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Formula One style go-kart racing, event center, coming to Brook Park

For all the northeast Ohioans who fancy themselves a would-be Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch or (for the old-timers among us) A. J. Foyt, the opportunity to realize those alter egos will soon arise courtesy of Boss Pro-Karting, which is coming to 18301 Brookpark Road this summer.
 
"Boss Pro-Karting is an indoor professional go-kart track and event facility," says Boss co-founder Brad Copley. "We have an indoor Formula One style go-kart circuit. Additionally, we have meeting and gathering spaces that can accommodate up to 200 individuals."
 
The new 36,000-square-foot facility will feature a 1/5-mile indoor racing track that will expand to 1/4-mile in the fairer months when overhead doors open to an outdoor extension. The 18-turn track was inspired by classic Ohio racing venues such as Mid-Ohio, Nelson Ledges and the seasonal track at Burke Lakefront Airport, which was home to the Grand Prix of Cleveland from 1982 to 2007 when the likes of Al Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy flew beneath the checkered flag. The races at Burke fueled a generation of memories.
 
"We want to tap into that exact feeling," says Copley. "We can deliver that again to Cleveland."
 
Memories notwithstanding, these are not your dad's go-karts. The Sodi RTX European F1 Race Karts go for a cool $20,000 each and while they can achieve speeds of 75 miles per hour, Copley notes that the karts will be governed at 50 mph.

The all-electric emission-free karts will be staged and charged in the two-lane pit area. The battery-powered aspect of the karts also allows management to "have complete control to improve the racing experience and keep it safe," says Copley. Boss Pro-Karting's fleet will include 26 Sodi karts.
 
Boss will have four event spaces with square footages of 2,400, 800, 600 and 400. The largest of will accommodate sit-down parties of up to 200. While catering options are still tentative, Copley says Boss will be flexible with clients when it comes to dining service. There will be a full liquor service with a zero tolerance policy.
 
"You are no longer able to race if have a drink," says Copley.
 
While Copley expects to attract corporate and private clients to the event center for everything from bachelor parties to company team-building events, local teens and adults looking to unleash their inner Andretti will be welcome to enjoy the facility seven days a week.
 
"We'll schedule and book times for private groups," says Copley, adding that casual concessions such as pizza, pretzels and hotdogs will be available and racing will start at $20 a go, with lower pricing for the subsequent races. Future programs include leagues and training sessions and summer camps wherein kids can learn about driving, competing and racing.
 
"Who knows?" poses Copley of prospective attendees. "They could be the next Jeff Gordon."
 
The project is the brainchild of Copley, who wore a business suit for much of his professional life, and his cousin Lee Boss, who wore a racing suit.
 
"Lee was a three-time World Karting Association Champion," says Copley of his cousin. "He won the National Karting Circuit in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He also raced SCCA cars at Mid-Ohio, and Sprint cars in Sandusky, Attica and Eldora," he adds, noting that those three tracks are all in Ohio. "He has a long racing background."
 
Copley's racing experience is more subdued.
 
"I'm a mechanical engineer who grew up making race car parts," says the former vice president and 25-year veteran of MTD Products.
 
Newmark Grubb Knight Frank (NGKF) orchestrated the deal by uniting the Boss team, the commercial real estate firm Weston Inc. and the City of Brook Park to bring the unique $4.2 million project to fruition.
 
The city came to the table with a $50,000 demolition grant and a 15-year tax abatement that will apply to the improvements on the three-acre lot (namely, the building). While Weston owns the building and the land, the Boss team will operate the facility and owns the business and all the associated equipment. Janotta & Herner is the architect and general contractor on the project.
 
The project was unique, notes NGKF's senior marketing coordinator Matt Orgovan, on account of the build-to-suit aspect.
 
"There's not a lot of those going on right now," says Orgovan.
 
"You design the building around the need," notes NGKF's director Jeff Kennedy, explaining that existing buildings had columns and layouts that simply could not accommodate the challenges of a racing track. Hence a customized "build-to-suit" design was in order.
 
