Park Synagogue property in Cleveland Heights hits the market – Crain’s Cleveland Business

Posted By on June 3, 2021

An architectural and religious landmark is up for sale in Cleveland Heights, where the 28-acre Park Synagogue property quietly hit the market this month.

Tucked onto a wooded site between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, the domed synagogue was designed by noted German architect Erich Mendelsohn. The distinctive building was dedicated in 1950 and served as the congregation's main home until 2005.

Now based in Pepper Pike, the 152-year-old congregation no longer can maintain two campuses. Its members, like those of many storied churches and synagogues in Cleveland and its close-lying suburbs, have migrated away from the city over many decades, leaving behind significant buildings that are costly to maintain and challenging to repurpose.

"Right now, we're just trying to do the best we can for the property and the area," said Stuart Deicher, the synagogue's executive director.

The listing, with Allegro Real Estate Brokers & Advisors, doesn't include a price. Potential buyers have until Aug. 13 to submit offers, said Adam Gimbel, an Allegro principal.

"The ultimate sales price is not the driving factor here," Deicher said. "We want to know that the right thing is being done with the property. We would really hate to see somebody buy it and tear that building down. We want to see it remain."

The Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo congregation originated in the center city and moved to Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood in the early 1920s. In 1942, the congregation bought its land in Cleveland Heights from a defunct school and businessmanJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr., according to public records.

Mendelsohn, who designed several American synagogues during the final years of his life, placed Park Synagogue's new sanctuary beneath a soaring, copper-clad dome. The original building also includes an assembly hall and a classroom wing. A late 1960s expansion, linked to the main building by a walkway spanning a ravine, holds spaces used for weddings and events.

The property also includes smaller outbuildings, one of which is leased to a preschool. An Orthodox girls' high school rents part of the classroom wing. Along Mayfield Road, at the bottom of a sloping, tree-covered hillside, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District parks buses in a lot rented from the congregation.

"The history, the architecture of the synagogue and the natural beauty makes this a tremendously important site in the city," said Tim Boland, economic development director for Cleveland Heights.

The land along Mayfield is zoned for multifamily development, while the zoning on the balance of the site allows single-family homes or townhouses. The city's master plan calls for apartments or offices near Mayfield, with lower-density housing on the bulk of the property.

So far, prospective buyers are considering educational or residential projects, Gimbel said.

"We already know that there's interest in the property," he said. "People have reached out directly to us and to the synagogue."

The synagogue's leaders started seriously considering the future a few years ago, after a survey showed members' strong preference for the Pepper Pike location. Bellefaire JCB, a social services nonprofit, looked at acquiring the property as a campus for adults with autism. That deal would have allowed Park Synagogue to continue using the sanctuary on high holidays.

But the pandemic and the renovation costs were insurmountable hurdles.

"Bellefaire just determined it was a little bit beyond their bandwidth to do," Deicher said. "We're really sorry to see that taken off the table, but we've continued talking with other institutions, just trying to see who else in the Cleveland area would be able to use something like this."

The synagogue is a city landmark, giving the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission the power to review and reject exterior changes to the building. Federal records show that it's not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building certainly would be eligible for such a designation, though, said Kathleen Crowther, president of the Cleveland Restoration Society. A listing would enable a new owner to seek valuable federal and state tax credits for preservation, to generate funding for a redevelopment project.

"I cannot believe the Park Synagogue is for sale," Crowther said. "It's a shock, and it's not a shock. Its architecture is so very significant. It's such a significant property. But over the years, it has been noticeable that it's been underutilized."

Crowther drew parallels between Park Synagogue and Temple Tifereth-Israel, another Cleveland-born institution that moved most of its services and daily activities to the suburbs in the 1970s.

That congregation, based in Beachwood, handed over its grand building in University Circle to Case Western Reserve University in 2014, in the midst of a transformation of the space into a performing arts center.

That project drew heavily on philanthropy, including $30 million from Milton and Tamar Maltz and the Maltz Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. An agreement with the university allows the congregation to use the building on major holidays and for other events.

"This is the same type of scenario," Crowther said of Park Synagogue. "So if there is an adaptive use that could be developed that could meet both the religious and secular needs, that would be ideal. The challenge we face as a community is that these buildings do require investment and a use that can pay for it."

In Pepper Pike, Park Synagogue is preparing to grow its campus. Site work might begin in July, with construction on a 10,000-square-foot addition likely to start in September and last for a year, Deicher said.

The project involves a new community hall and a sanctuary expansion on land southeast of Shaker Boulevard and Brainard Road. Voters in Pepper Pike recently approved a rezoning to make way for the addition.

Deicher said the synagogue doesn't plan to post "for sale" signs in Cleveland Heights. The marketing process for the congregation's historic space will be more targeted, more measured.

"We've been there for 70 years," he said. "It's really kind of a difficult thing to do, when you're trying to consolidate your homes."

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Park Synagogue property in Cleveland Heights hits the market - Crain's Cleveland Business

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