Forward Innovation Center West, a former Ford plant site in Brook Park, lands its first tenant

April 04, 2023

The developers behind Forward Innovation Center West, the sweeping redevelopment of an automotive plant property in Brook Park, have landed their first tenant.

Victory Packaging, a national distributor of containers, films and other products, plans to move its Cleveland-area operations to the emerging business park later this year. The company will fill 60%, or 221,000 square feet, of a new, speculative industrial building.

The deal lends momentum to one of Northeast Ohio’s largest real estate makeovers, the reimagining of a former Ford Motor Co. engine assembly plant and aluminum casting plant site near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Developers Weston Inc., the DiGeronimo Cos. and Scannell Properties bought the roughly 200-acre property through a joint venture in 2021 and cleared it to make way for more than 3 million square feet of construction.

They erected their first building, a 364,000-square-foot warehouse, without any tenants in hand.

Now, buoyed by their first lease deal and inquiries from other potential occupants, the developers are talking about tackling a second speculative structure.

“In this market, tenants really look for a mostly completed building to commit, because it really reduces things that can go wrong with the building or the build-out,” said Jeff Kennedy, Weston’s director of transactions. “And tenants don’t always look for space until they tend to need it. So, obviously, being able to react quickly to a need in the market sets your site apart.”

Kennedy confirmed the size of the Brook Park lease but declined to identify Victory Packaging by name.

But Bob Garber of Cushman & Wakefield-Cresco Real Estate, which represents the tenant, confirmed that Victory is relocating. Moving to Forward Innovation Center will increase the company’s local footprint by about 30% in modern, efficient space, with higher ceilings, better dock access and improved storage, he said.

Mayor Edward Orcutt said he’s awaiting final confirmation on the deal.

“This is very exciting that we’re able to retain a very good business that is a solutions company to manufacturers and different companies, to assist with packaging and shipping and billing for their products,” he said. “It’s a home run for us to be able to keep them here.”

The company, based in Houston, employs 49 people in Brook Park. The city is not providing incentives for the move.

New buildings at Forward Innovation Center qualify for 15 years of 100% property-tax abatement, under a longstanding city program focused on commercial and industrial developments.

Located at 18300 Snow Road, the project is one of two sprawling Ford properties being refashioned by Weston, DiGeronimo and Scannell. The partners also bought a former stamping plant in Walton Hills, which they razed for a project called Forward Innovation Center East.

On that 111-acre site, the first new building will be complete in July, Kennedy said. Weston is talking to several prospective tenants about the 248,000-square-foot facility, another example of speculative construction.

Kennedy remains optimistic about demand for industrial space, despite economic uncertainty and inflation. In Brook Park, Weston is fielding queries from New York, Detroit, Indianapolis and California because of the site’s proximity to the airport, major freeways and rail lines.

“Market conditions have changed over the last year, but, ultimately, we have a very strong partnership. … And if you build good product, you’ll attract good tenants,” he said.

Weston, based in Warrensville Heights, owns upward of 22 million square feet of real estate across the Midwest and the southeastern United States. The DiGeronimo Cos., based in Independence, specialize in demolition, environmental work and construction. Scannell is a national developer with a headquarters office in Indianapolis.

“It’s been an all-hands-on-deck,” Kennedy said. “And that’s been the most fun part.”