Formerly occupied by a vacant rental car facility and V-Ash Machine Co., demolition on the site is complete and foundation work has begun. Boss Pro-Karting is expected to open this summer ahead of the RNC, a realization that was long in coming.
 
"My first experience with this was in Budapest in 2002," says Copley. "That's what inspired me. When I saw that track in Hungary, I just fell in love. I thought: man, we need one of these in Cleveland." Since then, he's visited tracks around the globe.
 
"It's just taken me since 2002 for the market and the opportunity to be right to actually build one."
 

Latest MOCA exhibits reimagine the body, devastate viewers

Last Friday, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) debuted its latest exhibitions, which somehow manage to stay connected from gallery to gallery while demolishing viewers as they navigate through it all.
 
The fourth floor galleries house Stranger, which includes the work of nine artists from around the globe. The immersive experience includes the portraits of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which beg the question: am I considering them or are they laughing at me? Next, a slinky figure with a drape of blond hair removes an undergarment courtesy of Valérie Blass's Je suis une image, at least until the sculpture reveals its secret. Blass's sculptures are amid the work of Sascha Braunig, which evokes figures pushing out of the canvas, misshapen heads and brains (in the literal sense).
 
"I want you to sort of feel like a creepy crawly sense of your own skin when you look at those," says Braunig of her works.
 
Then there is Simon Dybbroe Møller's Untitled (How does it feel), an eight-minute video that outgoing MOCA associate curator and publications manager, Rose Bouthillier, describes thusly: "You'll see a variety of images: this model, fruit, flowers, landscapes," she says. "The narrative through it all is about what the body desires and how the world is designed in relation to our bodies' needs and wants. It's sort of surreal and poetic.
 
"And then at the end, this main figure is revealed to be cut off below the shoulders so it just becomes this sort of eerie floating bust," Bouthillier continues. "The camera goes underneath and you see the meat and the structure inside.
 
"You start to question the reality of the images."
 
That theme carries through to Hyperlinks or it didn't happen, a 20-minute video from Cécile B. Evans featuring Phil, a computer generated graphic that bears an uncanny resemblance to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, thereby evoking the controversy surrounding his death about digitally recreating the actor in order to complete "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay."
 
Bouthillier describes the work in the context of our digital advancements and "all these ways the body is changing and might actually become unnecessary."
 
That you can watch Hyperlinks while sprawled upon a thick carpet before the screen twists the experience further by evoking flannel pajamas and bowls of Captain Crunch consumed in front of the TV. Innocence lost, indeed.
 
On the second floor, the harrowing 12-minute abduct from Xavier Cha utterly captivates the viewer. The work features seven actors in a Spartan setting as they display an array of emotions.
 
"They're almost overtaken by these spirits and these ghosts of different emotions," says Bouthillier of the commissioned work. "You'll see rage and terror battling on the face with glee."
 
"It was very exhausting for the actors," notes Cha, who shot the footage in one day at Marlboro Chelsea in New York. "They had to go on this psycho trip that I was really surprised by too," she says, adding that even the rehearsals did not prepare them for the intensity of the shoot, which comes through the finished product with piercing accuracy.
 
"At the end of it," says Bouthillier of the film, "I just feel totally exhausted and hysterical and confused."
 
All of the exhibitions are tethered together by Stair A, in which an audio installment constantly plays. That sounds innocuous enough, but the experience is anything but. Stair A is a disorienting bright yellow affair that winds and turns with wiles befitting Lewis Carroll.

It is never a simple route from point A to point B, but something always to be negotiated. Make no mistake: this stairway controls you, particularly as Marina Rosenfeld's Teenage Lontano thrums all around. The haunting sound is actually a sampling of the fragmented commentary, laughter, objections, asides, and vocal styling of groups of teenagers who previously performed more formal versions of the work.
 
