Credit: Rogero Fatica

For the Past 10 years, downtown Cleveland has witnessed the same business exodus as many cities. But a funny thing happened on the way to the gasoline pump. Higher prices and the lure of sporting events, new restaurants, and other local attractions spurred many to rethink the suburbs.

Living downtown became a reality in recent years as a burgeoning number of apartment buildings were constructed, mainly in the city’s Historic Warehouse District. “Ironically, as a lot of jobs moved out of the city core and to the suburbs, downtown housing picked up,” says local councilman Joe Cimperman.

Upscale condos were slower to get off the ground. But when one of the city’s prestigious former office buildings became available, developer Matt Howells took a gamble. The president of Cleveland-based MHA Construction Group paid $1.7 million in March 2006 for the nine-story Park Building and adjacent Southworth Building.

Based on early interest and strong pre-sales of more than 50 percent of the 26 units, the bank offered $9 million in construction financing. The city of Cleveland was also eager to encourage the project and agreed to 12-year tax abatements for condo owners.

Credit: Rogero Fatica

Park Building, which faces the city’s 10-acre Public Square, has been remodeled with high-end finishes; glass expanses; and meticulously-restored millwork. “We wanted to bring the buildings back to their glamour,” says architect Bob Zarzycki, principal of Middleburg, Ohio-based Zarzycki-Malik Architects.

Most of the units are two bedrooms, averaging 1,200 square feet and priced at $350,000, considered high in Cleveland. Nevertheless, sales have been steady. The first occupants moved in last April, with 15 units sold by the end of 2009.

Cimperman attributes the success to the building’s respectful conversion and city’s restored magic. “The lure is undeniable,” he says.