Tower City Center

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Union Terminal Group
Tower City.jpg
View from Public Square
Tower City Center is located in Cleveland
Tower City Center
Tower City Center is located in Ohio
Tower City Center
Tower City Center is located in the US
Tower City Center
Location Cleveland, Ohio
Coordinates 41°29′52″N 81°41′39″W / 41.49778°N 81.69417°W / 41.49778; -81.69417Coordinates: 41°29′52″N 81°41′39″W / 41.49778°N 81.69417°W / 41.49778; -81.69417
Built 1927
Architect Graham, Anderson, Probst & White; Walker & Weeks
Architectural style Beaux-Arts, Art Deco
NRHP reference # 76001405[1]
Added to NRHP March 17, 1976
Cleveland Union Terminal
Former services
Preceding station   Conrail   Following station
toward Youngstown
Erie Lackawanna Railway
toward Youngstown
toward Pymatuning
Mahoning First-Sub Division
BSicon LOGO Amtrak2.svg Amtrak
toward Chicago
Lake Shore
Penn Central
toward Chicago
NYC Main Line
toward New York City
toward Cincinnati
Cincinnati – Cleveland
toward Indianapolis
Indianapolis – Cleveland
New York Central Railroad
toward Chicago
Water Level Route
toward Toledo
Norwalk Branch
toward Cincinnati
Cincinnati – Cleveland
toward St. Louis
St. Louis – Cleveland
toward Detroit
New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad
toward Chicago
Nickel Plate
toward Buffalo
Terminus Wheeling & Lake Erie
Cleveland Division
toward Zanesville
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Terminus Cleveland – Akron
toward Akron
Cleveland – Wheeling
toward Wheeling
Cleveland – Valley Junction
Erie Railroad
toward Pymatuning
Mahoning First-Sub Division

Tower City Center, originally known as Cleveland Union Terminal, is a large mixed-use facility located on Public Square in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The facility is composed of a number of interconnected office buildings, including the landmark Terminal Tower, a shopping mall, a casino, two hotels, and the main hub of Cleveland's four rapid transit lines. On March 17, 1976, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Union Terminal Group.

Construction and train station[edit]

Cleveland Union Terminal concourse in 1987

The Cleveland Union Terminal was built by the Van Sweringen brothers as a terminal for all trains coming into Cleveland via the various railroad lines in a concept similar to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.[2] The facility also included a number of retail stores and restaurants. Original designs for the complex show that at first the brothers did not plan on building an office tower within the complex. However, they eventually decided to build the 52-story Terminal Tower on the northeast side of the complex facing Public Square. From its completion until 1964, the Terminal Tower was the tallest building in North America outside of New York City. Cleveland Union Terminal also served as the downtown station for the Van Sweringens' new Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Line.[2]

The complex was designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White. Site preparation began in 1922, and approximately 2,200 buildings were demolished. Construction began in 1926, and structural work was completed by 1927. At the time, it was the second-largest excavation project in the world after the Panama Canal. The Terminal Tower opened to its first tenants in 1928. Three other office buildings, the Medical Arts Building, Builders Exchange Building, and Midland Building, were built in addition to the Terminal Tower. The three Art Deco buildings are collectively known as the Landmark Office Towers Complex and were completed in 1929. In addition to the new buildings, the 1918 Hotel Cleveland was connected to the complex. Cleveland Union Terminal was dedicated and officially opened in 1930.

In 1931, the Higbee Company moved its main store to a new building connected to Cleveland Union Terminal. In 1934, the U.S. Postal Service moved its main Cleveland office to Union Terminal in a new connected building designed by the firm of Walker and Weeks. It is today known as M.K. Ferguson Plaza.[3]

Tower City complex, with the Warehouse District and Lake Erie in the background

The Union Terminal served most rail lines: the Baltimore and Ohio, New York Central and Nickel Plate Road.[4] Exceptions were the Pennsylvania Railroad and initially the Erie Railroad – from completion until 1973.[5] It was never particularly popular with the railroads, however. It required deviating from the quicker route along Lake Erie. As the city would not allow trains to operate under steam power near the downtown area, trains were forced to switch from steam to electric power at a suburban rail yard when heading inbound and then reverse on the way out at another yard. As a result, some lines began to bypass the station entirely, heading along the lake route, and some trains stopped serving the city altogether. Several east-west routes by-passed the city to the south, passing through Akron or Youngstown. In addition, national passenger rail travel had already passed its peak and was starting its gradual decline in favor of the automobile and, later, the airplane. The Eire Railroad could not afford the electric transfer and continued to use its own nearby station until 1948, when it replaced steam with diesel locomotives and was able to serve the Union Terminal under its own power.

