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E.V. Bishoff Company targets downtown’s discounted commercial properties

By Neil Cotiaux
Photo by Jim Baron

Nineteen years ago David Bishoff had some time on his hands with the cancellation of an appointment in Columbus. On a whim, he decided that it was time for a road trip.

Jumping into his car, Bishoff drove to Cleveland and saw a downtown “chock-full of buildings, all of which were attractive to me.” One in particular, the 21-story Superior Building at 815 Superior Avenue, caught his eye.

“I walked into the building and I talked to the security guard,” the president of E.V. Bishoff Company says. Directed to the offices of the management firm and, without benefit of a marketing study, Bishoff made an initial pitch to purchase the 74-year-old building. Two months later it was his.

Acquisition of The Superior Building marked the E.V. Bishoff Company’s entry into the downtown commercial real estate market at a time when the city was slowly bouncing back from suburban sprawl and the departure of downtown tenants. As a buyer of “distressed” properties, David Bishoff sensed an opportunity.

Commercial real estate can be distressed for one of three basic reasons, the executive says. Either management, leasing or finances is lacking, and for the long-term investor who resists the usual three- to five-year turnover of property, owner and tenant will be well served, he says.

As an owner-operator of property from a bygone era in Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh, “Our job is to fix it up so that it works well for the next generation,” Bishoff says, adding quickly, “There are no instruction manuals for them.”

Maintaining property correctly is something that he understands well. Working for his father, a commercial real estate broker who founded E.V. Bishoff in 1965, the younger Bishoff tooled around Columbus in an old jeep under the moniker “DB Maintenance” and swept debris off roofs, laid stripes in parking lots and sanitized dumpster stations. Working with other contractors, he learned how to repair mortar joints between bricks and service HVAC equipment.

“I learned very quickly that the cost of preventive maintenance and repair was a fraction of the cost of replacement,” Bishoff says.

Rather than compete with the owners of Class A commercial space who offer newer, more prestigious addresses that typically charge higher rents, Bishoff charges rent that is closer to market average for Class B space with a bit less polish, updating the property with a variety of convenient and flexible services targeted to small and growing businesses.

Bishoff’s signature adaptation is a dedicated network infrastructure for computers and phones that can go live for a new tenant within 24 hours, freeing the client from having to work with an outside service provider or waiting on a new installation — the kind of amenity mostly offered at large corporate headquarters or to businesses who rent significant chunks of square-footage.

The firm has twice updated the amount of bandwidth provided to its tenants at The Superior Building and The City Club Building and client-specific circuits are available, Bishoff says. The cost is $69 per month for Internet service and $29 per month for each telephone handset.

Other amenities available to tenants include a private CCTV system for office security, temperature probes with in-house monitoring, and an online reservation system for access to one of 28 conference rooms for up to a week at a time.

To retain tenants, there’s an expansion bonus for clients who double their monthly rent, with a credit totaling 10 percent of all rent paid over the prior 24 months. Separately, clients with a minimum two-year presence receive credit for temporarily unused space.

While such come-ons help snag and keep business, Bishoff says his overall task is to “create office environments that appeal to different groups of people.” Toward that end, lease prices are tiered from the budget-conscious client who has no need of a receptionist or kitchenette to one who wants to combine suites or desires a dazzling view of Lake Erie, Russell Hoban, the company’s in-market manager, says.

Despite the Great Recession, Cleveland’s central business district has bounced back nicely, and the E.V. Bishoff Company’s buy-and-hold strategy is being validated. Fueled by millennials and baby boomers, downtown’s population increased by 70 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the American Community Survey, leading to a spate of office-to-retail conversions and tightening available commercial space.

Between 2011 and 2014, office vacancies downtown have declined by 5.1 percent and leasing “ask” rates have jumped 8.5 percent, from $17.52 to $19.01, says the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. Ask rates downtown continue to surpass those in the suburbs.

Christine Watson, founder and principal at WatCam, a human resources company specializing in recruiting law firm and other office personnel, moved to The Superior Building last November after K&D Group bought the Leader Building and announced plans to convert much of it to housing.

With many downtown clients wanting to meet with her during the lunch hour, a suburban location was out of the question, Watson says, but neither did she have an interest in moving her four-year-old business into Class A space. “Our organization cannot afford nor needs the minimum space required,” she says.

After reviewing nearly 10 leasing options, Watson inked a three-year deal for about 1,600 square feet with E.V. Bishoff. WatCam’s new location in The Superior Building features a kitchenette, conference room, file room, and a lovely view of the lake, Watson says, and David Bishoff dropped by no fewer than three times to ensure that the move-in was going well. Says Watson: “He’s just very down-to-earth.”

“People have voted with their feet and are moving both their homes and their offices into the downtown,” Bishoff says. “We never lost faith that Cleveland was a winning city.”

Asked what’s on his company’s radar now, the maintenance-man-turned-executive doesn’t skip a beat. “I’ve always liked Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis,” he says.

For more information: evbco.com

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