© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Artists at Coventry PEACE Campus raise concerns to Cleveland Heights City Council

photo of Coventry PEACE Building
Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District
The Coventry PEACE Campus is housed in a former school, which the school district voted to close in 2006. Soon after, it transitioned to an arts hub. The library system took ownership in 2018.

The future of a longtime arts hub in Cleveland Heights is once again in flux, and creatives are taking their case to City Council on Monday night. Tenants at the Coventry PEACE Campus are concerned about the terms of the six-month lease offered by their landlord, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library system.

Instead of a long-term lease, as some artists had expected, the library offered the artists two consecutive, 18-month leases in 2023, according to Robin VanLear, a Cleveland Art Prize-winning artist and community liaison for ARTFUL, a tenant in the building.

“While that wasn't ideal, we thought it gave us time to negotiate... and hopefully still go back to the plan of a longer lease with us actually taking over the building,” VanLear said.

The library and various arts tenants are at odds over future planning for the space.

"I would say that the air has gone out of the balloon," said library Director Nancy Levin, in regard to the relationship with the artists.

Levin and VanLear agree that the artists missed the deadline this spring to renew the second lease.

“We did mess up,” VanLear said. “There were a lot of things happening at the same time. One of the biggest things was that this exact same time, Cleveland Heights City Council realized that the ARPA funds that were being given out, there were different guidelines than they realized. All these different organizations had to rewrite their grants."

That led to the current agreement for the rest of this year, with renewal options, as well as a plan by the library to conduct a study and listening sessions about the PEACE building’s possible future.

One issue is that the former school building, next to the neighborhood library branch, is almost 50 years old. It houses 10 different groups, including Lake Erie Ink, the Singers’ Club of Cleveland and Building Bridges, which makes public murals. After the library took over the property in 2018, allowing the artist groups to act as the master tenant, Levin said things didn’t work out as she had hoped.

"We were not happy with the way the building was being maintained," she said.

Levin said they’ve spent about $500,000 replacing half the roof and maintaining an HVAC system which “really should be replaced.”

"When we started in 2018, we were under the impression that the tenants would be fundraising," she said. "That has not occurred."

An assessment this year found that it will cost about $2.8 million to bring the building “up to safety and the same condition it started in,” which includes replacing the HVAC system and the rest of the roof plus making the bathrooms more accessible, Levin said.

VanLear said the investment is worth it.

“If the building's had 50 years of utility to the community, then the costs for another 50 years are certainly a lot less than building a new building,” she said.

Levin said it’s too early to know what the future holds. She acknowledged that current deed restrictions prevent working with for-profit tenants. There’s also the issue of geography: A new owner would be limited in what they can do since the building is sandwiched between the PEACE Park and a county-funded urban mini forest.

For VanLear, she said she’s hoping for a big turnout at City Council because moving to a new space would complicate fundraising for many summer youth camps and adult workshops.

“These types of programs take a long lead time to raise the funds,” she said. “We don't know how we'll continue if we have to move to a six-month lease and apply for grants for next summer but not know where we would be.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.