Written by Stan Bullard of Crain's Cleveland Business
Real estate broker and building owner James Wise doesn't mince words when he talks about his latest purchase, the Oak Park Hotel in Cleveland.
"It's pretty ragged. It's pretty run-down," Wise said of the building at 4755 Pearl Road in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. He saw a man die of a heroin overdose in the parking lot and knows it was considered a stop for prostitutes.
But when Wise and business partner John Holton in Holton-Wise Property Group last month bought the property through 4755 Pearl Road LLC, they had the prior owner shut down the hotel. That left the new owners with 31 empty hotel suites, five occupied apartments and a project on their hands others had passed on.
Wise said he'd had the property listed for the prior owner, ASD Corp. of Cleveland, for two years and had about five prior transactions fall through.
"No one knew what to do with it. There were too many loose ends. They'd inspect it and back away," Wise said in an interview on Friday, Sept. 8. However, he and Holton decided to buy it after Wise ended an internal struggle about the deal.
"I wear two hats. The broker in me said to sell it and get a large commission," Wise said. "If I buy it, a lot of money goes out. The developer in me said it's a cool project. In my heart, I wanted to do it because I grew up in Old Brooklyn."
Cuyahoga County land records show 4755 Pearl Road LLC paid $228,624 on Aug. 28. The seller holds a note against the property for $178,624. Cuyahoga County assigns the property a market value for tax purposes of $492,000. Land records show the hotel was built in 1956, long before highways changed the neighborhood's and the hotel industry's landscape.
Wise said the duo plans to convert the motel to perhaps 16 apartments and continue to operate the other five suites as apartments, although their plans are in the early stages.
The first step will be to approach the city about rezoning the property to multifamily from hotel use.
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp., that area's neighborhood development group, declined comment on the transaction.
Wise said he had discussed what could be done with the property with Cleveland City Council president Kevin Kelley, whose Ward 13 includes the hotel, when Holton-Wise first listed the property more than two years ago. However, Wise said he has not discussed it with him since.
Kelley did not return two phone calls to his office and an email by deadline on Friday.
Wise said he hopes to push rents in the neighborhood by adding features in the suites such as granite countertops. He knows the market because the company owns a 21-suite apartment across the street with rents in the $600 monthly range and hopes to do better than that with the hotel project.
Have the business partners got a new name for the proposed apartments?
"Holton-Wise Gardens," Wise said immediately. "I'm all about branding. It's going to be cool."