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Local realty firm wins national recognition as 2015 Green Lease Leader

NEO Realty Group, LLC, does not tout itself as one of the area's largest or most influential real estate firms.
 
"We're a local company," says Brant Smith, a managing broker for NEO. "We're in secondary markets," he adds, tagging Lakewood, Akron, Willoughby and Mentor. "We're in small- to medium-sized buildings." Most of the rental spaces the firm manages are 1,000 to 5,000 square feet.
 
Operating on a smaller scale, however, hasn't stopped NEO from applying comprehensive energy savings strategies that garnered the attention of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) and the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Alliance, which designated NEO as a 2015 Green Lease Leader at the Better Buildings Summit in Washington, D. C., earlier this year.
 
Green lease?
 
"A green lease is an energy aligned lease that tries to bring together different concepts and ideas related to sustainability and energy efficiency," explains Smith,
 
Components include paying close attention during build outs and upgrades by using low VOC paints (think lower odor), window films, reflective roofing, flooring approved by the Forest Stewardship Council, LED and fluorescent lighting systems that adjust when natural light is abundant, low flow commodes and faucets and perhaps most importantly, highly efficient heating and cooling systems monitored by digital systems that adjust heating and cooling when spaces are unused.
 
"You start combining those things and they really do add up," says Smith, noting that NEO often tracks energy savings of 30 to 40 percent.
 
Those numbers aren't pulled from the air. NEO has partnered with New Ecologix LLC, which performs energy audits and analyses on the firm's spaces. They use the resulting figures to construct clauses in leases that outline energy saving commitments from both the tenant and the landlord. Industry insiders refer to the practice as overcoming split-incentives.
 
An explanation per the IMT:

"Traditional leases separate costs in a way that discourages landlord and tenant collaboration, while creating what is known as the 'split-incentive' problem: landlords have no incentive to improve the energy efficiency of their building, while tenants bear the brunt of wasteful and poorly performing building systems (AC, heating, etc.).

With a modern, green lease, both landlord and tenant have incentives to invest in long-term, energy-efficient solutions. These sorts of investments are what you would see in today’s modern, green trophy office buildings."

Smith believes that NEO's efforts to quantify green practice and adopt green policy by way of their leases is what set the firm apart and helped to garner the 2015 Green Lease Leader designation.
 
"They were intrigued and impressed by what we were doing here in a secondary market in the Midwest with small- to medium-sized businesses," says Smith.
 
For an example, Smith points to the firm's centerpiece holding, the historic 1923 Detroit Warren Building in Lakewood. How does he view the challenge of transforming a nearly 100-year-old building into a green property?
 
"It's a huge opportunity," says Smith. And one NEO has taken hearty advantage of: the firm has reduced common area utility usage by 41 percent courtesy of upgrades to the lighting and HVAC systems and elevators.
 
Smith and the NEO team, however, view their green aspirations on a broader scale.
 
"Having good community relations and maintaining our buildings so we add to the vitality and livability of the cities we're in, that's the people side of it, the social side of it. It's a fundamental core part of our business," says Smith, adding that NEO aims to nurture the "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit.
 
"We don’t view ourselves as landlords. We view ourselves as stakeholders in the community."
 

 

National firm keeps it local, settles in above Platform Brewery

Last month, Payscape Cleveland finally moved into a proper space.
 
"We were homeless for about a year and two months," laments local Payscape district manager Jerry Hammer. That mournful status, however, was not the result of bad financial decisions and rampant spending habits.
 
Hammer, who founded Payscape's Cleveland office five years ago, and his staff occupied a 1,300-square-foot office space at 27629 Chagrin Boulevard for about three and a half years. As the operation expanded, Hammer sought out a bigger space and thought he'd found it in Ohio City. But alas, after working on a deal for seven months, moving into the space adjacent to Phoenix Coffee on Bridge Avenue just wasn't meant to be.
 
"Some issues happened that were out of our control," says Hammer. Hence for 14 months, Payscape, which offers payment technology solutions to small- and mid-sized businesses, relied on the benevolence of fellow area businesses.
 
"Phoenix Coffee was our friend," says Hammer, also tagging Skylight Financial Group, which offered up their space for Payscape's Monday morning meetings.
 
When the space above Platform Beer Co. became available, Hammer snapped it up. The firm moved into the 2,000-square-foot space last month and just in time. Hammer expects to double his sales staff of seven by year's end and is also in the process of hiring between eight and 11 additional staff members to populate the technology/development side of the business under newly hired chief technology officer Douglas Hardman, formerly of SparkBase, the Cleveland based gift and loyalty card software platform company. All of this means even more expansion within the second floor offices at 4125 Lorain Avenue.
 
"Within six months," says Hammer, "we're looking to take over the entire floor, which is about 4,100 square feet."
 
Payscape is headquartered in Atlanta with 13 other offices nationwide. That larger presence, however, does not diminish Hammer's passion for keeping his operation keenly focused on being local.
 
"Everyone that I've hired is based here or grew up here," says Hammer of his staff. Furthermore, while under the Payscape banner, his operation is independently owned, designated in the industry as an ISO (independent sales organization).
 
