Millennia Says Construction on Centennial Project Could Begin This Fall, Adjusts Total of Workforce Apartments

The company gave a update on its renovation of the historic, and massive, Union Trust building into apartments, office space and a hotel this week

click to enlarge An updated rendering of Millenia's Centennial project. - Millenia
An updated rendering of Millenia's Centennial project.

For the past 18 months or so, the Union Trust building has, from the outside, sat still and dark, save for activity in the Huntington Bank outpost, which takes up 0.3 percent of its 1.4 million square feet.

Tom Mignogna, vice president of Millennia, said Thursday evening that inside, however, demolition work has been ongoing and as early as this fall, crews will begin the interior renovation of the building.

"It's a really heavy obligation that we have to preserve that space," Mignogna said to attendees of an update meeting at 75 Public Square, another Millenia property. "It's like Cleveland's Sistine Chapel. It is overwhelmingly beautiful, and the fact that it is dark and empty is a shame. It's so big, I hear people define it as a white elephant."

click to enlarge A vintage photo of the Union Trust Building's interior - Cleveland Memory Project
Cleveland Memory Project
A vintage photo of the Union Trust Building's interior

Mignogna blamed three years of Covid-era economics for the project's delay, one that when completed "will be financially responsive to the market needs" downtown.

And, while Mignogna and crew have been locking down lenders and applying for historic tax credits,  Millennia has spent the last year and a half edging out The Centennial's interior aesthetic, finalizing an architectural plan and even luring Hilton to commit to a combined five floors of boutique hotel space. All while, Mignogna said Thursday, its contractors—Merz Brothers and Gilbain—have "been quietly doing secret demolition, crawling around the building for the last 12 months."

While Millennia has kept, and expanded on, its planned and glamorous Beaux-Arts refresh of the 100-year old bank property, it has altered a few key aspects. Most notable is deciding to cut in half the proposed workforce housing units, from the original total of 864 to just 413.

click to enlarge Tom Mignogna, vice president of Millenia, gave an update presentation of The Centennial at 75 Public Square on Thursday, April 6th. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Tom Mignogna, vice president of Millenia, gave an update presentation of The Centennial at 75 Public Square on Thursday, April 6th.

Though Mignogna said that the workforce  element—which he used as synonymous with "affordable"—will use a tenant's average median income to determine their rent, the quality will be "above" comparable housing.

As if preempting criticism, Mignogna put the blame on the market.

"We always felt strongly that we could fill the workforce housing piece," Mignogna said, "but from a national level, talking to investors and lenders, they felt our earlier iteration of 864 workforce [units] was just too much, maybe too much accumulation or concentration of low income."

Those investors aren't too far from the trail. In January, Cleveland saw the second-highest median rent increase in the country, at 17.5 percent. (Raleigh, N.C., was the highest.)
With other projects on the way, downtown is only more likely to expand on its residential identity. Including The Centennial's 584 units, downtown could see about 3,000 total opening to tenants by 2027.

That is, if Millennia can stay on track.

In Mignogna's view, which seemed idealistic, The Centennial will be one of the most prized and largest renovations of its kind when it opens. Its features could position it alongside comparable Beaux-Arts restorations on a national level—from a reawakening of the 700-person ballroom (a Great Lakes Exposition museum and Marble Room-style restaurant), to its five murals, to its basement vault (slated to become a cocktail lounge) and a much-needed scrubbing of its exterior brass and marble. "Gleaming, clean, white," Mignogna said, "like it originally was."
click to enlarge A large party at the Union Trust building - Cleveland Memory Project
Cleveland Memory Project
A large party at the Union Trust building

And, of course, the contemporary amenities easily found in similar apartments: work lounges, community kitchens, gyms, common areas, even a "pet lounge for washing your dog."

Above the three floors of 171 market-rate apartments, Mignogna said, will be three floors of Class A office space, along with two floors of hotel rooms and event meeting spaces. And, on the top floor, a roof terrace still in its design phase.

Such promise was why Bryan Adamson and husband Ben Paige showed up Thursday.

Other than expressing concern for Millenia's workforce housing cutback, Adamson was excited to see how Mignogna planned to bring the Union Trust back to the days when he himself first got acquainted with the building.

"The lobby was amazing, just like nothing you've ever seen before," Adamson, whose legal firm was on the building's 19th floor in the late 1980s, said after Thursday's presentation. "When you walk in and it's just immense and massive, these amazing colors. Marble everywhere. I could talk to people on my way to my office—there was just this vibrant feel, this sense of community."

The promise of The Centennial, and a needed dose of nostalgia, is what led Adamson to take his in-laws and Paige on a private tour of his old office last March.

"Oh, he was telling stories the whole time we were there," Paige said, smiling at his husband. "But to see it myself for the first time? It was actually pretty awesome."

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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