Sherwin-Williams Downtown HQ Proposal Receives Partial Conceptual Approval
Plans for Sherwin-Williams to construct a new headquarters in Downtown Cleveland are one step closer to approval following a joint meeting with multiple city stakeholders Tuesday.
But the company has been asked to consider pedestrian experience, parking availability and traffic patterns, as well as how the design would integrate with what’s already present in Public Square and the Warehouse District.
The meeting was the first in a series where members of multiple city design commissions and committees will hear details and provide design feedback. The headquarters concept pitch was first heard by the Downtown Flats Design Review Committee and Historic Downtown Cleveland Design Review Committee, followed by the Landmarks Commission and Cleveland City Planning Commission.
The global paint giant has outgrown its current facilities, said Sherwin-Williams Director of Corporate Real Estate Tim Muckley, and is raring to begin work on its new home downtown.
“We’re ready to get started. We’re ready to fill in the missing puzzle piece, and we’re ready to do something that’s transformational,” Muckley said.
The review committees approved the conceptual plans for the headquarters tower and pavilion, with a few conditions. The approval requires Sherwin-Williams to complete a traffic study, consider increasing the height of the pavilion to visually match the rest of the area, and also consider ways to allow public access to the roof.
And though the group added design caveats, pedestrian sky bridges over West 3rd Street and Frankfort Avenue also were approved by the joint committees.
The combined committees did not approve the proposal for the complex’s garage and retail space, arguing changes are needed to allow for future expansion.
“I think the tower itself is a substantial investment and it sits well on the site. The direction you’re going, in our mind, is pretty impressive with respect to the dynamic nature of the building,” said City Planning Director Freddy Collier. “Most of the commentary was around that integration into the urban context, which is the sweet spot for everybody here.”
Two more joint meetings are planned to discuss the development, with the next set for September.
“When you do come back, we really want to see renderings of the street-level pedestrian experience,” Jack Bialosky, chairman of the joint committee and a member of the Downtown Flats Design Review Committee.
The Sherwin-Williams headquarters proposal would replace five downtown parking lots near Public Square, which currently offer about 1,000 spaces. Proposed construction includes a two-story pavilion, a 36-story headquarters tower and a parking garage.
The headquarters, if approved as designed, would be the fourth-tallest building in Cleveland.
“We want to make sure that we can continue to stay in this location, and we anticipate that it’s going to be our home for the next 150 years,” Muckley said.
City and Sherwin-Williams officials had gathered about 40 questions and comments from the public online, many expressing a desire to “complete” Public Square by filling in the empty space currently created by parking lots. The pavilion, in particular, was criticized for being small in comparison to the other buildings in the area, missing an opportunity to fill in the space.
“The model really kind of hurts this thing. There’s no visual unification around Public Square, and we miss that opportunity forever,” said Alan O’Connell, a Historic Downtown Cleveland Design Review Committee member. “This is the most important property, possibly in the United States, to fill in a missing tooth, and I’m disappointed that it’s a two-story, semi-public but mostly not, pavilion.”
Project managers said Sherwin-Williams and the designers considered views of the iconic Terminal Tower when working out how the pavilion and headquarters would fit into Public Square.
The pavilion would house the company’s learning and development centers, while the headquarters would serve as a workspace for about 3,100 employees. The tower also would include conference and dining spaces, and the 920-space parking garage proposal includes street-level retail space facing West 3rd Street. Current plans would link the buildings using sky bridges.
Downtown Flats Design Review Committee member Thom Geist said the design needs to either blend the bridges in to be unnoticeable or making them into a focal point.
“I don’t know which is the right way to do this one, but to me it’s one extreme or the other, not a mishmash,” Geist said.
That’s if the sky bridges are included at all. Resident questions and comments included pushback and criticism of that part of the plan, though Sherwin-Williams officials argue the sky bridges help connect the buildings and bring the entire complex together for employees and visitors.
“It's critical that those two buildings function as one organism,” Muckley said. “It’s critical that the primary workplace is connected to our cultural hub and it’s important that our visiting employees can easily interact and collaborate with our leadership.”
Additional committee and resident concerns focused on plans for employee parking.
The parking plan would only accommodate about a quarter of Sherwin-Williams employees, said Matt Heisley with architectural firm Vocon. The lion’s share of workers would be expected to park in other areas of downtown or use alternative transit options.
“That was done because we know employees come from different places and employees live downtown,” Heisley said. “Employees use mass transit and the 920-car parking garage will handle that.”
But Bialosky expressed concern with the current plans for parking, as well as the lack of options for expansion in the future. The garage’s current design would make growth difficult, he said.
“I don't agree that you won’t need to provide additional parking at some point,” he said. “There has been discussion about the low density of the parking garage, that it has a very big floor plate.”
Bialosky wanted more information on the complex’s potential impact on traffic, particularly on and around Frankfort Avenue.
“I think it’s really important that a traffic engineer study this and, in conjunction with the city, come back with a report that says that these streets aren’t going to be in failure based on the plan that you have,” Bialosky said.
Muckley said a portion of Frankfort Avenue would limit vehicular traffic to prioritize pedestrians and passenger loading or unloading. Residents, who see Frankfort as an important connection between Public Square and the Warehouse District, were critical of the prospect.
And Sherwin-Williams hasn’t conducted a traffic study yet, Muckley said, in part because the pandemic made it difficult to accurately measure traffic patterns. Plans are in the works to conduct a study as traffic returns to normal downtown, he said.
“We acknowledge that that’s something we need to do,” Muckley said. “If we would have done one, we don’t think the data would have been accurate. I think now that people are coming back, traffic patterns are getting closer to normal.”
Surface parking lots also would be constructed around the tower and garage, according to current plans. Those could be used for future developments as needed, Muckley said.
City officials, however, worried such development would not end up coming to pass.
“There’s a lot that we can do in addition to this project of making people feel as though they’re coming into the urban core, and not coming into something that feels uninhabited,” said Cleveland City Councilman Charles Slife. “It’s difficult to predict when Sherwin-Williams would have the demand or need to construct a second tower, but I think more in the near term, it’s possible to put it on a timeline.”