Hammer's northeast Ohio ties also go back for generations. Before launching the Payscape venture in Cleveland, he worked for his family's wine distribution company, Hammer Wine Company, where he interacted closely with the local hospitality industry. Hence, it's no surprise that Platform Beer Co. is not only a neighbor, but a client as well. That partnership has its benefits.
 
"We can take clients downstairs and do a networking event," says Hammer. "It's a good vibe and a cool place to be." He also touts the location's proximity to Downtown and the West Side. And while he's all about local, Hammer has cast his eyes south with plans to open offices in Columbus and Cincinnati that would be formal Payscape operations, but would be under the wing of the Cleveland office, which he describes as the Payscape "headquarters for Ohio."
 
"We are here to help small- to medium-sized businesses save money and help them get their money faster," says Hammer, adding that despite Payscape's national profile, his operation maintains a smaller local feel.  
 
"For how big our company is, locally, we are small," says Hammer. "We are competing against the big guys outside of Ohio." Making face-to-face relationships with his clients a priority is one of the ways he edges out the larger operations.
 
"How we treat our clients here locally is important to us."

Ten takeaways from the latest Towpath Trail announcement

Last Friday at Scranton Flats, a host of local dignitaries touted a $700,000 Clean Ohio Fund grant that will enable the construction of Stage 3 of the Towpath Trail through Cleveland.
 
The Towpath Trail project has been ongoing for decades, but as it moves forward through dense urban terrain, it becomes more and more complex and difficult to understand. Hence, we offer up the following bullet points to help clarify the status of this growing urban treasure.
 
1. There are four stages to the Towpath Trail project in Cleveland, which are not coming online in a numerical or geographically linear progression.
 
2. The work announced Friday will include 1.9 miles of new trail from the northern end of the complete Stage 2/Steelyard Commons trail loop at Quigley Road to the intersection of University and Literary Roads in Tremont. Scheduled completion date: 2017.
 
3. The $700,000 Clean Ohio grant is part of a complex $43 million finance package for all four stages that includes various federal and state funds as well as $27.5 million in support from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA).
 
4. Although not associated with any of the stages, Scranton Flats is another completed section of Cleveland's Towpath Trail. The recently opened Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail (formerly the Lake Link Trail) is not officially part of the Towpath Trail, although it does connect to it at Scranton Flats*.
 
5. Stage 1 will eventually connect the Harvard Road trailhead (just west of Alcoa) to the Steelyard Commons loop in 2019. Until then, you have to travel via Harvard and Jennings Avenues to link the two trails.
 
6. To get from the Steelyard Commons loop to Scranton Flats, you're back on grade via Quigley, West 14th Street and Kenilworth Avenue (or you could cut over via Clark Avenue) to Scranton Road. This route will be replaced by Stage 3 (2017) and Stage 4  (2018).
 
7. Here is the simplest map showing those on-road connections and complete and planned trails/stages.
 
8. When you enter the Harvard Road trailhead, you are at the northern terminus of some 85 miles of completed shared use trail that goes straight through to New Philadelphia, Ohio.
 
9. The finished trail network is aptly described by Richard Kerber, chief planning and design officer at Cleveland Metroparks, as a pedestrian "interstate or freeway—the highest class of off-road trail."
 
10. What trail users will not likely notice as the miles unfurl before them is the Herculean effort that brought this remarkable amenity to fruition and the staggering collaborations between all the cities and counties (Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, Tuscarawas) the trail traverses, an array of local and county park systems, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), Canalway Partners, corporations, private residents, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), the Ohio & Erie Canalway, the state of Ohio and a host of organizations that while too numerous to list, were all key pieces in the larger puzzle.
 
Lastly, a suggested activity while you wait for these few remaining urban trail connections to be complete. The following nearly two-mile stroll will take your breath away. Every view is worthy of a camera and then some. This simple loop will also connect you with your city: where it's been, where it is and where it's going. So queue up Google maps if you haven’t already, and follow along.
 
Get your person down to Scranton Flats and get on that trail that hugs the river. Head south, up the incline. Go right at the fork in the trail and over the two pedestrian bridges (you're on the *Lake Link Trail, by the way). When you reach the trail's end at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Columbus Road, turn right and walk over the Columbus Road Bridge. Continue north on Columbus to Center Street and take a right. Go on up the hill and take a right to head over the Carter Road Bridge. Then go left toward the defunct Eagle Street Bridge and take a moment to consider that massive iconic structure.
 
You ought to be at the northern tip of Scranton Flats, which is where you started.
 
So go on: take a hike. Cleveland's waiting for you.

 

Old-school face time stars at West 25th Street gaming cafe

Although Shiva Risner has had a lease in hand for Tabletop Board Game Café, 1810 West 25th Street, since last August, the much-anticipated opening of the old-school-meets-hip venue wasn't until last Friday, when all the snafus were finally behind her.
 
"The roughest moment was when we were ready to get construction started," says Risner, "and we found out we didn't have the right zoning."
 
Nail biting ensued, but after compromising with the zoning board over parking and having the appropriate hearings, Shiva and partners Michael and Brady Risner (who is also her husband) were able to get the zoning changed from a retail to restaurant designation.
 
