When thinking of a city to attend the symphony, see artworks by the usual contemporary suspects, and eat a meal artistically prepared by a James Beard nominee, Cleveland, which has the unfortunate distinction of being second only to Detroit in terms of population loss in recent years, isn’t the first city that springs to mind.
But real estate developer Andrew Brickman says Cleveland is exactly where the good life awaits. In Cleveland, you can have your first-tier-city cake and eat it too—that is, you can see that Donald Judd installation, hear that Beethoven concerto, and then go home to your luxurious residence with all of its amenities at the end of the day, and you don’t have to wait in long tourist-filled lines, get stalled in traffic for hours, or pay heart-stopping sums of money to get it.
Brickman’s company, Abode Modern Lifestyle Developers, grew out of about 20 years of Brickman’s experience in commercial real estate. “I got interested in development as a result of that [experience],” he says, “because I saw so many mediocre projects where the architecture was poor, the site selection was pretty random, and they didn’t incorporate green technology.” Brickman decided to hone all of his efforts to developing residential projects at the highest end of the market in his native Cleveland, a former boomtown of the Midwest.
In one sense, Abode is joining other residential real estate developers in Cleveland—and all over the nation—thinking creatively about filling a recent resurgence of interest in urban, walkable neighborhoods that are close to transit, sports stadiums, restaurants, cultural institutions, and green space.
But the firm works to keep ahead of the competition in terms of luxury, sustainability, and redrawing the architectural landscape of Northeast Ohio by priding itself on building ultra-contemporary developments uncommon in the Midwest. A few typical features of their one-of-a-kind townhomes, all of which are designed by Dimit Architects, include Abode’s branded Clearspan Construction—no load-bearing features other than the exterior walls—that allows homeowners to customize the interior space; the Abode DesignBoard, for which the firm retains the city’s top interior designers and offers their services free of charge; and, in the case of the Eleven River residences, even an optional helipad.
From the beginning, Brickman made a conscious decision not to develop based solely upon price. “We were going to develop based upon quality of life and an excellent location,” he says. “And in addition to that, we were going to develop properties that were a higher design standard architecturally—using better materials, construction, and methodologies. We felt that unless you had something really special to sell, you were just going to be a commodity. And when you’re a commodity, it’s a race to the bottom in terms of price.”
Eleven River, a $15 million geothermal-powered development on a cliffside overlooking the Rocky River, and another residential project in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, 27 Coltman, broke ground in early 2009, a few short months after the US housing bubble burst. “Other builders and other developers said to me, ‘You’re crazy,’” Brickman says. “But we still believed that there was a demographic wanting this kind of lifestyle who would get what we were doing. It was just about getting the message out.”
Brickman invested heavily in brand strategy by bringing Justin Campbell, a creative director at a top local ad agency, in-house to spread the word about Abode’s devotion to quality, design integrity, and eco-friendliness. And it worked: 36 of the 38 residences in Eleven River and 27 Coltman sold with several price increases within the year. Abode’s latest project, Clifton Pointe, which also offers dramatic views of Rocky River and Lake Erie, pre-sold 21 of 22 residences within the first few months of construction earlier this year.
Abode is also thinking creatively about how to give back to the Cleveland community. Guided by a late 17th-century French writing, “Charity well directed should begin at home,” Abode encourages residents to donate to local nonprofits of their choice and matches them dollar for dollar. “You know, we came up with this idea after the economy collapsed because all of the nonprofits were struggling,” Brickman says. And if Cleveland is to be on the rise again—which it may be, with an increasing medical industry, new casino, and other developers influenced by Abode’s work—the residents of Abode’s townhomes will be a part of lifting it up.