Lorain County Beautiful Awards

NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 1-19-03, By RON VIDIKA, Morning Journal Writer

``LORAIN -- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In the case of the 12th annual Lorain County Beautiful awards, each resident of Lorain County can be the beholder of this year's top selections, whose planning and aesthetics have placed them in the winners' circle.

Ten winners in six categories were chosen out of 41 nominees at Friday's 12th annual Lorain County Beautiful awards banquet held at the Oberlin Inn. The yearly event is sponsored by the Lorain County Visitors Bureau.

The purpose of the awards is to motivate residents, business owners and civic groups to work at beautifying the areas in which they live and work.

A three-judge panel, Tom Roberts, landscaper for Cedar Point, Yolita Rousche of Chambers, Murphy and Burge, and Jim Barchok, Lake County Planning Commission, determined the winners.

''I think this year's crop of winners is excellent,'' said Pat Cano, executive director, Lorain County Visitors Bureau.

''I am always amazed by the efforts of people and companies and organizations to improve their facilities. It improves our quality of life and exemplifies the pride people take in their business and accomplishments. We're very pleased with the turnout and support we've received from Lorain County,'' said Cano ...

Green Space Award

AVENBURY LAKES: It's the first of its kind in Lorain County with about 45 percent of its land dedicated to open space. Avenbury Lakes, off Detroit Road in Avon, called a conservation community, was the vision of developer and builder Joe Scaletta. His vision was to build homes around the natural wooded area and enhance the site with lakes, wildflowers and walking trails ...

The gazebo at Avon Commons

Professional Landscaping Award

AVON COMMONS SHOPPING CENTER: A sprawling, 760,000 square-foot shopping center, Avon Commons, built in 1999, is situated on 100 acres, with nearly a third of the land developed into green space.

First Interstate Properties spent nearly a million dollars on landscape improvements. The landscape design was a collaborative accomplishment between Robyn Liberatore of First Interstate, Bill Hubert of Hubert's Landscaping and Mike Babet of Forevergreen Lawn Care ...''

Properties Magazine - October 2001 Article, By Lou Kren

``A Tale of Retail in Avon

The northern tier of Cuyahoga and Lorain counties has a new shopping center to call its own. Filling a need in the area west of Cleveland surrounding I-90 is Avon Commons. Though substantially complete, when all is said and done in late 2002, Detroit Road in Avon will be home to an 800,000-plus-square-foot retail and restaurant complex, boasting a Who's Who of retail giants including Target, Kohl's, Home Depot and Heinen's.

The list of principals is long on a project of this size; a host of general contractors and many more subcontractors contributed to construction of Avon Commons. Developer First Interstate Properties Ltd., Beachwood, spearheaded this project through the efforts of Mitchell Schneider, president, in addition to Richard Carlisle, development director, and Ken Evers, construction director, among others.

Design architect and architect of record for a majority of the center is Dorsky Hodgson + Partners. Other architectural work is performed by ADA Inc. and Lowenstein Durante Architects. General contractor for two anchor tenants, including the first building constructed, for Target, is The Darden Company. The firm also will build a Heinen's supermarket at the site.

Site engineer is Neff & Associates with R.J. Gilgenbach Co. serving as site contractor. Other general contractors involved with Avon Commons according to information supplied by the developer include DAYC Corp., Fortney & Weygandt, Illes Construction Co., Westropp Building Co., DAS Construction Co., Lawler & Crowley Constructors, Bennett Commercial Contractors and Fred Olivieri Construction Co ...

First Interstate and the design team made a concerted effort to position Avon Commons as a walkable complex ... For example, the parking areas utilize traditional-height light fixtures except in the areas closest to the retailers. Here, the lights are dropped to a lower height so visitors attentions focus lower to the ground as they approach the stores.

Winding through the center is a walkway surrounded by greenspace.

"Much green surrounds the main circulation drive, which creates a pleasant experience when visitors arrive," explains Carlisle. "And the traffic pattern is clear and simple."

Avon code stipulates a 30% greenspace requirement, and designers strove to place as much greenspace together as possible. A recreational pathway is the result of these efforts, and the pathway contains a gazebo, out of the ordinary in typical shopping-center projects.

"We tried to create a pedestrian-oriented environment that is an asset to the community," Carlisle says. "People can walk along this pathway, roughly a six-acre area. Surrounding the gazebo is a mounded amphitheater." ...

Adds Schneider, "This is one of the few large-scale properties in Northeast Ohio where people actually stroll from one end of the project to the other."

"We wanted to create a center that offers opportunities for pedestrian-scale elements but also allows us to detail large wall surfaces and large entrance areas," explains Kevin Zak, partner with Dorsky Hodgson + Partners, Beachwood, design architect and architect of record for a large percentage of Avon Commons. Zak worked closely with Alex Espinosa, company principal and senior designer on the project. "This allowed us to transition from pedestrian scale to the more monumental scale inherent in these buildings."

In meshing design requests from the individual tenants and the overall design preference forwarded by the developer, architects on this project sought balance.

"We were looking at specific tenants and in our experience of working with those tenants, we understood each of their expectations," says Zak, describing the give-and-take design process. "Overall, we wanted something contemporary but not something that would quickly become dated. Details are contemporary but the colors are traditional."

By all accounts, First Interstate is a hands-on owner and worked closely with architects and site planners in material and color selection.

According to Zak, the overall design identified a material palette and overall design theme. It was the task of architects to provide tenants with individual identities while staying true to the unified project design.