The newly renovated 2,000-square-foot space seats 68. The build out, which started in late January, included installation of ADA compliant bathrooms, a small prep kitchen and a bar. Shiva and her co-owners did as much work as possible, including building the bar, painting, and installing trim among other tasks. Casey Graor of CNG Construction LLC, however, did the heavy work.
 
"He's the only contractor I ever met who is always on time and always picks up his phone," says Risner. "That was very refreshing for us."
 
While privately financed, the project garnered $9,500 in Kickstarter support. Risner also got two storefront grants, one from the city of Cleveland and another from Ohio City Inc. Each were $3,000 for a total of $6,000. Signature Sign Co. constructed the signs for Tabletop, which will initially have two full-time and 10 part-time employees.
 
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is free before 3 p.m. on weekdays and $5 after 3 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.
 
Upwards of a thousand games, from Kingdom Builder (one of Risner's favorites) to Connect Four, are ready for play. There's no check out policy or limit on gaming; patrons are invited to pluck a game from the shelves and have at it. In between moves, Tabletop staff will be offering up nibbles such as the Avocado Bravado Sandwich and Buff Chick Dip.
 
"It's our house made Buffalo chicken cheese dip," says Risner. "It's comfort food: indulgent and delicious." She recommends washing it down with a Left Hand Milk Stout or a Fine Dog 60 Minute IPA, although she advises, "We are going to be changing beers a lot."
 
Risner, a 2014 Bad Girl Ventures graduate, describes herself as someone who's "bounced from one thing to another," with stints studying biology and law. She even took the bar exam.
 
"I kept finding all these things were not for me," she says. "I did want to do something of my own, and have ownership."
 
Then at her bachelorette party in Toronto, she found it. The group of 12 ladies went to Snakes & Lattes Café, which Risner describes as "the most successful board game café in North America." She watched on as everyone in her party started to, well, have a blast.
 
"The girls were different in age, different in interests. A lot of them didn't know one another," she says, but pretty soon, "Everyone was laughing. It set the pace for the rest of the weekend."
 
Hence, with a little nudge from her then-fiancé Brady, the idea for Tabletop was born.
 
"At first, it started with us just talking about it, but it's turned into a reality."
 
Now that it has, Risner hopes to cater to the local board game community, but she has loftier goals as well.
 
"We want to bring board games to the general public, maybe to people who wouldn't consider themselves avid board gamers. Board games are about social interaction," she says noting that old school face time is on the decline as our reliance on technology and social media grows.
 
"People don't realize what they've been missing," she says, hoping plenty of them will drop into her new Ohio City storefront and give gaming a shot.
 
"They really will have a great time."

 

New studios, listeners and partners for oWOW

During last week's Third Friday event at 78th Street Studios, oWOW, a professional Internet radio station launched earlier this year, held an open house for guests to tour their newly completed studio space. The operation was formerly housed in makeshift offices.
 
The paint was still drying, but oWOW founder John Gorman, the legendary machine behind WMMS's glory years, seemed pleased with the results.
 
"We wanted an area at least wide enough to ride a horse in," he quipped of the 1,600-square-foot space.
 
Work began shortly after oWOW launched in February. Steve Kibler was the general contractor. Mark Yager of Y Design, in collaboration with building owner Dan Bush, designed the space.
 
"They came up with this funky but chic design. They wanted it to be very cool, but they wanted it to reflect the building as well," said Jim Marchyshyn, director of sales and marketing, "We're really happy with it. Hopefully we'll grow into more space."
 
"If we have to, we'll go through the wall," added Gorman. Although no one was reaching for a sledgehammer just yet, the station is steadily growing.
 
"Each week we pick up more listeners," said Gorman," and the listeners stay. The biggest growth is between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Those people are listening at work, which is what we'd hoped to do. The majority of our audience is in Cleveland, Akron and Canton." The station, which runs live programming 12 hours a day, has eight full-time and four part-time employees.
 
"We have a lot of dedicated people that have put a lot of sweat equity in this," said Marchyshyn.
 
In addition to expanding its audience, oWOW has adopted a couple of mascots and partnered with other area arts and culture events such as the popular summer mainstay event Wade Oval Wednesdays. They've also welcomed Steve Bossin as director of business development. He's been tasked with maximizing advertising.
 
"He's got a lot of experience in Cleveland radio," said Marchyshyn.
 
The past months haven't been completely smooth. Early on, the staff realized its operating system, described by Marchyshyn as the "brain that controlled everything," wasn't as sophisticated as it needed to be. "It didn't work. We realized that very quickly," he said of the previous system, which he declined to name. The replacement, however, is an RCS system.
 
Hence, when Steve Pappas queues up the Led Zeppelin/James Brown mash-up "Whole Lotta Sex Machine," Springsteen's "Born to Run" and Murray Saul's notorious call to "get down" every Friday at 5 p.m., it all goes off without a hitch. 
 
"That signals to our audience," said Pappas, "it is officially the weekend."

 

Inviting transformation begins on East 22nd Street corridor

Last Friday, work began on the $4.3 million East 22nd Street improvement project. The effort will revitalize the nearly one-mile corridor between Orange and Euclid Avenues with new pavement; curb, drainage and sidewalk work; median improvements and new traffic signals. Upgrades will also include new streetscaping elements such as signage, benches, brick pavers, bike racks, trash receptacles, trees and shrubs.
 