Stair A eventually deposits visitors into the Gund Commons on the ground floor, where they are confronted with nearly six minutes of animated video that, at first blush, might once again recall those Saturday morning cartoon sessions, but the images in Oliver Laric's Untitled quickly turn nightmarish. Human limbs droop down and transform into sprawling roots, man melds with machine and breasts become vicious chewing mouths.
 
"It's this frenetic sense of morphing," says Bouthillier.
 
Laric's Untitled is in the public part of the museum along with the gift shop. Anyone is welcome to view it for free during MOCA's regular hours. The rest of the exhibitions are part of a paid admission and worth every penny of $9.50 and then some, although those on a budget are welcome to visit MOCA on the first Saturday of each month when admission is free.
 
"These are my last shows," said Bouthillier; who is joining the forthcoming Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as curator (exhibitions). "So I'm very happy to introduce all of you to them," she said during a media tour.
 
And while she was addressing a handful of journalists, the statement no doubt applies to northeast Ohioans near and far, as this swan song is a truly a crowning jewel and not to be missed.
 

Summer opening eyed for Cleveland Coffee in Ecovillage

The plot of land between West 58th and 57th Streets on the north side of Lorain Avenue is one of those spaces Clevelanders pass again and again while their brow knits and they mumble to themselves … huh.

On it sits just one old building from days gone by, shuttered since who knows when. It is the only structure on that block, which is bordered to the north by West Aspen Court. For years, it has looked curious and perhaps lonely, but courtesy of a local entrepreneur that quirky old building in Detroit Shoreway's Ecovillage at 5718 Lorain Ave. is undergoing a transformation.
 
"We've decided to house our first Cleveland Coffee retail environment there," says Brendan Walton, who founded Cleveland Coffee in 2003. He currently roasts at a midtown location and serves his brew at the downtown café and bar, A. J. Rocco's at 816 Huron Road.
 
While Walton has owned the Lorain Avenue building for six years, he only began working on it recently. The first floor café area is approximately 850 square feet. Future plans for the second floor, which is zoned residential, are pending.
 
"Our focus is definitely on the first floor," says Walton, who is acting as his own general contractor. Leslie DiNovi of Mark Fremont Architects is doing the design for the privately funded project. While Walton has not yet submitted an application, he hopes to take advantage of the city's Storefront Renovation Program.
 
"I have to go through the process," he says, adding that he's working with staff at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization to apply for the popular program.
 
While interior work is ongoing, thus far Walton has replaced all the windows save for the large front window and has installed Dutch lap siding, which is often fashioned from vinyl, but Walton opted for wood.
 
"We tried to match what was there," he says.
 
While specifics are still yet to be determined, Walton is planning to be open seven days a week and have a limited selection of edibles that will complement his high end coffee, which he'll prepare via popular methods such as pour-over and Aero and French press.
 
"A. J. Rocco's doesn't really lend itself to that," says Walton of those slower per-cup methods.
 
He hopes to be serving up his joe – including the new and popular Cavs/Aussie inspired blend – at the new Lorain location by the beginning of summer. Until then, home brewers can purchase Cleveland Coffee at some 40 retail locations across northeast Ohio.
 
While Walton is a bit of a pioneer on this stretch of Lorain, which has more than its share of vacancies, he is quick to tout neighboring successes such as the venerable Lorain Antique District, the gravity of which is loosely centered amid the West 70's, and the burgeoning easterly part of Lorain in Ohio City, into which ventures such as Canopy, The Grocery, and Platform Beer Company are breathing new life. He has stalwart faith that he can pull that energy inward to West 58th Street.
 
"I've always loved Lorain," says Walton, adding that his new coffee spot may inspire others to invest in the area around West 58th Street. "I think this is an important intersection for Detroit Shoreway," he says. And while many of the area storefronts are vacant, they have a certain vintage charm, one that could reemerge with what Walton calls an "old-school Coventry feel," referencing the storied east side neighborhood.
 
"We're Clevelanders," he says. "We like urban renewal and we would love to be a part of a renaissance in this area. We are very optimistic it's going to happen."

