Flickr/pquan

Owners hope to add parking spaces inside a former department store.

A mostly empty historic building in downtown Cleveland may be getting some new tenants: 734 cars.

The building’s owners want to convert a few of its floors into a parking garage, according to this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The building, constructed in 1913, was the site of the former May Company department store and is listed on the U.S. National Register for Historic Places. It has been subject to numerous redevelopment and reuse proposals over the years, but nothing has taken hold.

Enter a new casino, opening in downtown Cleveland this spring. Parking is already a concern, and the building's owners think they can be part of the solution.

They are hoping to convince the city’s planning commission to allow them to convert four floors into parking spaces to meet the expected demand. The whole building won’t just become a storage house for the cars of slot machine junkies. Architect Robert Zarzycki’s proposed 734 parking spaces on the second through fifth floors, preserving the ground floor for retail and the upper stories for potential redevelopment as housing or office space.

It’s a strange new life for a building to have, but not unprecedented. One notable example - in Detroit, the Michigan Theater has been gutted and filled-in with a multi-story parking structure. Formerly a 4,000-seat movie theater, the 1926 building was converted in the 70s, retrofitted with a concrete parking structure built fully inside the old theater - also due to demand for more parking space from workers in a nearby office tower. Cars can park on multiple levels, including the top level, which is covered overhead by the theater’s formerly ornate and now weary ceiling. (This photo, by Lowell Boileau, offers a vivid look at this strange new building typology.) And though most of its sides are open to the elements, the building’s outer shell and façade are largely preserved.

The Cleveland parking building would likely also have to see some of its façade changed, at least removing windows to allow ventilation. But for the most part, the building would be able to remain almost as it has been for nearly 100 years. And though some have raised concerns about the building’s historic value, other contend that this reuse plan is favorable to just letting the building remain empty.

This situation isn’t exactly ideal, but empty buildings being reused as parking lots seems a lot better than demolishing buildings to make room for parking lots.

Photo credit: Flickr/pquan

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