The project is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the city of Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). Road work is slated for completion this fall, with streetscaping amenities to be complete in the spring of 2016.
 
"East 22nd Street really will become our north/south 'Main Street,'" says Bobbi Reichtell, executive director at Campus District, Inc., noting how the project will improve the connection between Saint Vincent Charity Medical CenterCleveland State University, and Cuyahoga Community College.
 
"There are a lot of students that go between CSU and Tri-C. They take classes at both," she says. "It is literally a 12-minute walk. It's not a pleasant walk right now. It's barren and institutional. No one walks or bikes it."
 
Reichtell is confident that will change when bike lanes, greenery, neighborhood signs and public art created by local artist Augustus Turner are all in place.
 
"It's just going to be a much more pleasant experience for biking and walking," she says. "We expect to have many more walkers and bikers between CSU and Tri-C."
 
As usual, before Clevelanders see improvements they'll have to endure some orange barrels. East 22nd Street will be reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction between Orange and Carnegie Avenues. Between Carnegie and Euclid Avenues, which is already one-way northbound, traffic will be reduced to one lane. Motorists are advised to be aware of signal modifications during construction as well.
 
Ironically, this does not necessarily come as bad news to many within the Campus District, including Reichtell, who expresses as much with words rarely heard in Northeast Ohio. "We are so excited to see orange barrels," she says. "Even though it will bring short term pain, this is a long time in coming. We're finally getting what we've been asking for."
 

Two Lakewood transformations: from nuisance properties to market value homes

A stunning 1898 Victorian Gothic home at 1436 Grace Avenue along with a 1906 home at 1446 Mars Avenue have left a dubious past behind and are ready for their close-ups.
 
Back in the 1930s, both homes had been converted from single-family homes to boarding houses with multiple bedrooms. In recent years, they had become overcrowded and the subject of numerous police, fire and EMS calls.
 
"They were really pulling down both streets and devaluing properties," says Ian Andrews executive director of LakewoodAlive, adding that one person owned both parcels. In 2012, the city purchased them for a total of $200,000.
 
While city officials first considered demolition, they instead opted to enlist the nonprofit community development organization LakewoodAlive to investigate saving the structures. LakewoodAlive then turned to the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.
 
"They have a track record and experience doing this exact kind of work," says Andrews, "where you take an abandoned property and rehab and renovate it and turn it into a beautiful market rate home." LakewoodAlive stayed on as the local development entity, overseeing and marketing the project.
 
"We were able to create a really great public/private partnership between the two nonprofits and the City of Lakewood," says Andrews of the collaboration that initially came together in May of 2013.
 
To kick off the marketing campaign, they brought on Jeff Marks, who works on historic home renovations, to tour the property and come up with some initial floor plans to give prospective buyers an idea of each property's potential.
 
"How do you take these beautiful homes that have been chopped up and return them to their prior splendor?" recalls Andrews. "With all the doors and walls, it was hard to visualize."
 
So with some potential floor plans and renderings, they listed the homes thusly, $1 for the Grace Avenue property and $25,000 for Mars Avenue home. Interested parties had to have a minimum of $150,000 for renovations, a plan, and a proven track record. There were also deed restrictions on the homes: they could not be demolished or become rentals.
 
"We had a lot of control," says Andrews.
 
They held the first open houses in December 2013. More than 200 people toured each home, both of which closed in early 2014. James and Lilli Valli purchased the Grace Avenue property. The Mars property changed hands in summer of 2014, but ended up under the wing of Relief Properties.
 
The Grace and Mars properties, 3,744 and 2,641 square feet respectively, are now market rate, single-family four-bedroom homes. The Vallis have uncovered beautiful architectural arches and hidden pocket doors during renovations and are slated to move in next month. Andrews describes the Mars home, for which Relief Properties found a buyer almost immediately after the project's 2015 completion, as having a "cool, historic mod mix." That family is already settled in. Each of the renovations cost more than $200,000.
 
"It's really a great outcome," says Andrews, adding that he sees value in the projects reaching far beyond the front door thresholds.
 
"It's so important that we invest in our older housing stock. It's critical to the success of our neighborhoods. We can't just have teardowns and vacant lots. You end up getting the missing tooth. You lose the density. It pulls down property values and the character of the neighborhood," he says, adding that stable residents bring in tax revenue and invaluable vitality.
 
Andrews cites one more reason for inner ring suburbs and the City of Cleveland to invest and focus on improving existing housing stock. "Because it is beautiful."

 

925 set to send East 9th and Euclid into the stratosphere

 
Yesterday during a private press function on location, Avi Greenbaum, a partner of the Florida-based Hudson Holdings, announced the company's plans for the staggering 1.4 million-square-foot 925 Building (formerly the Huntington Building). It all started on a romantic note.
 
"The moment we walked into this building, we fell in love," said Greenbaum.
 
Now Hudson intends to open this magnificent space to Cleveland and the world, with the breathtaking 61,000-square-foot lobby as the centerpiece.
 
