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Bringing Back The Buckeye Neighborhood

Wednesday, August 7, 2002 at 4:50 PM

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Revitalization efforts are underway in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood. Although other areas have undergone similar improvements recently, Buckeye is indicative of the economic difficulties many urban neighborhoods have endured. The Hungarian shops and restaurants that once lined the street from Martin Luther King Drive to East 130th have been replaced with wig shops, boarded-up windows and storefront churches. Many residents in Buckeye would like to see those go and replace them with a thriving retail community. Initiatives to do just that have residents and observers hopeful Buckeye's potential revitalization could be a model for other efforts of urban renewal. 90.3 WCPN's Shula Neuman reports.

Shula Neuman: There is a theory that maintains that all trends can be thought of as an epidemic. And, as with all epidemics, small changes somehow have big effects. This theory explains why a certain style of shoe suddenly becomes all rage. It also explains why the Buckeye Area Development Corporation is fending off encroaching blight one step at a time. The Development Corporation is a non-profit community group that seeks to stabilize neighborhoods through education, advocacy or - in this case - through financial investment.

In the past 10 years, the organization has invested about $6 million in buying and rehabilitating buildings. The Development Corporation now owns nine buildings. Director of Rehabilitation John Hopkins says current project is a $2.6 million renovation of the Weitzer Building for the future home of Beech Brook, a social services agency.

John Hopkins: We’re considered the developer of last resort. We truly would prefer for the market to come in and develop these buildings but it just doesn’t make good business sense, there’s always a gap in financing, so the market… no one ever comes to buy these buildings. So what we’re trying to do is renovate the buildings and create a market where businesses can come in, buy a building, rent it and lease it and make a profit. And when that happens we’ll get out of managing buildings and we’ll just manage the street.

SN: The Development Corporation has created a plan for the neighborhood’s future that combines revamping Buckeye’s retail district, creating a zone for the arts and developing a children’s village.

The proposal for Buckeye’s future sits well with Ann Marie Ogletree, owner of Fundamentals Academy. The retired Cleveland School principal had long dreamed of opening a day care center once she retired. Now three years in operation, Fundamentals is at full capacity. Ogletree says the success of her business isn’t just good for her, it’s good for the whole neighborhood.

Ann Marie Ogletree: Well, you know, it’s happening. You see different ones with storefront renovations, if you had seen this building five years ago, the people are just so happy here because the lights go on along the side of the building and it’s always lit. People on this street are just… clapping sounds… I’ve not had any graffiti, not one bit and you can see it goes all the way the length of this building.

SN: So far, the incremental changes on Buckeye have attracted interest from some private ventures - just not the kind that people had hoped for.

Linda McGee, a 27-year resident of Buckeye, was part of the posse that prevented a liquor store and a halfway house from moving into the neighborhood. While she’s pleased with the recent revitalization efforts, McGee says there are a few things that concern her - starting with the convenience store at East 116th and Buckeye. The One Stop Shop sells alcohol and McGee is concerned because children pass by every day on their way to the grade school across the street and she says the traffic that accumulates outside the store frequently backs things up for blocks.

Linda McGee: And something needs to be done about that. Other than that I think it is growing, it can get better because we have no family restaurants in this area, not a one.

SN: One Stop Shop owner, Sam Qasem, downplays any traffic congestion. He says he shares a security guard with neighboring stores to keep away troublemakers and he challenges anyone to find even a cigarette butt littering the sidewalk in front of his shop. Meanwhile, McGee says the neighborhood may not be as pristine as nearby Shaker Square, but at least she’s no longer afraid to walk on Buckeye.

When Michael Feigenbaum bought Lucy’s Sweet Surrender Bakery eight years ago, he thought he found a great deal. Witnessing a drug bust right next store certainly opened his eyes to what he was really dealing with. Still he stuck with it and is actively involved with the development corporations’ efforts. He says it’s a tedious process but worthwhile.

Michael Feigenbaum: Now Buckeye takes a lot of people to court and forces them to renovate or rehab their properties or at least keep them at a minimal and so basically that is basically one thing you do is you do enforcement, you do education, you try to convince the property owners about property values and the importance of keeping your front clean and looking nice.

SN: Feigenbaum says he’s in it for the long haul on Buckeye, which is easy for him to say considering that he isn’t dependent on the location for the bulk of his business; an appearance on the Food Network last year helped Feigenbaum sell more strudel to people outside Northeast Ohio at twice the price of what someone in Cleveland pays.

While Buckeye may never be home to a national chain like the Gap or Starbucks, Andrew Baque, associate director of Kent State University’s Urban Design Center based in Cleveland, says creating an area like the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland Heights is a realistic goal. Baque helped the Development Corporation map out its plan. He says the idea is to capitalize on existing resources that make the neighborhood unique.

Andrew Baque: That’s what inner-city neighborhoods are trying to do. Census are showing that there’s a trend settlement patterns back into inner city and most neighborhoods trying to take advantage of that by identifying that quality that makes them unique and leveraging economically and socially to reposition themselves in the marketplace and I think that Buckeye is one of many that is trying to do it. And it’s not only Cleveland I think that cities around the country, that’s their strategy.

SN: Baque points to solid housing stock, the dormant Moreland Theatre and an abundance of educational facilities as Buckeye’s current assets. Baque says with the right mix of public and private investment the neighborhood could turn the corner within three years.

With the market value for the buildings having increased to $10 dollars-a-square foot - just below market rate - that prediction may not be so far off. In fact, current discussions with a private investor to renovate the Moreland Theatre indicate that it may not take that much longer before the small changes begin to make a difference. And Baque says if Buckeye’s renewal efforts reach epidemic proportions, it could be a model for other neighborhoods around Cleveland. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3 WCPN News.

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