MCM Company resurrects historic Tremont church as unique office building

By Todd Williams | Photos By Todd Williams/Shooting Star

Repurposing a Religious Icon - 1st Choice Roofing - tremont churchOnce a thriving religious center in the historic Tremont neighborhood, Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) church, school and rectory was ordered closed by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese’s Bishop Richard Lennon on May 9, 2010 as part of a sweeping plan to shutter churches, divest of real estate, and realign congregations across the Diocese. It lay dormant for three years until Melissa Ferchill, founder and president of MCM Company, Inc., feasted her eyes on the abandoned religious facility, her mind already planning a unique idea to transform the property into something Tremont had never seen.

Founded in 1992 and known for its general contracting, construc-tion management and design-build capabilities, MCM had expanded its expertise into project management, program management, planning and pre-construction services, project con-sulting and real estate development. This growth, as well as the desire to acquire a property that would show-case MCM’s historical repurposing expertise, prompted Ferchill to begin searching for new office space. “We were renting at West 9th and Superior in the Warehouse District,” Ferchill says. “I started looking to purchase property in Ohio City and the Flats as well as the near east side. In fact, we eventually took an option on two religious properties in Ohio City. Then our real estate agent showed us Our Lady Of Mercy and it was love at first sight.”

MCM’s president says the 40,000-square-foot property at 2425 W. 11th St. “fit the bill,” noting most parish properties are tough to refurbish and con-vert because they are usually very large structures. But as the smallest church in the Diocese, OLM was a “manageable space that could be developed,” she adds. MCM bought the property on slightly less than one acre from the Diocese in 2013 for $550,000 and has spent $5.2 million in developing it. Ferchill explains that the main reason she fell in love with the prop-erty is its proximity to the freeways and downtown Cleveland. And she adds that she has always been drawn to this historic neighborhood because of the eclectic nature of Tremont with its abundance of restaurants, its large park, restored residential properties and boutique shopping – factors making it an extremely viable location for MCM’s new offices as well as space to rent. She notes this acquisition and res-toration is the third church her firm has repurposed. The others are the Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center, formerly a Christ Scientist Church in Cleveland’s Little Italy neigh-borhood, and the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, formerly a First Congregational United Church of Christ, located in Berea.

Ferchill explains that among the big-gest challenges to acquiring the property were the various financing hurdles MCM had to leap. “For large and small projects, it’s relatively easy to obtain financing, but mid-sized projects like this are difficult to finance,” she says. “However, since we are developers who often do very big projects, we have built a great working relationship with our lenders and were able to lever-age our large projects with our lenders to obtain the necessary financing.” Another challenge that had to be met was rezoning the property for offices and doing a lot split and consolidation. Ferchill explains that at the time the neighborhood was listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, this property was not listed as “contributing” buildings in the historic district. As a result, the district nomination had to be amended to include OLM, as well as several other buildings the nomination missed. This was important due to the fact that the deal was financed with federal and state historic tax credits to the tune of $1.56 million, a Vacant Property Initiative (VPI) loan from the City of Cleveland for $70,000, a Neighborhood Development Program (NDP) grant from the city for $40,000, owner equity of $105,000, devel-oper equity of $518,219, an SBA loan from Growth Capital Corporation for $250,000 and senior financing in the amount of $2.25 million “It all worked out and now the city has a property on the tax records, unlike when it was owned by the Diocese,” she adds.

From religious facility to offices

According to Ferchill, the historic religious site was first established when a Catholic Slovak parish built a structure there in 1922. The parish held services in this frame building on West 11th until the eight-room and basement brick hall was completed in 1926. The congrega-tion worshipped in the hall until the present stone church building was com-pleted in 1948. The hall then became the school. The brick and stone rectory was built in 1958. Also there was an old house, two garages and a two-story con-vent on the property. MCM demolished the smaller structures, leaving the wood-framed convent for future residential or commercial use. Douglas Hoffman, principal at the Cleveland office of Weber Murphy Fox (WMF), the firm hired by MCM to provide architectural services for the restoration and transformation of the OLM property into an office complex, explains the Cleveland architectural firm of Sickle, Kelly and Sickle was the original designer of OLM, along with several other Roman Catholic churches, including St. William’s in Euclid and the remodeling of St. John’s Cathedral downtown. “I think the artwork in the church might have had some Southwest influ-ence, but not necessarily the architecture,” Hoffman explains. “The architecture of the sanctuary built in 1948 was influ-enced by the rebuild of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, even using the same architecture firm and the same Tennessee sandstone used downtown. The architecture of the church was rela-tively common for the period, but the artwork was exceptionally decorative.” In a filing with the Ohio State Historic Office, Heather Rudge, president of HP Group and the historic preservationist on the project, states, “All buildings feature the use of Tennessee crab-orchard sandstone – the entire church and the front elevations of the school and rectory. The gable-front church features an inset semicircular entrance portal and rose window under a blind arch gable [Romanesque influence] and an octagonal bell tower with copper cupola [Renaissance influence].