"We want to activate this lobby so everyone in downtown Cleveland wants to use it: for meetings, for a drink, to come and relax, to stay," said Greenbaum of a space that's been closed to the public for years. "We're looking forward to making this building as lively as it once was."
 
In order to do so, Hudson intends to pour $280 million into the 925. Initial plans include 550 hotel-style apartments, 400,000 square feet of office space, a 300-room flagged high-end hotel, 200,000 square feet of banquet/retail/conference space as well as a host of dining, lounge and club options in the building's unique areas, from the fascinating vaults to the airy penthouse ballroom and rooftop. Parts of the building will hopefully be available to host events for the 2016 Republican National Convention. The full build out is tentatively slated for completion in 2018.
 
"We're going long and big on Cleveland," said Greenbaum.
 
As of yesterday, Hudson Holdings had owned the building for one week and a day. In an unmistakable underscore of the company's commitment to the project and the city, after the tours and photo ops and questions came to an end, Greenbaum hosted a full-service gourmet meal in that grand lobby. It unfolded at a single table that seated some 45 guests, complete with candles, flowers and linens.
 
First, roaming wait staff served mini crab cakes and gazpacho shots while attendees sipped flutes of Mumm Napa Brut Prestige champagne. Driftwood Catering then offered up plates worthy of the three-story limestone pillars and marble walls and floors: greens and mandarin oranges dressed with blue cheese and toasted almonds, duck confit in a black berry reduction, seared sea scallops and corn risotto. They topped it off with politely wrapped cake lollipops. A full service bar and cheeseboard (think ripe strawberries, St. André triple cream brie) was available throughout the event.
 
Cleveland's newest cocktail also made its debut. "The Huntington" is a concoction of Grey Goose Vodka, Patron Tequila, fresh lime and simple syrup.
 
Such an auspicious display surely bodes well for the intersection of East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, but if Greenbaum's grace as a host does not persuade, there is the less tasteful discussion of money. Case in point: The seller of 925 Euclid Avenue, Optima Ventures, purchased it in 2010 for $18.5 million. The building was at about 50 percent occupancy.
 
Hudson purchased the building, which down to about eight percent occupancy, for $22 million, "which kind of speaks to the change that's going on in Cleveland," said Optima's representative Terry Coyne, vice Chairman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, adding that right now in Cleveland, mixed-use development is king and traditional tenants are not necessarily what a buyer is looking for.
 
"If you bought the building fully occupied," he said, "you'd probably have to pay people to leave."
 
Prices on vacant buildings going up, the historic Schofield Building transforming into a boutique Kimpton Hotel, oodles of capital pouring in from out of state, an urban resort at the once-derided Breuer building, a vacant bank building reborn as a divine grocery store: It's all a far cry indeed from these musings that ran in the New York Times on June 17, 2007:
 
"Marcel Breuer, one of the fathers of modern architecture, built only one skyscraper, the 29-story Cleveland Trust Tower, which today stands abandoned on a forlorn block downtown."
 
That "forlorn block" is part of an intersection that's slated to become one of the city's greatest comeback stories, in no small part due to the sheer audacity of the associated projects. With this most recent announcement and the driving force behind it, the borders of the city won't be able to contain the success of East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue. Greenbaum's banking on that very assertion with his wallet and his heart.
 
"We think this is really going to help raise Cleveland's profile nationally," he said of his latest love. "It was possibly the most grand building we've ever walked into."
 
 

It's raining barrels in the Bellaire-Puritas neighborhood

Whether or not it's raining, Rachel Napolitano, marketing coordinator and engagement specialist at the Bellaire-Puritas Development Corporation (BPDC), fields requests for rain barrels.
 
"Even on the coldest winter day, someone will call about a rain barrel," she says. "We get phone calls all year round—and every day it rains."
 
While those requests won't reserve a barrel, Napolitano makes sure people inquiring about the program get information and an application as soon as the city announces it, which has been every spring for the last seven years. She estimates that they’ve distributed 156 barrels in the Bellaire-Puritas neighborhood since the program's inception.
 
"It's kind of gone viral the old-fashioned way—a grass roots sort of viral," says Napolitano. People will see the barrel in their neighbor's yard. First they get curious and ask about it; and then they get jealous. That's when they call the BPDC.
 
The barrels for the 2015 season arrived last week. Before they had all 30 unloaded, 21 were already spoken for.
 
"People in the neighborhood are passionate about a lot of things. We have nice yards here. People have really robust and humungous gardens," says Napolitano, adding that some nurture flowers; others opt for vegetables and, of course, some plant both.
 
Furthermore, other residents understand that stopping water from entering storm sewers is always a good thing, particularly amid the Chevy branch of the Big Creek, which runs through the Bellaire–Puritas neighborhood. It has a history of overflowing into the street and storm sewers and causing flooding.
 
"Even if they're not going to garden, they value keeping water in that barrel during a storm event instead of having it discharge into the street and perhaps contribute to a flooding problem," says Napolitano. "They like saving money on water bills as well."
 
Residents use the non-chlorinated rainwater to water gardens and lawns, but Napolitano has another suggestion for its use.
 
"Your hair turns out the shiniest if you wash it in rain water," she says.
 