Hundreds of residential units slated for Pinecrest

Last week, Fresh Water Cleveland took a closer look at two unique entertainment tenants committed to Fairmount Property's forthcoming $230 million Pinecrest mixed-use development project located at I-271 and Harvard Road in Orange Village. This week, we pull the camera back for an update on the project at large.
 
In addition to a burgeoning list of retail and entertainment offerings, Pinecrest is set to include 90 loft-style apartments, all of which will be situated above the more than 400,000 square feet of street-level retail.
 
"We are in the process of finalizing the layout for the residential apartment units," says Fairmount founder and principal Randy Ruttenberg. "They've been designed with high style and great amenities and they range from one to three bedrooms."
 
The vintage notion of having living space above storefronts, says Ruttenberg, is one of the things that will set Pinecrest apart.
 
"This project is not a lifestyle center by any means," he says. "It will not simply be a row of the same national type tenants that you see in many other projects in Cleveland or throughout the country. It will have a meaningful pedestrian scale and act more like street-front retail than anything else."
 
Those rental units are slated for availability in summer of 2017, with much more to come. In addition to the 90 rental units, 30 of Pinecrest's total 80 acres will be populated with traditional residential real estate properties.
 
"To the north of the theatre, we'll have a seamlessly integrated neighborhood that will feature approximately 300 for-sale residential units including condominiums, townhomes and brownstones geared primarily to young professionals and empty nesters," says Ruttenberg, adding that he expects the first stage of this portion of the sweeping project also to be complete in summer of 2017.
 
Announcements about the host of associated retail and entertainment tenants have been fast and furious. Thus far, dining and entertainment options include Restore Cold Pressed juice emporium, Red, the Steakhouse, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Old Town Pour House, Silverspot Cinemas and bowling/bocce/bistro spot Pinstripes. Retail selections will include Whole Foods Market, outdoor outfitters REI and clothing retailer Vernacular.
 
"All of them are drawn to the district for its architecture and for its collection of daytime traffic drivers," says Ruttenberg, "but given the restaurants we've been fortunate to have attracted – and Silverspot and Pinstripes, the evening traffic will be just as robust."
 
Also atop all that retail will be 150,000 square feet of class A office space and a 150-room hotel.
 
"We've started to have meaningful discussions with both smaller groups as well as larger companies, some of whom are considering Pinecrest for their headquarter locations," says Ruttenberg. "This office building will be unique within this market in that it will be the only suburban office that will have both attached covered parking and a hotel."
 
Ruttenberg describes his vision of how Pinecrest will transform an underutilized parcel in an otherwise densely developed area.
 
"Pinecrest was always planned to be an urban-style infill mixed-use district," he says. "The architecture, merchandising, streetscape and programming all speak to this. Each design and leasing decision has been – and will continue to be – thoughtfully made such that the totality of both will result in an engaging and dynamic district where millennials and college students will seamlessly integrate with the region's old and new money, all of which will be drawn to Pinecrest's first-to-market national and unique regional tenants, targeted events, restaurants and nightlife."

Sophisticated fun to top the menu at Pinecrest with bocce, bowling, movies alongside fine dining

Two unusual entertainment venues will be part of Fairmount Property's forthcoming $230 million Pinecrest mixed-use development project located at I-271 and Harvard Road in Orange Village when it opens in 2017.
 
Silverspot Cinemas will bring movie going to a new level with luxurious leather seats and an upscale restaurant. Pinstripes will feature bocce, bowling and an Italian/American themed restaurant and bar.
 
While plans are still on the drawing board, Randi Emerman, head of marketing for Silverspot, says the approximately 46,000-square-foot venue will tentatively feature 10 screens. All theaters will have oversized seating, including ottomans for those in the first row. Exact seating has yet to be determined, but Silverspot's three other locations in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Naples and Coconut Creek, Florida, have between 80 and 160 seats for each screen. The staff at the new Silverspot will number about 120.
 
