Preservation efforts along Old River Road began in the early 2000s, when the demolition of the Flats East Bank project to the north raised concerns about the future of a corridor once lined with sail makers and marine suppliers. In 2006, non-profit groups successfully added the Old River Road Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places, opening up access to financial incentives to restore buildings dating as far back as the 1860s. .
Public records show businesses linked to George and GBX set up shop along the river in 2017. But it took them until December last year to strike a deal with the owners of Samsel Supply, who have sold five buildings to partners for an undisclosed price.
“This is precisely the type of target real estate we envision,” said Antonin Robert, president of community development at GBX. “It’s historic. It’s underutilized. It represents economic opportunities both for our investors and, just as importantly, for our community.”
GBX worked with the association Historic Warehouse District Development Corp. place conservation easements on buildings, protecting historic structures in perpetuity. These easements are binding legal agreements. In exchange for federal tax breaks, George and GBX gave up their rights to demolish, build over, or substantially alter building facades.
This is the model GBX has used elsewhere in Cleveland and across the country, where the company typically partners with lead developers like George.
Tom Yablonsky, who oversees easement programs for the Warehouse District Group and Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corp., believes Old River Road will see “a sea change in investment outlook,” similar to the flurry of activity that’s been happening in the Superior Arts District since GBX planted a flag there in 2014.
Much of the Flats real estate is vacant today. But Samsel Supply, founded in 1958, still operates a store on the first floor of the warehouse building and maintains offices next door. The manufacturer and distributor employs around 40 people and serves customers in the marine, construction and other industries.
Mike Samsel, vice president of the company, said he and his siblings had attracted interest from a series of developers before agreeing to sell. Last year was the right time, said Samsel, who likes GBX’s approach and is impressed with George’s eye-catching proposal.
Now the family business is looking for a new home, ideally elsewhere in the Apartments. Samsel said there was no specific timeline for the move. “We can do what we do in a smaller space, that’s for sure,” he said.
The Samsels still own an interest in the Hausheer building at 1250 Old River Road, which is home to Collision Bend Brewing Co. They partnered on this redevelopment project in 2016 with the Catanese brothers, of seafood company Catanese Classics and developer Fred Geis.
“The Samsel family has been amazing,” said Jim Haviland, executive director of Front dishes, a non-profit neighborhood advocacy group. “They have anchored Old River Road through the decades of change that has taken place there. They have remained that anchor and have taken great care of their properties which has made them attractive to investors.”