The City of Cleveland employs local youths to assemble and install the rain barrels. The BPDC makes it even easier, sending out their own handypersons to install Oatey Mystic downspout diverters, which are manufactured right in the neighborhood at 4700 West 160th Street. The entire program is cost-free for residents.

Napolitano most enjoys meeting the residents, seeing their gardens and hearing their garden stories. The pro-rain barrel set includes immigrants, long-time residents and people from other parts of the country.
 
"The interest cuts across a lot of demographics," says Napolitano. "It's a great way to get to know residents, especially the people who really care about conservation."
 
Aside: The Oatey Mystic diverter was born in 2009, when the city approached Oatey about developing, designing and manufacturing a rainwater diverter specifically for its rain barrel program. The diverters became so popular; Oatey now sells them throughout the United States and Canada.
 

 

Every Cleveland property to be photographed and rated

In a collaborative project between the City of Cleveland and the Thriving Communities Institute (TCI), which is a program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC), more than 150,000 properties within the city (virtually every single one save for those dedicated to things such as roads, railways and utilities), will be visually assessed by September by a team of 16 people who are canvassing the city in teams of two. They started earlier this month.
 
"Their goal is to get 150 records a day," says Paul Boehnlein, associate director of applied geographic information systems for WRLC. That translates to 2,400 a day for the entire team. "They're doing really well. They're right up at that pace."
 
"They're almost done with all of Collinwood," adds Jim Rokakis, vice president of WRLC and director of TPI. "They're moving into Glenville."
 
Team members are equipped with mobile devices that have an array of information on each property, including the address, owner, whether or not there is mail service and utility service, tax delinquency status, etc.
 
"All the public data is there," says Rokakis.
 
They then make an assessment on whether or not the property is occupied or vacant and assess the general condition via a list of questions: Is there a structure? Is it boarded? Are there broken windows or doors? Is the siding damaged? Are there dilapidated vehicles in the yard? What is the condition of the porch and garage? Is the structure open or secure?
 
"The last step for them is to take a photograph," says Boehnlein.
 
"It will be the first survey of every property in the city attached to a photo and a rating system," adds Rokakis.
 
Data collectors are logging an estimated four to six miles a day, all on sidewalks or public right of ways. They were selected from a pool of more than 60 applicants and strive to keep their partner, who is usually working the opposite side of the street, within sight at all times.
 
"Safety is a really important consideration for this project," says Boehnlein.
 
Now for a bit of gloomy foreshadowing.
 
Last year, TPI was involved in the same sort of survey for the city of Akron that included more than 95,000 parcels. About 700 of them were categorized as being in need of demolition. That's less than one percent. When the organization conducted this sort of survey for the Saint Luke's Foundation on 13,000 properties in Cleveland's Mount Pleasant area (near Buckeye Road), "Eleven-hundred of them need to come down," says Rokakis. That's nearly 10 percent, which is a very troubling number and one that illustrates why the survey is so important.
 
"We need to know," says Rokakis, adding that estimates of the number of structures in Cleveland that require demolition go as low as 8,000, which would cost about $80 million.
 
"But what if it's actually 14,000 or 15,000?" poses Rokakis. "Well, do the math."
 
Boehnlein sees the project, which is supported in part by the Cleveland Foundation, as having another gentler impact. In addition to collecting valuable data for the WRLC and its partner organizations, he notes that those who own a vacant or abandoned property are struggling with a really difficult situation.
 
"If our work can help alleviate that situation," he says, "I'm pretty happy about that."

 

Artists to earn renter equity with innovative Glencove project

Over the summer, a lucky group of yet-to-be-determined artists will have a chance to defy conventional residential procedure and amass equity while renting living space without having to take out a loan or making a single mortgage payment.
 
"This is a unique opportunity for artists who are not ready to own a home, but still want to have value in the community that they live in as well as earn equity for themselves," says Camille Maxwell, assistant director at Northeast Shores Development Corporation (NSDC).
 
The program will unfurl at the Glencove building, 231 East 156th Street, which has been undergoing renovations since June of 2014. Formerly home to a tavern of the same name and four residential units, the space has been vacant since 2005, when NSDC purchased it for $52,500.
 
The circa 1920 building now houses six units, two one-bedrooms and four two-bedrooms ranging from 650- to 850-square-feet, all of which are outfitted with standard kitchen appliances, a washer and dryer in each unit, and individual HVAC systems. The Glencove also has off-street parking for tenants and their guests and perhaps most importantly, a studio/display space for each resident artist.
 
For two of the first floor tenants, that space will be part of their unit. The other four tenants will each have a dedicated space in the basement that is heated and lockable with access to a utility/cleanup area. Monthly rents are incredibly affordable, ranging from $600 to $700.
 
Inspired by the Cornerstone Renter Equity program in Cincinnati, the project is the first of its kind in Northeast Ohio. LDA Architects were the lead designers. Lawler Construction did the build-out on the $771,000 project.
 
"We received $350,000 in support from the City of Cleveland's Housing Trust Fund," says NSDC's executive director Brian Freidman. "We also have some Kresge Foundation support on the project." The balance of the finance package includes a mortgage on the property with IFF, a certified community development financial institution.
 