For those who prefer to stick with candy, cola and popcorn, those traditional movie concessions and others will be available. But film buffs seeking a more refined plate and cup can step into the on-site (and separate) restaurant that will feature cocktails and chef inspired cuisine.
 
"All of our chefs are hired locally," says Emerman.
 
While moviegoers are not obligated to dine on site and vice versa, the end goal is to bring sophistication to the tried and true dinner-and-a-movie outing.
 
"Once you walk into our doors, we're going to make that movie experience great and well rounded, whether you're going to the movies or having a cocktail or snack," says Emerman. "We're here because we love movies," she adds.
 
The impetus for Pinstripes wasn't a movie, but something much more nostalgic for northeast Ohioans.
 
"The original inspiration for Pinstripes was bowling as a six year old at Pepper Lanes," says the company's owner and founder Dale Schwartz, who is also a native of Beachwood and Hawken School alum. "It isn't there anymore," he adds of Pepper Lanes. The Eton shopping center now occupies its former site on Chagrin Boulevard.
 
While that bowling alley may be gone, the memories it kindled have grown into a thriving business. Pinstripes boast seven locations from Kansas to Illinois, with as many as 10 new locations pending, including the one at Pinecrest, which is already inked.
 
While plans are still tentative, the new facility will feature a 30,000-square-foot two-story interior with about 16 lanes of bowling and eight bocce courts. A large all-weather patio outfitted with fire pits will accommodate outdoor dining and some of the bocce. Pinstripe at Pinecrest will have more than 100 employees.
 
The venue will accommodate up to 300 for banquets and 1,000 for parties. Events will likely include weddings, bah mitzvahs, high school reunions, birthday parties and any number of corporate events. The facility will have a divisible banquet space and private party rooms. The bowling lanes and bocce courts will also accommodate smaller parties.
 
"We plan on hosting close to 2,000 events a year at this Pinecrest location - if not more," says Schwartz.  
 
The full service bar will feature local craft beers amid an array of other potent potables. Kitchen offerings will include Italian American classics, all of which are made from scratch on site.
 
"We make our own pasta, pizza dough and all of our own sauces," says Schwartz, adding that his kitchens take the concept of homemade down to the smallest detail. "We make our own marshmallows."
 
A number of events will include regular Sunday brunches, live jazz on Saturday nights and Tot Time play dates during weekdays.
 
Schwartz says his team was attracted to the Pinecrest project on account of easy accessibility via Interstate 271, Cleveland's vibrant business community, a good selection of area hotels and local people who appreciate sophisticated fun.
 
"Cleveland has wonderful communities," he says.
 
That Pinecrest is signing other topnotch tenants also fits into Schwartz's grand scheme.
 
"We really like locations where there's a very attractive and quality mix of other entertainment, retail and restaurants," says Schwartz, praising the recently announced inclusions of Silverspot, Whole Foods Market, Red, the Steakhouse and REI within the Pinecrest project.
 
"Those are all either unique or some of the best-in-class in their respective categories," he adds, "which is what we like to be amongst."
 

State allocates $6.1 million to Cuyahoga County for residential demolition

As part of the state's effort to eliminate blight, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency announced last November that it would distribute $13 million in funding for the demolition of distressed residential properties. This was the fourth such round of the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP), which has received $79 million in funding from the U. S. Department of Treasury's Hardest Hit Fund.
 
Cuyahoga County received $6,075,000 of the $13 million.
 
"This program started in summer of 2014," says Cuyahoga Land Bank's chief operating officer Bill Whitney of the NIP. "Before this $6 million, we received $14 million and have spent approximately $13 million of that." In doing so, he adds, the organization has demolished about 1,050 properties with the funds, 850 of which were done in 2015.
 
"This last award of $6 million brings the total to $20 million since 2014," says Whitney of the NIP funding. "We expect now be able to continue the program and probably demolish an additional 480 to 500 properties."
 