“Slate, copper and clay tile roofs, copper gutters, original stone and brick walls, original church entrance doors, some original windows, and architec-tural details typical of former religious use are found in the property,” she concludes. To date, this religious site repur-posed as an office complex includes the 7,900-square-foot sanctuary leased to an interior furnishings company, the 5,800-square-foot first floor of the school leased to Hermes Sport & Events, and MCM’s 5,200-square-foot space in the rectory. The 5,700-square-foot second floor of the school is unoccupied and up for lease. In addition to the leased space, all tenants have access to 51 parking spaces, a large conference center, a  workout room with showers and lockers, and a game room. According to David Thal, senior asso-ciate at WMF and project architect, the property was in very good condition and had been well maintained despite being vacant for three years. He notes there was some minor water leakage in the choir loft that was very easily repaired. The church’s slate roof, as well as the tile roof on the school, were both in great shape, needing only a few pieces replaced.

MCM Project Manager Michael Sygula notes the exterior masonry, both stone and brick, on all three structures is fundamentally sound and needed only minor cleaning and minor tuck-pointing. He explains that before MCM took possession of the property, the interior of the church sanc-tuary had been stripped clean of all its religious identity and artifacts, including pews, altar, communion rail, stained glass and baptismal. The Diocese left a large religious mosaic behind the altar area as well as a religious mural in the offering niche on the north side of the sanctuary. These murals were hidden behind false walls built by MCM. A non-religious mural depicting indus-trial and mural life in a niche on the south wall was left exposed and the niche turned into a seating area. In an unusual twist to the design, the two confessionals in the sanctuary were converted to bathrooms. And the choir loft was made into a conference area with new rails and glass added to bring the space up to code. The sacristy was left all original, but is now a document room. The old kitchen was also replaced with modern components. Other work to the sanctuary, accord-ing to Sygula, included painting the soaring vaulted ceiling and all walls a brilliant white. All the original hanging light fixtures remained after cleaning and replacing the sockets. Sixteen new downlights were added to the walls, brightening the space. The original dec-orated beams in the sanctuary were left intact. All windows in the space were replaced, including eight nine-foot-high windows on either side of the sanctuary. To conceal wires and cable running to workstations essential to the ten-ant’s business, a six-inch raised floor was installed in the sanctuary, Thal says. Ductwork for the HVAC system was hidden as well, by installing it on the side aisle ceiling of the sanctuary with vents located behind the old existing speaker grills.

New life for old school

In the former parish school, historic details were similarly kept while still designing a user-friendly space for the tenants, Hermes Sports. For instance, Thal notes, 56 historic-looking windows were replacaed on the west and east eleva-tions on both floors, and on the north and south elevations, the 15-foot-high windows were replaced. The school’s doors and entrance canopy off of the parking lot are new. In the rear of that lot, MCM built a 2,300-square-foot warehouse space for Hermes. In the basement of the school where the old parquet floor had buckled, a new concrete floor was poured. Several classroom walls on the first and second floors were removed to open up the space for the new tenant workstations. In order to make room for more tenant area, the old closets on the south end of the room were removed and the old doors were reinstalled flush with the new wall. Thal notes that even the old blackboards were repurposed as mes-sage boards for the tenant’s use. Thal says that a main theme in repurposing historical buildings is reconfiguring existing space to fit a new need. “While respecting the his-torical features, the interior design introduces fresh contemporary spaces which reflect the culture of the indi-vidual tenants,” he notes. In the case of the wide school hall-ways that once held bustling students, they now include workspace with countertops and cabinets as well as functional hallways. To accommodate the as-yet-unleased second floor of the school, an elevator was installed and plumbing readied for new toilet rooms. “We have to design for the flexibility of future tenants as well as existing ones,” Thal says. “While there are constraints when working within existing historic structures, these challenges often allow for the design process to result in unique design solutions.” Mechanical systems were replaced in all three buildings with new boil-ers and ductwork, and all wiring and plumbing was upgraded and replaced where necessary. The property also has a newly surfaced parking lot and ADA compliant concrete walkways and handrails.

Re-imagined rectory

Of all three structures, the rectory was in the best condition, thereby requiring less renovation than the other two buildings. According to Sygula, the most work occurred on the building’s second floor where the six existing bedrooms and their three full bathrooms and closets were removed, thereby creating seven new offices for MCM. After removing the old bath-rooms, a new half bath was added off the corridor, stacked with the first floor bath to create a uniform feeling from floor to floor. Also, an existing doorway at the top of the staircase was removed, thereby extending the second floor corridor to create two new execu-tive offices with views of Lincoln Park. Throughout the building where needed, new wall finishes and floor-ing were installed with attention paid to the seamless blending of old styles with new, Sygula notes. On the first floor, an existing full bath and closet was removed from a bedroom to create a new large office. The existing kitchen was totally restored with stain-less steel countertops, painted cabinets and new hardware, as well as a new floor and lighting fixtures. a more functional, modern building,” Sygula says.

Finally, the building was capped off with a new TPO tapered insulation roof system, according to Tom Truelson, vice president of 1st Choice Roofing Company.

“This project was unique for us because it featured many different roof systems and roofing materials all on one prop-erty, from the rectory’s new TPO system to the slate and tile repairs and replace-ment on the church itself,”

Truelson says, noting that work on the overall project also included installation of a new standing seam metal roof system, copper sheet metal, gutters and downspouts. Essentially, says Ferchill, the entire project has been a successful blend of restoration and new construction, and that tenants “have totally embraced” the results. “The location is fabulous,” she says. “Tremont is such a cool neighborhood. The spaces are unique, with great char-acter, and they have awesome natural light. This property is such a great exam-ple of what we do and what we have done on many similar projects.”