Tower City Center Mall, Cleveland, OH: Exploring the Iconic Site

Early History and Construction

In 1922, the Van Sweringen brothers began preparations for Tower City Center. They envisioned a grand terminal complex that required the demolition of approximately 2,200 buildings. This ambitious project aimed to reshape the landscape of Cleveland, Ohio.

Construction began in 1926, with a focus on creating a multi-purpose facility. By 1927, the structural work was complete. The centerpiece, Terminal Tower, opened its doors to tenants in 1928. At that time, it was the tallest building outside New York City in North America, a title it held until 1964.

On June 28, 1930, the complex officially opened as Cleveland Union Terminal. This grand opening marked the culmination of years of planning and construction. The facility was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, a prominent architectural firm known for its Beaux-Arts and Art Deco styles.

The complex included several interconnected buildings: the Terminal Tower, the Hotel Cleveland, and office structures like the Builders Exchange Building, Medical Arts Building, and Midland Building.

These components collectively formed the Landmark Office Towers Complex, completed in 1929. The complex also housed the new Higbee Company building, which became a retail anchor in 1931.

In its early days, Cleveland Union Terminal was a major hub for various rail lines, accommodating interurban and inter-city services. The facility featured a steam concourse for inter-city rail and a tramway for interurban trains.

The Van Sweringen brothers’ vision included a network of interurban lines extending from the terminal, a concept that aimed to enhance regional connectivity.

The Terminal Tower quickly became an iconic symbol of Cleveland, contributing to the city’s architectural heritage. Its construction and the overall development of Tower City Center played a crucial role in shaping downtown Cleveland’s urban landscape.

The transformation of this area into a bustling commercial and transportation hub reflected the ambitious spirit of the early 20th century.

Railroad Services and Operations

The Tower City Center began as Cleveland Union Terminal, which opened in 1930. The terminal accommodated rail lines like the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, New York Central Railroad, and Nickel Plate Road.

Each line had its area within the terminal, with the Steam Concourse handling inter-city rail and the Traction Concourse dealing with interurban services.

Several notable trains passed through the Cleveland Union Terminal. For instance, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran the Cleveland Night Express, which connected Cleveland to Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

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The New York Central Railroad operated the Empire State Express, a route between Cleveland and New York. The Nickel Plate Road also offered the Nickel Plate Limited, linking Chicago and Buffalo.

Cleveland Union Terminal played a vital role in regional and national transportation. However, it faced operational challenges.

The city required trains to switch from steam to electric power before entering downtown, which added time and complexity. Some railroads bypassed the terminal, opting for routes along Lake Erie, Akron, and Youngstown.

Despite these hurdles, Cleveland Union Terminal remained a key player in rail travel. This bustling activity highlighted the terminal’s importance in the era of rail dominance, providing a snapshot of when trains were a primary mode of transportation.

Decline of Rail Services

The decline of rail services at Cleveland Union Terminal began in the mid-20th century. By the 1960s, the rise of automobiles and airplanes reduced the demand for train travel.

This shift led many railroads to cut back or eliminate their services. By 1965, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Norfolk and Western had stopped their Cleveland routes. The New York Central followed suit in 1967, discontinuing all named trains through the terminal.

In the early 1970s, Amtrak’s formation aimed to revive passenger rail. However, Amtrak found the rents at Cleveland Union Terminal too high.

They briefly ran the Lake Shore route through the terminal in 1971 but soon moved to a new station near Lake Erie. This decision marked the end of regular passenger services at the terminal.

By 1977, rail operations ceased entirely at Cleveland Union Terminal. The last remaining service, an Erie Lackawanna commuter train to Youngstown, ended its run. Once a bustling hub of activity, the terminal saw its platforms fall silent.

The end of rail services marked a turning point for the terminal. The shift away from trains required new uses for the vast complex.

This transition set the stage for future redevelopment as the city looked to repurpose the historic space for modern needs. The closure of rail operations reflected changing times, yet it paved the way for new opportunities in the years to come.

Transformation into a Shopping Mall

In the late 1980s, Forest City Enterprises took on the challenge of transforming Cleveland Union Terminal into a modern shopping destination.

They converted the old rail station into a three-story shopping mall called The Avenue. The mall opened on March 26, 1990, featuring 367,000 square feet of retail space and a diverse food court.