Of the 12 Ohio counties receiving these most recently announced allocations, Cuyahoga was awarded the lion's share, with Lucas County's $2.3 million allocation coming in second. The 10 other counties received $500,000 each.
 
Coming in "first" in a funding round such as this is sobering indeed, but not unexpected considering the state of northeast Ohio's residential vacancy rate.
 
A comprehensive property survey conducted last year by Western Reserve Land Conservancy, in collaboration with the City of Cleveland, counted 3,809 vacant residential properties graded D (deteriorated) or F (unsafe or hazardous). When combined with the 1,437 residential properties condemned by the city, the total is 5,246 structures that may be candidates for demolition. While that figure is daunting, it is also 32 percent lower than the city's 2013 estimate of 7,771 vacant and distressed properties.
 
The Cuyahoga Land Bank acquires foreclosed properties from HUD and Fannie May as well as tax foreclosures. Demolitions are restricted to vacant and abandoned blighted properties the organization owns. It does not demolish properties that have more than four units, those that might have historical significance or any property that is connected to other residences such as row homes.
 
Referencing a graphic that categorizes Cleveland neighborhoods and a host of eastside inner ring suburbs as either undergoing "revitalization" or nearing a "tipping point," Whitney explains that the revitalization sections are experiencing the most severe effects of the foreclosure crisis. They are also in predominately African American neighborhoods.
 
"In general, the foreclosure crisis here – and maybe in other places – was extremely racist," says Whitney.
 
If a property is salvageable, the land bank works with community development corporations and humanitarian organizations to rehabilitate it and put it to constructive use.
 
"We try to save any property we can," says Whitney. The organization prioritizes at-risk populations such as refugees, veterans and the disabled. Partner organizations include the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and a host of area CDC's. Whitney tags Slavic Village Development, Northeast Shores Development Corporation, the Famicos Foundation and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. In such cases, properties will transfer for as little as one dollar.
 
"Everybody needs housing," says Whitney.
 
"To keep things in perspective," he continues, "in our six years of operation, we've acquired about 5,000 properties. We've demolished about 3,500 and have been able to save about 1,000." Of that number, approximately one third go to humanitarian causes with the balance going to market. Prospective buyers are thoroughly screened and the land bank holds the title until they have brought the property up to municipal code.
 
To get an idea of the task at hand, Fresh Water invites readers to scroll through the properties owned by Cuyahoga Land Bank.
 
"There's still an awful lot of stuff to do," says Whitney, "but it's gradually getting better."
 

The Edison to bring 306 new market-rate luxury apartments to Detroit Shoreway

Denizens of the Gordon Square Arts District within the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood have been watching on since last fall as demolition has transformed approximately ten acres between West 58th and 65th Streets north of Breakwater Avenue. Workers have been making way for more than 300 new class A luxury apartments. Initially dubbed Breakwater Bluffs, developer NRP Group is now calling the project The Edison.
 
"We're pretty much done with all demolition," says Aaron Pechota, vice president of NRP, noting that the site was previously home to approximately 300,000 square feet of vacant industrial buildings. "We're really commencing site work, dirt work," he adds, noting the current rough in includes a public road. Pechota estimates the business end of the build-out will begin in 30 to 60 days.
 
"You'll start to see real construction," he says of work scheduled for late winter/early spring. And as the summer months loom, "you'll start to see vertical construction on a number of the buildings." NRP is the general contractor on the project. The group will also own and manage The Edison. Dimit Architects did the design.
 
The venture will consist of eight structures including four apartment buildings, three townhouse buildings and one carriage house garage. One-bedroom/one-bath apartments will range from 561 to 1,047 square feet. Two-bedroom/two-bath units will go from 1,027 to 1,248 square feet. Some will include a den/study.
 
Townhouses will have a ground floor garage with two floors of living space above. Two- and three-bedroom units with two and a half bathrooms will range from 1,530 to 1,764 square feet. The largest three-bedroom townhouses will be 1,946 square feet and will feature three and a half bathrooms.
 