In 1968, the Cleveland Transit System line finished its extension through Cleveland's west side to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and Cleveland became the first North American city with direct rapid transit access from downtown to an airport.[6]

The Avenue at Tower City Center
The main concourse of Tower City Center
Location Cleveland, Ohio
Opening date February 17, 1991
Owner Bedrock Real Estate Services (Dan Gilbert)[7]
No. of stores and services 88[8]
No. of anchor tenants 0
Total retail floor area 367,000 sq ft[8]
No. of floors 3

Becoming Tower City[edit]

Tower City Center, as viewed from the Cuyahoga River
Sign for Tower City before the closing of the Hard Rock Cafe

Amtrak's short-lived Lake Shore served Union Terminal for seven months in 1971, but the railroad found the rents prohibitive. When the new Lake Shore Limited began in 1975, Amtrak chose to construct a new station, near Lake Erie and the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway.[9] The former Erie Railroad commuter service inherited by Conrail was discontinued on Jan. 14, 1977, ending the facility's use as a railroad station.[10] However, the three rapid transit lines, which by 1975 were all controlled by the newly formed Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority remained in service.

Most of the platform area was demolished in the late 1980s renovation of the building. The station area itself was converted by Forest City Enterprises into a mall and food court known as The Avenue, which opened in 1990. As part of the renovation, RTA rebuilt and combined its rapid transit station beneath the center. The rest of the platform area was turned into a parking garage for the new complex. The complex was renamed Tower City Center in 1991. When it opened, the mall housed many high-end retailers, including Bally of Switzerland, Barneys New York, Fendi, Gucci, Versace, and even had a letter of intent from Neiman Marcus to build a 120,000-square foot anchor store in 1992.[11][12][13] Over the following 25 years, many of those shops were replaced by more modest stores, some of them local retailers.[14]

In 1991, two new 11-story office towers, the Skylight Office Tower and the Chase Financial Plaza, were added. The Chase Building houses Cleveland's Ritz-Carlton Hotel and The Skylight Office Tower housed the former Hard Rock Cafe. After the completion of the nearby Gateway project in 1994, RTA built an indoor walkway connecting Tower City to the complex. A second walkway was built in 2002 to connect Tower City with the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse.

Higbee's (by then bought by Dillard's) closed its department store in the complex in January 2002. Positively Cleveland (formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland) and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (the local chamber of commerce) opened offices in the Higbee Building in 2007. Until late 2010, the Cleveland Plus Visitors Center occupied the first floor.[15][16][17] Now, the first four floors are occupied by the Jack Cleveland Casino, which opened on May 14, 2012.

In 2001, Time Warner Cable Amphitheater opened as an outdoor stage along the Cuyahoga River near the Tower City Complex. A site on the Cuyahoga River side of the complex was proposed as a location for a new Cleveland convention center, but in January 2009 the Cuyahoga County Commissioners decided to redevelop the existing facility.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "Shaker Hts. & The Van Sweringens". Cleveland Historical. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Post Office Plaza". Forest City Enterprises. Retrieved September 29, 2010. 
  4. ^ McGraw-Hill 1918, p. 865.
  5. ^ Navickas, David T. (2010). "Solid as a Rock: The Starrucca Viaduct". Pennsylvania State University. University Park, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  6. ^ "History of public transit in Greater Cleveland". Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  7. ^ Jarboe, Michelle (March 23, 2016). "Dan Gilbert buys the Avenue shopping mall at Tower City in downtown Cleveland". Advance Publications. Retrieved March 24, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "The Avenue at Tower City Center". Forest City Enterprises. Retrieved September 29, 2010. 
  9. ^ Toman and Hayes 1996, pp. 280 and 295.
  10. ^ Toman and Hayes 1996, p. 297.
  11. ^ Jarboe, Michelle (March 21, 2009). "Cleveland's downtown is considered choice real estate for outlet shopping". Advance Publications. Retrieved March 24, 2016. 
  12. ^ Turbett, Peggy (March 25, 2012). "Forest City CEO David LaRue oversees change at company, Tower City Center: Talk with the Boss". Advance Publications. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Cleveland Bucking The Gloomy Trend In Malls". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Publishing. February 17, 1991. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Tower City then and now". Advance Publications. October 14, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2008. 
  15. ^ "About Cleveland". Positively Cleveland. Retrieved June 10, 2008. 
  16. ^ Litt, Steven (February 3, 2011). "Casino won't dramatically alter Cleveland's beloved Higbee Building". Advance Publications. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Something's Happening Here" (PDF). Zygote Press. p. 34. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  18. ^ Litt, Steven (January 31, 2009). "Chosen medical mart site offers second chance for Mall". Advance Publications. Retrieved February 20, 2009. 


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