Initially, The Avenue attracted high-end retailers. Stores like Fendi, Gucci, Barneys New York, Bally of Switzerland, and Versace set up shop, drawing shoppers looking for luxury goods.

There was even a letter of intent from Neiman Marcus to establish a 120,000-square-foot anchor store by 1992.

However, over the next 25 years, the retail landscape changed. Many high-end retailers left, making way for more affordable and local stores. This shift reflected broader retail industry trends and Cleveland’s shoppers’ evolving needs.

The Avenue adapted by welcoming stores that catered to a wider audience, ensuring the mall remained a vibrant part of downtown.

The redevelopment included more than just retail. Two new 11-story office towers, the Skylight Office Tower and Chase Financial Plaza, opened in 1991.

These towers added office space and amenities, including Cleveland’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Chase Building and the former Hard Rock Cafe in the Skylight Office Tower.

These additions helped transform the area into a mixed-use complex, blending shopping, dining, and business in one location.

Casino and Entertainment Expansion

Entertainment options expanded in 2001 with the opening of the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater along the Cuyahoga River.

This outdoor venue hosted concerts and events, adding to the appeal of Tower City Center as a destination for both shopping and entertainment. The complex’s strategic location made it a hub for various activities, from gambling to live performances.

The closure of the Higbee’s department store in January 2002 marked another turning point. Forest City Enterprises and other stakeholders sought new ways to revitalize the space.

In 2012, they reopened the building as the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland. This latest venture brought a fresh wave of visitors and excitement to Tower City Center.

The casino rebranded as Jack Cleveland Casino in May 2016 after Rock Gaming LLC took over management.

This change aimed to refresh the casino’s image and attract a diverse clientele. The casino’s presence boosted foot traffic and spurred additional development within the complex.

Developers also considered Tower City Center for a new convention center. Though the Cuyahoga County Commissioners decided in 2009 to redevelop the existing facility instead, the proposal underscored the area’s potential for large-scale events and gatherings.

This period of transformation showcased Tower City Center’s ability to adapt and thrive in changing economic landscapes.

Recent Developments and Renovations

In July 2021, Bedrock company announced a major plan to transform Tower City Center. The goal was to convert the aging mall into a “retail marketplace” combining shopping and entertainment. This ambitious project aimed to breathe new life into the downtown Cleveland landmark.

By 2022, renovations were complete, and the main atrium was rebranded as “Skylight Park.” This new space blended modern design with the historic charm of the original structure.

Skylight Park became a central feature, offering a mix of retail stores, dining options, and entertainment venues. It created a vibrant atmosphere that attracted both locals and tourists.

New businesses began to populate the revamped Tower City Center. Retailers like 360 Clothing Studios, Apple Jax Toys, and Creative Tees brought fresh energy to the mall. Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’, and Morton’s The Steakhouse provided diverse dining choices.

These additions helped to create a dynamic environment that catered to a wide range of tastes and preferences.

Tower City Center: Current Tenants and Offerings

Today, Tower City Center hosts a variety of tenants, each contributing to the vibrant ecosystem of the complex. The mix of businesses ensures something for everyone, whether shopping, dining, or seeking entertainment.

Retailers at Tower City Center include 360 Clothing Studios, Creative Tees, and Designer Perfumes.

Specialty shops like Mike the Hatter and Mixed Greens add a unique flair to the shopping experience. These stores offer various products, from fashion and accessories to niche items.

Dining options like Charleys Philly Steaks, Kelly’s Cajun Grill, and Shake & Slide are diverse. For those looking for a quick bite, places like Dunkin’ and Susy’s Soup & Deli provide convenient options. For a more upscale dining experience, Morton’s The Steakhouse remains a popular choice.

Entertainment and services also play a key role in Tower City Center’s offerings. The Jack Cleveland Casino draws visitors seeking gaming and nightlife. The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland and Hotel Cleveland provide luxurious accommodations for travelers.

Other notable tenants include the U.S. Post Office, which ensures that postal services are readily accessible.

Fitness and wellness services are also available, with establishments like Echelon Barbershop and Peerless Tax Service providing personal and professional care.

Tower City Center thrives by offering a diverse mix of retail, dining, entertainment, and services. This variety keeps the complex relevant and appealing to a broad audience, maintaining its status as a cornerstone of downtown Cleveland.

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