Rents for all the units will be market rate. While details have not been finalized, Pechota says they will range from under $1,000 for the smaller one-bedroom units to upwards of $2,000 for the larger townhomes.
 
"They're going to be consistent with what you're seeing in the market at places like Mariner's Watch and The Shoreway, which are two projects in close proximity to us," he says.
 
Common amenities will include one acre of green space, a 1,880-square-foot swimming pool, parking, an entertainment/club space and a fully equipped fitness center. Pechota expects move in dates to commence in summer 2017 and for the entire project to be complete before we ring in 2018.
 
"The total build is 20 months, plus or minus," says Pechota. "That gets us right into before the end of the year."
 
The project is unique for many reasons, most notably its scale and that it is a new build amid a market where adaptive reuse of vintage and industrial properties has been all the rage.
 
"There's almost no true new construction," says Pechota of Cleveland's ongoing boom, adding that many among the millennial and empty nest generations desire the "product quality and class" The Edison will provide.
 
For those who might second guess the project, NRP's experience speaks for itself. Based in Garfield Hts., the development giant focuses keenly on new rental development across the country, with more than 30 market-rate projects in highly competitive markets such as Charlotte, NC; Orlando, FL and Austin, TX. The company also boasts approximately 300 other student, senior and affordable housing ventures.
 
While Pechota is quick to praise adaptive reuse projects, he touts the experience only new construction offers regarding unit functionality and amenities.
 
"The quality that you can present with new construction is a whole other level," he says. "There's very little of that in northeast Ohio."
 
The Edison's other assets include its close proximity to downtown and the Gordon Square Arts District as well as expanded access to the lake and Edgewater Beach courtesy of the new West 73rd Street underpass.
 
"We feel we have a true waterfront type development," says the lifelong northeast Ohioan, noting that Edgewater is well within walking distance and offers a nicely groomed beach that is clean and welcoming. Attractive views of the lake and downtown will also enhance the new apartments, says Pechota, particularly those that have balconies.
 
The financial package includes $40 million in taxable bonds, $5.4 million from NRP and a $12 million loan financed by foreign investors seeking federal visas. Cleveland International Fund administered the loan, which is structured around the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, under which, per the website, "entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if they: Make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers."
 
"It’s a pretty well known established program that's used all over the country for international investment," says Pechota.
 
As for the name, Pechota says it's a bit of an homage to Thomas Edison as well as the iconic Westinghouse Building and the area's previous incarnation as an industrial hotbed. The name also evokes creativity.
 
"That's a big part of what we're doing here," he says. "We're taking an existing neighborhood that’s got an amazing fabric and history and we're bringing in something new and different and stylish and contemporary.

Vintage La Salle set to explode with arts, mixed usage, zoomin' Internet and cake

With a funding package all but complete, the staff at Northeast Shores Development Corporation (NSDC) in the Collinwood neighborhood is eyeing a February groundbreaking for the much-anticipated rebirth of the La Salle Theatre, 823 East 185th Street.
 
"We're redeveloping the La Salle Theatre into the La Salle Arts and Media Center," says NSDC's executive director Brian Friedman of the 30,000-square-foot-building. "This is going to be a video and music production facility." The rehabilitated venue will also house retail and residential space. Construction is expected to be complete in time for October 2016 move-in dates. Town Center Construction is the contractor on the project, for which LDA Architects did the design.
 
Of course, the building is home to the beloved 12,000-square-foot theater, 7,000 square feet of which is unobstructed. The finished space will accommodate an array of activities including multimedia art exhibitions, weddings, community meetings, musical and theatrical performances, rehearsals, parties, and other public and private events.
 
The second floor houses five residential units. Three one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units will let for $475 and $550 respectively. Three retail storefronts on the first floor include spaces that are 900, 700 and 300 square feet. The largest retail space has already been preleased to Milk Glass Cakes, which specializes in high-end confections depicting everything from a bouquet of paperwhite Narcissus to a come-hither hot pink corset.
 