"We develop a set of materials that we required everyone to use," explains Carlisle, "including bricks and mortar color, parking-lot light fixtures and exterior wall sconces. At each entrance we specified standard detail used on either side of the entrances. Between those areas, tenants have a lot of leeway in what they can do. That is where the signage and special features unique to each tenant are placed."

"Each tenant might have a different masonry design or color that stands out more than the others in that particular tenant's fašade," adds Zak. "But when you step back and see the whole project, it is a very unified design. That is much more pleasing to the eye than allowing each tenant to go off on its own and replicate its prototype, a traditional approach in shopping-center design."

The idea, according to Zak, was to break down the scale of the large buildings at the entrance level and give pedestrian-level architecture a more human feel.

"For example, says Zak, "we introduced a paver-type material into the sidewalk near the store entrance areas and specified planters on either side of those entrance areas. These help define and create scaled elements from a pedestrian standpoint. Details such as these make visitors feel they are part of a walkway rather than a traditional approach where visitors just traverse a sidewalk between the drive and the building."

Masonry is the exterior material of choice at Avon Commons along with synthetic stucco treatments. Masonry units with a bricklike appearance are used near entrances, where size and shape can be altered easily and provide a more hand-built appearance.

Avon Commons, unique in terms of close-up pedestrian views, projects itself just as uniquely from a distance ... The site has about 850 feet of frontage along Detroit Road. "You don't drive along Detroit and look at a big shopping center," says Schneider. "In our thinking, I-90 would serve as our frontage. As for Detroit Road, though we needed signage to let people know what was inside, we didn't think it was necessary to see what was inside from that location."

The result is a striking landscaped wall along Detroit Road, dressing up the frontage and setting the tone for the pedestrian look inside. In further efforts to endear itself to the community and improve access to Avon Commons, First Interstate spent about $2,250,000 on roadway improvements in Avon including signalization and widening of Detroit Road as well as similar efforts on nearby Route 83 and Chester Road.

While viewing I-90 as its frontage, First Interstate as well as site planners and designers paid careful attention to the rear of the complex.

"We added signage on I-90 and duplicated some of the materials and wall structure used on the Detroit Road side," explains Schneider. "This lets people traveling on I-90 know that we have a large-scale retail project here."

In designing along I-90, the goal was to let vehicle passengers see the top third of project buildings, effectively hiding rear service areas, trucks and loading docks.

This is another departure from traditional shopping center design, where rear elements serve functional, not aesthetic needs.

"We looked at the rear fašade and side facades as a continuum of the front elevation of the buildings," explained Zak, describing how Dorsky Hodgson + Partners paid careful attention to I-90 views in designing its buildings. "Material colors on the front are reflected at the rear and side," he says, "so that the quality of the architecture and the appearance from I-90 are inviting and an accurate replication of what was done to the building fronts." ...

Both Darden and Les Illes of Illes Construction, Solon, noted that coordination between the numerous contractors onsite made the jobs easier. Illes was responsible for construction of the 18,300-square-foot World Market store.

As noted above, a number of contractors plied their trades on this project.

"We set up a direct contract with the site contractor, as we want control of that and it is where most of our risk lies," explains Carlisle, noting the important work provided by site general contractor R.J. Gilgenbach Co. in addition to site engineering performed by Neff & Associates. "Then we or the tenants contracted with a number of general contractors to build the buildings." ...

"We had specific components of work that were easily definable," says Schneider. "Bringing in any number of contractors to do independent pieces of work rather than rely on one contractor to undertake all of this work shares the wealth and helps us preserve relationships with multiple contractors. Also, it guarantees that we have not overburdened any one contractor with so much work that one component suffers to the benefit to another. We guarantee our retailers that we will deliver buildings on time and with a unquestionable level of quality."

"Plenty of quality contractors, with whom we enjoy doing business, may not have the size and scale to undertake a full project of this size," Schneider continues. "Breaking the work into smaller pieces ensures that some of the smaller contractors, who do a great job, get a piece of work from us and are not overwhelmed."

This was especially true of subtrades. Carlisle and First Interstate worked closely with general contractors to make sure subs weren't overburdened or slated for too many jobs onsite.

With Avon Commons well on its way to completion and shoppers already flocking in, Schneider sees Avon as an ideal location and praises the efforts of city officials in bringing the complex to Avon.

"Avon is among the fastest-growing communities in Northeast Ohio in terms of residential growth," says Schneider, noting that the development seeks to serve the residential influx and the entire Westlake, Bay Village and Avon area as a whole.

"The entire I-90 corridor on the west side of Cleveland has been underserved from a retail perspective. Bay Village and Rocky River are older communities lacking land available for retail development of this scope, and Westlake was very restrictive in its zoning for retail of this scale. By the time demand was recognized, the available zoned parcels in Westlake no longer were available. Avon was the next community west of that area that had the space to serve the I-90 corridor of western Cuyahoga County."

Avon has a fairly well-developed master plan, according to Schneider, and a sophisticated political community that understands the benefits that quality retail can bring to a community. And First Interstate, as is the case with the firm's other developments in a portfolio encompassing about 3-million square feet throughout Northeast Ohio, plans to maintain a presence in Avon. Everything the company develops is designed for long-term First Interstate ownership and equity growth, says Schneider.

The developer, while bringing sorely needed retail to the area, also contributes to Avon by funding a college-counseling program for Avon High School and providing a scholarship for worthy Avon students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college.

"We try to become involved in the community long-term," says Schneider. "We believe we have developed the nicest commercial project that has yet been developed in each community in which we build. And best references are the communities we've worked in."''

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