Resident artists will earn equity by making timely rent payments, maintaining common areas, doing light landscape work and attending residential meetings.
 
"It's kind of a shared responsibility environment," says Maxwell, "like a family within their living space."
 
Tenants will get monthly statements detailing their earned credits. If they stay for five years, they can earn as much as $4,136.
 
"They can cash out," says Maxell. "If they decide, 'hey, I want to go buy a house,' they can use that $4000 for a down payment--or get a gallery. Whatever they want to use that money for, they can." If a resident moves out before their would-be five-year anniversary, however, they forfeit all credits.
 
If they stay on at the Glencove, they can earn a maximum of $10,000 over 10 years. If they cash out at any point after the five-year anniversary, their balance is thusly adjusted, but they continue to accrue credits.
 
"We already have two potential tenants," says Maxwell, adding that she hopes to see a late June or early July move-in date. "They're completing their applications. We're just waiting for them to submit all their paperwork."
 
While the Glencove project is dedicated for artists, Maxwell is quick to stress that the Waterloo neighborhood welcomes everyone, particularly those who just want to be in a creative and active environment.
 
"I don't like to leave out non-artists because they're a big factor in our community too," she says, noting that a diverse population tends to balance itself. "When people start seeing things happen in the neighborhood, they become more involved. Maybe they weren't sure if they could do ceramics, but now we have a ceramic studio. We have a fiber studio. Once you bring that in, you start seeing change in the neighborhood--a positive change that people can get involved in."
 
Maxwell sees the innovative Glencove renter equity project as a pilot of sorts.
 
"We hope that we can be a model for other neighborhoods and communities."
 
Artists interested in more information about the Glencove, applying for tenancy or touring the property may contact Northeast Shores Development Corporation's assistant director Camille Maxwell at 216-481-7660, ext. 30 or cmaxwell@northeastshores.org.
 

Thirty-two luxury apartments coming to University Circle

WXZ Development Inc. will expand their significant footprint in the University Circle neighborhood with their fourth residential project, 118 Flats – Oval, which will complement sister projects 118 Flats – Circle and 118 Flats – Square. Construction for the new project is expected to begin in a few weeks.
 
"These three are tied together by virtue of being on East 118th Street," says James Wymer, president and CEO of WXZ Development Inc., adding that the company's Hazel 8 project, which is in its fourth year of occupancy, is also in close proximity to the 118 Flats buildings.
 
When WXZ completes the $6 million Oval project, which will house 32 single bedroom units ranging from 630 to 900 square feet with rents from $1,350 to $1,800 in five buildings, it will have a total of 18 buildings housing 130 units on approximately 3.5 acres in the University Circle neighborhood.
 
"Density has certainly been our friend," says Wymer. "We've been masters at planning into very compact spaces and still making it feel comfortable." The Oval units are scheduled to be available for occupancy in May 2016. RDL Architects is the design lead on the project. WXZ Construction is the contractor.
 
Like the apartments in the previous 118 Flats and Hazel 8 projects, Oval's units will each have access to an individual garage, outdoor space (either a balcony or courtyard patio) and will feature a private entrance.
 
"There are no public corridors," notes Wymer, adding that he feels the most valuable amenity associated with all of his company's University Circle units is their location, which is within walking distance to area museums, dining venues, Case Western Reserve University and area employers.
 
While the units are almost always full, Wymer notes that WXZ's University Circle properties are always in a leasing mode due to the nature of the tenants.
 
"Predominately, they are graduate students oriented or associated with one of the hospitals in a medical/resident-type capacity, so they are somewhat transient," says Wymer. "They're in our market for one to three years, typically. Many of them are from out of town and we do have about a 25 to 30 percent international tenancy."
 
Wymer sees the company's University Circle development having two impacts. Firstly, it has contributed to the significant transformation of East 118th Street from a less than ideal pedestrian experience to a central walking corridor.
 
"The other impact that I think we've made is to raise the level of luxury rental options for that niche market," he adds.
 
David Swindell, president of WXZ Construction, notes that the firm has been obliged to balance fitting into the hallowed neighborhood while simultaneously delineating itself.
 
"We have been very respectful of the neighborhood and the Circle and all the other institutions and the architecture," he says, "at the same time we've tried to create our own unique distinctive addition. We've been very conscious of that in our planning: to make sure that when we're going into any pocket, we're going to blend in and yet create our own identity."

 

Chef-inspired to meet grab-and-go at new Ohio City sandwich shop

Chef Brendan Messina, formerly of Rockefeller's in Cleveland Heights, is set to open a sandwich shop next month in Ohio City that will blend convenience with craft.
 
"A lot of sandwiches I'll be creating are definitely going to be chef-based," says Messina of the new Herb'n Twine Sandwich Co. "I want the flavors to marry well together and have a decent sandwich--with quality over quantity--for eight or nine dollars."
 
The centerpiece of the menu will be Messsina's Porchetta Sandwich, which will feature thinly shaved pork shoulder that's been rubbed, cured in-house for 24 hours and roasted, fresh cracklings from La Plaza in Lakewood and "chilichurri sauce," which is Messina's own concoction of chilies and a classic chimichurri sauce.
 
