PRACTICE PALACE: The Cleveland Cavaliers’ proposed practice facility, shown here in a Populous rendering, extends the partnership with Cleveland Clinic at their current facility. (Courtesy team)

Early 2027 Completion Targeted

The Cleveland Cavaliers unveiled spectacular renderings this week of their proposed practice facility along the city’s riverfront, a project expected to be among the biggest and most expensive in the NBA.

The 270,000-square-foot building, named the Cleveland Clinic Global Peak Performance Center, is a partnership between the NBA team and the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, which plans to conduct medical research at the facility, effectively taking those building types to the next level beyond providing the typical orthopedic and rehabilitation services to the public, which is the case at other big league practice facilities.

The Cavaliers have not disclosed the cost of the practice facility itself and are still working out the terms of the partnership with Cleveland Clinic, which includes naming rights, said Antony Bonavita, executive vice president of venue operations for Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs’ home arena, and who’s involved in the project.

The site of the practice facility sits about 1.5 miles southwest of the arena and will anchor a massive, $3.5 billion mixed-use district along the Cuyahoga River, spearheaded by Bedrock Real Estate, the development group owned by Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner.

“It’s a little bit of a twist that we’re taking on this project, as opposed to just building a medical facility next to a practice facility,” Bonavita said. “You’ll be able to get those services, but this is about  taking your performance to the next level. There’s going to be research being done there. We’re bringing athletes in to test them and how get to become their best selves. The whole theme has been heart, mind and motion.”

Groundbreaking, pending city approvals, will most likely take place late this year, with completion in early 2027. At this point, Bedrock is working on reinforcing the bulkhead in place along the river’s edge, which helps reduce erosion, to get the site ready for construction, Bonavita said.

The new venue will replace Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, where the Cavs have practiced since 2007. To this point, the future of that publicly-owned building is unclear, he said.

“We want to be change makers — to change the landscape of Cleveland, theoretically and physically,” Bonavita said. “Dan owns that land on the riverfront, but it’s a difficult site to work on. It would’ve been much easier to put it somewhere else. He’s a big believer in the urban core and believes you should build in the city to create vibrancy and everything else benefits from that.”

At first glance, the renderings, produced by project architect Populous, depict a building that could almost be mistaken for a small arena complex, given the scale of the building and high design of the exterior.

RUSTY SCUPPER: The exterior design of the Cavs’ proposed practice facility reflects the industrial heritage along the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. (Courtesy team)

The facility’s rusty-brown color scheme and vertical blades of metal attached to the facade call to mind the industrial environment along the riverfront, fronting a glass facade providing views of the water. It’s a transparency feature important to the Cavs to showcase the Cuyahoga, said Jonathan Mallie, Populous’ principal-in-charge and the project’s design lead.

“It’s not often the case where you can build on the waterfront and be the first building in that area,” Mallie said. “We needed to come up with an exterior design that would be compelling on the waterfront, that ties into the movement and fluidity of the water, and the motion of the athlete.”

Bonavita has spent the past two years visiting virtually every NBA practice facility to get ideas for the Cavs’ project. In the next few weeks, he plans to tour the league’s newest one, Victory Capital Performance Center, which opened for the San Antonio Spurs in December. He’s also visited Atlanta, Detroit and Orlando, all of which have opened over the past eight years.

None of those four venues run bigger than 185,000 square feet, which are the dimensions of the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center, where the Pistons practice, two miles north of Little Caesars Arena. Project costs for the Pistons, Hawks and Magic facilities run from $50 million to $90 million.

The cost of the 140,000-square-foot Spurs practice facility has not been disclosed. It’s part of The Rock at La Cantera, an overall $500 million mixed-use development in San Antonio.

In Cleveland, the new practice facility will be three times bigger than where the Cavs practice now. Bonavita said the practice facility and team spaces run 210,000 square feet. The clinic will occupy 60,000 square feet.

The programming aspects are in development now. Populous has designed more than 250 practice and training facilities across pro and college sports, including Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center, the Milwaukee Bucks’ practice facility that opened in 2017.

In addition, Populous is designing three more NBA practice facilities that have not been made public yet, company officials said. The Charlotte Hornets are developing a new practice facility next to Spectrum Center, but officials would not say whether they’re working on that project.

Over the past 20 years, big league practice venues have evolved in sophistication with greater amenities for players to create a place where they feel comfortable and provide a powerful recruiting tool for free agents.

Cleveland stands on its own as the next generation with the research component.

For Mallie, what stands out about the Cleveland development is working with two visionary parties in the Cavs and Cleveland Clinics to transform a vacant piece of waterfront property that’s lied dormant for many years.

“They talk a lot about how they both share the name ‘Cleveland’ and they see that is the tie that binds; that, in combination with Bedrock’s view of the entire vicinity along the river presents an incredible opportunity to bring something special to Cleveland,” Mallie said.