CLEVELAND, Ohio – Updating Sterle’s Country House has been a labor of love for Rick Semersky since he bought the beloved 60-year-old ethnic restaurant on East 55th Street in 2012. Two generations of his family grew up in the neighborhood, and he wanted to do what he could to help Sterle’s — and breathe new life into the area. In the process, he’s introduced the Slovenian mainstay to a new generation of Clevelanders.
Now Semersky is about to embark on his most ambitious update yet – and it goes far beyond Sterle’s bucolic murals and ski chalet decor. He has plans for the whole East 55th Street neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Semersky unveiled designs to convert the 42,000-square foot building next to Sterle’s at 1361 East 55th St. into a Hub 55, a mixed-use building that will contain:
– Goldhorn Brewery: A 10,000-square-foot brewery with a 100-seat tap room, slated to open in spring 2015.
– Cafe 55: A 2,000-square foot healthy-food cafe operated by Courtney Bonning of Bonbon Pastry & Cafe, slated to open by August.
– The Market: A 12,000-square-foot market with locally sourced food purveyors and artisans, slated to open in spring 2015.
– 9,000 square feet of rentable flex space.
– And 7,000 square feet of redesigned office and retail space, slated to be complete by 2016.
The building currently houses Semersky’s 170-employee construction business, VIP, which is expanding into two nearby buildings in the St. Clair-Superior area.
And that’s not all. Just last week, Semersky signed purchase papers to buy the former St. Clair Cleveland Public Library branch (a Carnegie library dating to 1905) and the Lakeshore Banking and Trust building directly across the street from Hub 55, from the Goodrich Gannet Neighborhood Center.
He plans to renovate both of these historic buildings and convert them into office and retail space by 2016. His plans include a full-service restaurant in the stunning former bank space.
A third development phase will involve renovating the East 55th Street City Fire Station, which Semersky also owns. There is no time frame for this project.
“It’s about creating critical mass in the neighborhood,” said Semersky on Wednesday, walking through the massive space that will soon house his marketplace. “Places like this will help Sterle’s survive, but more importantly help the neighborhood. We want to create a place that will be a destination, but also where people who have lived here their whole lives can come in and do their shopping.”
Semersky submitted his permit drawings to the building department last week and says the city of Cleveland’s Economic Development and Planning Department has given its support, based on the conceptual plans. Semersky and the City Architecture firm will take in a more detailed plan next week. The building will require no zoning changes, and Semersky and his architects don’t foresee any issues with their designs. Nor does Michael Fleming, executive director of the St. Clair-Superior Development Corporation.
“Everyone in the city in economic development is very excited about this,” says Fleming.
The prospective design, as seen in renderings by City Architecture, calls for airy open spaces united by a “Main Street” passageway. Large windows and floor-to-ceiling glass doors will open the bunker-like building out into the area on all sides.
Construction on the building’s East 55th Street facade is expected to begin very soon, in anticipation of Cafe 55’s planned August debut. It calls for a more welcoming wall with windows and landscaping out front, and a side patio with outside seating.
The cafe will be open for breakfast and lunch, initially. The emphasis will be on food that is fast but healthy, says Bonning.
“We will be featuring healthful convenience foods,” says the enthusiastic restaurateur. “There really are no healthful options between downtown and University Circle. We’ll have lighter fare, with 90 percent of our options gluten-free, bagels, pastries, scramblers, lots of vegetarian options.”
The cafe will also be serving ready-made meals from Sterle’s, Bonbon and Sushi 86.
“It makes perfect sense to come to this neighborhood,” says Bonning. “I really feel like this is the next neighborhood. I feel like we’re on the cusp, which is the way I felt when I moved into Ohio City years ago.”
Bonning is also partnering with Semerksy as a consultant for The Market.
“Basically, we are in a food desert here,” says Semersky of his motivation for selling produce and other locally sourced foods. “When my grandmother lived here, you didn’t have to go more than 20 feet to get what you need — you had butchers and dry goods and grocers and dry cleaning and stores. ”
The St. Clair-Superior Development Corporation is exploring a Health and Human Services Grant that could be used to help fund The Market. The remainder of Hub 55 will be privately funded by Semersky, who may apply for historic tax credits for the redevelopment of the library and bank buildings.
Goldhorn Brewery, which will be owned and managed by Semersky, is slated to open the same time as The Market next spring. Semersky says he plans to brew 400-600 barrels in his first year. He will be his own first customer, beginning with a special Sprecher for Sterle’s. Semersky, who is currently in the process of looking for a brewmaster, says the brewery plans to concentrate on traditional European-style beers, lagers, pilsners, Hefeweizens, “the beers you would expect to find at Sterle’s.”
The office and retail space at Hub 55 is expected for an early 2016 completion, but one tenant has already moved in as VIP offices begin to move out.
“We are so excited to be here, in this neighborhood, near Sterle’s,” says Ann King, owner of the funky furniture-rental company Borrow, who moved from the East 30th Street area. She’s counting on the critical mass of the tenants and a street-level location to help raise her business profile.
The key word in that equation is “street.” Semersky notes that East 55th Street is Cleveland’s third-busiest thoroughfare, and the only street that runs completely north to south, from I-90 to I-490. It’s an area waiting to be tapped, if Semerksy and company can get some of that traffic to stop and look – along with the locals they are courting.
Fleming is optimistic that they can.
“I have the utmost confidence that this will be an amazing project,” he says. “Rick is in restoration, that’s his business — those guys know what they are doing. And as you can see, he’s in restaurants already with Sterle’s, and he knows what he’s doing there.”
Since taking over Sterle’s in 2012, this includes adding more amenities to the storied restaurant – including a beer garden, new concert series, events and menu updates – while staying true to the iconic space’s ethnic roots and traditions.
“I see all of this as exciting, but the bank space is something really special,” adds Fleming. “Anybody coming in will have that feeling.”
Fleming says the shopping and nightlife offerings Semersky is planning are just what this neighborhood – recently bolstered by events such as the Cleveland Flea and the Kurentovanje festival — needs.
“There’s something really important about clustering, just as you see on West 25th Street — you don’t see one place in isolation.
“There’s not a strong night-life [scene] in this area, and that’s what he’s trying to achieve. But it will also have all of those aspects that appeal to a regular neighborhood. He’s tying all of these things together, and he’s anchoring a big part of the neighborhood.”
But not just any neighborhood. A neighborhood that holds a special place in Rick Semersky’s heart, and for his family.
“Honestly,” he says, surveying the sprawling office building he is about to make over, “I don’t think I’d be doing this in any other neighborhood but here.”