Attracting new construction is tough anywhere these days, probably nowhere more so than in East Cleveland, one of Northeast Ohio's poorest cities. But ideastream's Mhari Saito reports several million dollars of targeted investments offer the city glimmers of hope.
Ruth Perry moved on to East Cleveland's Hartshorn Road in 1964. Back then, residents filled the houses and multiple apartment buildings on the block. But Perry says the apartment buildings have been empty for nearly 15 years and now they are crumbling, overgrown hulks taking up nearly half the block.
Ruth Perry: For the residents that are on street, particularly women when they are coming in from church, bible study in the evenings and even work, the vegetation is so overgrown until you couldn't see any shadows that were lurking out there. So it's just a blessing to see they are coming down.
Demolition crews from the Cuyahoga Land Bank started taking down 10 properties on Perry's block using $900,000 in federal funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. In total, demolition crews will take down two dozen apartment buildings and 31 vacant houses across East Cleveland. Five more houses on the block adjoining Perry's will be taken down by crews who specialize in deconstruction, that's a process where all salvageable material is taken from a house for resale or recycling. East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton says when it's all done, the city should have three contiguous sites ready for redevelopment.
Mayor Gary Norton: We know we have got to clear out some space. We are a densely packed, older inner ring suburb and really we want to clear out some of the unused buildings right now that we have and make way for newer developments.
Still, who would want to build in East Cleveland, a city known for its poverty and history of political turbulence? University Circle Inc. for one. Chris Ronayne heads the development organization and University Circle is the fastest growing employment district in Ohio with regional employers like the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals. Ronayne says developers have committed to building 200 apartments in the neighborhood this year, but space is running out.
Chris Ronayne: The paradox in place for the Circle is we are growing but we are growing out of land. And for us that means new frontiers and always up the HealthLine, up Euclid corridor, East Cleveland has been in our sights as a next frontier for University Circle.
East Cleveland with its tracts of cheap land is right next door. Standing in front of the dilapidated apartment buildings on Hartshorn Road, Cuyahoga Land Bank director Gus Frangos says the big problem with East Cleveland's property are the derelict buildings in the way.
Gus frangos: These sites are going to become valuable because you obviously can't market something that's like this. Once it's down, however, all of a sudden it becomes more marketable.
This week University Circle Inc announced its first development project in East Cleveland in decades. With Florida developer Finch Group and thanks in large part to funding from Cuyahoga County, construction on the $5 million townhome project on Euclid Avenue could start as soon as next month. Mayor Gary Norton hopes the move is indicative of University Circle's growth trajectory. Other offers, though, are welcome too!
Gary Norton: We'll work with Team NEO, Cuyahoga County, anyone who wants to select a site that's either near University Circle, near a transportation hub, that's been cleared out and is multiple acres on Euclid Avenue...we've got the perfect site for them.
And the mayor is not the only one dreaming big. Beverly Crim lives across the street from one of the abandoned apartment buildings coming down on Hartshorn road.
Beverly Crim: I hope they put some new housing in here. If not apartment buildings, single houses, condos, townhouse or something that would help bring more revenue into the city.
But for now Crim is glad the crumbling buildings on her block are coming down. And they are coming down fast. Crews expect to be done knocking down the vacant buildings on her street - more than half the buildings on the block - by the end of the week.