Monday, June 04, 2007

CPC Update: Breuer Tower Demo Hearing

I do not make it to Planning Commission meetings much anymore. Last Friday was the first of two meetings where most of the time will be dedicated to the Breuer Tower. Marc Lefkowitz from Green City Blue Lake did attend and provides this summary of the meeting.

Breuer, that's a (very modern) wrap

Submitted by Marc Lefkowitz on June 1, 2007 - 4:17pm.

Illustration of Breuer tower wrapped in glassWhile it’s now clear the firms vying for the county administration project didn’t compare costs of building new versus rehab, Doug Hoffman knows one thing for certain: The existing building—it’s steel beams, granite façade, and cast-in-place concrete walls and ‘bathtub’ windows—is valued conservatively at $20,000,000.

Hoffman, a principal at Weber Murphy Fox, the local architects who teamed with New York firm Davis Brody Bond on a proposal to adaptively reuse the Breuer tower, presented their findings to the Cleveland Planning Commission today. The county purchased the Breuer and three small buildings attached to it for $21 million, and proposes to spend another $10 million to demolish it before building a new office tower for about $175-200 million. A group consisting of architects, preservationists, environmentalists and citizens concerned about government waste attended the presentation.

Hoffman told the commission that his firm’s proposal addressed all of the county’s concerns, including its small floors, lower ceilings, and asbestos, and even offered a flip-side – the existing space has built-in benefits such as good natural light, more privacy and smaller spaces make personal comfort easier to control. A slide of his presentation titled, Word on the Street vs. Our Findings, Hoffman wrote:

“One of the myths is the usability of the building is poor, it’s a bad performer, the net to gross ratio is terrible, the ceilings are too low and the floorplates too small. Our response is the building was ahead of its time, is a great performer and the problems of net-to-gross, ceiling height and floorplate issues can be solved.”

Reusing the building might require removing its exterior skin, which contains asbestos, and recasting the heavy exterior, Cleveland architect Robert Madison, part of the team that won the county job to design the new building, told the PD.

Hoffman’s firm planned to keep the exterior, and thus the asbestos, in place by wrapping the entire tower in a glass envelope. A similar wrap was used in the New York Times Office Tower, Hoffman says, adding, it makes up for the Breuer’s single-pane windows by acting as a “thermal barrier”—holding in heat during the winter, and operable vents allow air to flow out in the summer.

After gutting the building inside, their plan called for new mechanical systems and a design that squeezed in some 2,000 square feet of more usable space. “A modest addition coupled with redesign of the restrooms and a new underfloor mechanical system increased the net to gross ratio from 69% to 78%.”

That would be enough of an increase to accommodate most if not all county departments on the same floor, Hoffman said. Internal staircases could, in certain cases, connect departments between two floors. And, the removal of the small buildings would make way for a two-story atrium providing gathering spaces like a public café, an arcade, and council chambers.

Still, there might be other, better ideas on how to reuse the tower, Hoffman said, “We’re making the case for preservation; we don’t want to promote ours as the only solution. We think the building has great civic, cultural and financial value.”

Besides the $20 million in construction costs, the tower could get a minimum of $15 million in historic tax credits, Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, who voted for reuse, has said. That's money the county could use for health and human services in the poorest city in the nation.

The benefits of adaptive reuse as summarized by Weber Murphy Fox:

  • Less demolition
  • Less asbestos abatement
  • Less energy consumed
  • Shorter project timetable
  • Cost savings in re-using the base structure
  • Cost savings with less construction time
  • More usable area for $/sf
  • Better opportunity to seek LEED certification

Even if the Planning Commission votes against giving the county a demolition permit, the county can appeal. "There's always appeals actions," says Linda Henrichsen, a staffer at the Planning Commission. "The normal appeal for planning commission would be the Board of Zoning Appeals. After that it would go to the courts."

On June 8 at 8 a.m. in Council's committee room, the Planning Commission will hear a presentation on the Breuer from the county and take public comment. It may vote at that time.

Supporters of reusing the Breuer are gathering for a fundraiser tomorrow morning (June 2) at Johnny Mango restaurant in Ohio City. Breuer Tower Waffles (in honor of the building’s façade) and butter pecan ice cream will be served. And, details of a design competition seeking alternatives to the county’s planned use of the Breuer, with winners displayed at July’s Ingenuity Festival, will be announced soon. For more information on both, contact Daryl Davis.

June 4, 2007 - 1:56pm

slides posted from June 1st presentation by Doug Hoffman

TimFerris Says:

Over at I have posted the more salient slides from Doug Hoffman's June 1st presentation for the CPC.