"It will kind of melt in your mouth," he says of his Porchetta.
 
Other offerings will include daily soups, in-house smoked ham, turkey and bacon and vegan-friendly options such as hummus plates and quinoa salads. While there will be seating for about 10, Messina describes Herb'n Twine as mainly a take-out shop.
 
"Ohio City needs a grab-and-go spot," says Messina. "Every place, for the most part, is sit-down dining."
 
Herb'n Twine will also feature products from local vendors such as the Pork Chop Shop, Blackbird Baking Company and Old City Soda.
 
"I'm excited about Fresh Fork Market opening down the street," says Messina, adding he hopes to incorporate more exotic meats courtesy of Adam Lambert's butchering skills. "I really like the idea of local businesses supporting each other."
 
Formerly home to the notorious Speak in Tongues nightclub, Herb'n Twine will occupy 1,400 square feet in one of Ohio City's gorgeous century buildings at 4309 Lorain Avenue next to Bloom and Clover Wax Studio. Messina inked the lease on May 1st and is planning to be open by July 4th weekend. Michael McGettrick is the architect for the privately financed project.
 
"I want to do a modern-meets-distressed feel," says Messina, adding that the interior will feature exposed brick and an open kitchen in hopes of creating an atmosphere that is at once new age and homey. The shop will be open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. into the later evening hours.
 
Messina's professional kitchen experience began at the tender age of 12, when he washed dishes at the Asian Wok in Westlake. Now 28, the life long northeast Ohioan also once pursued a career in audio engineering that fell through, so he returned to the kitchen. A sous chef at Rockefeller's since 2011, that venue's May 30th closure marked a turning point for him.
 
"It was time to move on and start my own thing," says Messina. "It's going to be a really exciting summer."

 

CPL 'book bike' set to ride this summer

Engaging with patrons and the community has always been a priority for Cleveland Public Library, says youth services librarian Maria Estrella. CPL is taking this all-important mission on the road this summer with a brand new "book bike."

The bike, actually an oversized orange tricycle, will serve nearby neighborhoods as a roving book depository and checkout station. Community members will be able to sign up for library cards on the spot, and search for reading materials in the system catalog thanks to the bike's capability as a traveling Wi-Fi hotspot.

"We'll have popular books and new releases as well as children's books," says Estrella.

The bike, introduced to the public on May 29 in the main library's Eastman Reading Garden, will act as a roaming literacy advocate and outreach tool at downtown events like Walnut Wednesday. Daycare and school visits will also be part of the bike's hot weather agenda.

"Local branches can borrow the bike, too," says Estrella. "It's going to be all over the place."

The three-wheeled library joins CPL's BookBox, a mobile unit of the main library that will offer its wares this summer at University Circle for the Wade Oval Wednesdays concert series. Both book-distributing entities are meant to reach communities lacking easy library access, with the hope of catching interest from downtown Cleveland pedestrians.

Ultimately, CPL's newest initiative is pedaling a creative way to implement library services, Estrella maintains.

"The bike is a wonderful opportunity to get information to people and show them what we're about," she says. "It's great to be able to bring the library to the community." 

Small scale projects can be a big deal for downtown, says neighborhood group

In recent years, cities have utilized the concept of "tactical urbanism" to enhance downtown neighborhoods with short-term, community-based projects like pop-up parks and street art campaigns.

Cleveland planners have engaged the metro in its own urban improvement endeavors including SmallBox, an initiative that changed refurbished 8 foot by 20 foot shipping containers into startup small businesses. Livable city advocate Mike Lydon will discuss both local and national urbanism trends during a June 11 luncheon sponsored by Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation, Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation and PlayhouseSquare District Development Corporation.

Lydon is an internationally recognized urban planner as well as a partner in the Street Plans Collaborative, a group aiming to reverse suburban sprawl through walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Lydon's talk is opportune for a downtown aiming to jumpstart ambitious change via low-cost, potentially high-impact techniques, says Tom Starinsky, associate director of  both the Warehouse District and Gateway neighborhood organizations.

"Cleveland has a very strong community-led urban design community," Starinsky says. "(Lydon) is bringing these innovative ideas here so the city can stay in step with what's happening in the world."

Among other projects, the Cleveland organization has transformed parking spaces adjacent to the small-box stores into a pocket park. The park, decorated with shipping pallets converted into funky furniture, will host mini-concerts and other events, and is designed to be enjoyed by residents, office workers and visitors alike.

The Gateway District group, meanwhile, has plans for a parklet and bike corral on Euclid Avenue that will repurpose parking spaces in front of several businesses and create a semi-enclosed respite for pedestrians. In addition, the group is planning to build sidewalk parks throughout the neighborhood in areas where the pavement is especially wide, using a variety of seating types where people can sit and eat lunch. 

Urban planner Lydon, who has promoted similar efforts throughout the world, believes tactical urbanism projects can scale up without losing their connection to the neighborhoods that spawned them. This connection is a vital condition for any enduring successes locally, says Starinsky, particularly if new projects can empower a generation of engaged citizens, urban designers and policymakers.

"People involved with the city know more than anyone what will make it livable," he says. "There are infinite ways to make Cleveland better long-term."
 
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