtown when there were so many other places right IN downtown.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad this building was finally torn down because it was such an eyesore. I am also sad it is gone because this was almost like a landmark that said I would be home soon. My parents used to take me and my sister there for ice cream when it was still a HoJo. I don't see how this land could be developed into condos or another hotel because the neighborhood around is not worth visting anymore.

Angry Man In The Basement said...

"The neighborhood around it is not worth visiting anymore".

How do we make it worth it again? By re-investing in it with key projects that can help stimulate neighborhood revitalization, hence making it worth it again.

We simply cannot keep sprawling all over the map abandoning the old and building new while leaving a legacy of decline in the wake.

There is actually new interest in this area that most of the public does not know about. It never stops amazeing me what people in our region do not know about their own metro-region.