"They do amazing graphic portrayals on cakes," says John Boksansky, NSDC's commercial project coordinator.
 
While the new arts center will not necessarily be a full recording studio, it will have a mixing board and high capacity Internet service with download and upload speeds of 50Mbps provided by Lightower Fiber Networks.
 
"It's critical that we have competent dedicated high speed Internet in the building so musicians, performers and others creatives are able to digitally send what they're doing back to a master recording studio, or live stream it to an audience or…  a thousand different things," says Friedman.
 
The unfettered upload capacity will set the La Salle apart, he adds.
 
"Most people's Internet provider have intentionally put a dampener on your ability to put stuff into the pipeline – into the Internet," explains Friedman, citing the slow speeds of activities such as uploading footage to YouTube. "You're able to pull down information, but you're not able to put it up – or you're allowed to put it up at a very slow speed."
 
That advanced 50Mbps Internet service will be available to all La Salle artists and retail and residential tenants as well, whether they're downloading or uploading.
 
"The entire building will be lit that way," says Friedman. "Not only will the theater space be ready and able with that connection, all commercial and residential tenants will have that included in the rent."
 
Approximately $3.3 of the $3.7 million needed to bring the project to fruition is in place.
 
"We are just rounding the bend on fundraising efforts," says Friedman. "We're trying to raise about $400,000 in the next 30 days."
 
The rest of the financial package includes more than $700,000 from the City of Cleveland, a $685,000 loan from Cuyahoga County, state and federal historic tax credits ($250 and $505 respectively), loans from Cortland Bank, Village Capital Corporation, IFF and a host of other funding sources.
 
Built in 1927, the La Salle originally featured vaudeville performances and silent movies. The 1,500-seat theatre went dark in the early 1990's. Its last use was a display area for classic cars: The La Salle Classic Auto Theatre housed more than a dozen vehicles including a '26 Ford and a '69 Camaro. It opened in 1997 and was part showroom and part swap meet. The space has been dark for more than a decade.
 
Now with the burgeoning success of the Waterloo Arts District, Friedman sees the La Salle as key to the Collinwood area at large, particularly as the forthcoming Made in Collinwood initiative comes online.
 
"La Salle is kind of a cornerstone for that new program," says Friedman, noting that Waterloo's storefronts are nearly all occupied and new makers, artists and vendors wanting to move into the area need a place to go. East 185th Street is their next logical destination.
 
"This is a critical step for us moving our efforts forward to improve that corridor now that Waterloo has become resilient and nearly entirely full," says Friedman.  "The La Salle is a major anchor as we pivot from Waterloo to East 185th Street.

Glidden House pitches tent, adds Juniper Room

When spring arrives in University Circle, one perennial resident will be notably absent: The large white tent that has occupied the side yard of the Glidden House, 1901 Ford Drive, for more than 15 years during the fairer months. The canvas structure, however, will not likely be missed.
 
In its place will be a welcome upscale addition. The 3,200-square-foot Juniper Room will seat up to 150 guests for weddings, meetings and conferences. Currently under construction, the new space will feature stone and brick on its exterior in order to complement the stately and historic Glidden mansion, which was built in 1910. The hotel was added in 1989.
 
"It will blend in with the hotel," says Tom Farinacci, general manager at the Glidden House. "As you're walking through the hotel and you walk into that room, it will feel like it's been there forever."
 
The Juniper Room will have a hard wood floor and seven sets of French doors that will open to a manicured lawn embellished with flowers and the mansion's original gazebo, lending garden-style charm to the new venue.
 
While planning for the addition started in April 2014, construction began last November. Town Center Construction is the contractor on the project. LDA Architects did the design, which was rather painlessly approved by both University Circle Inc. and the City of Cleveland after a few comments and changes.
 
"I think we were kind of on the right track from the beginning," says Farinacci. "Nothing really derailed us at all."
 
Combined with the mild weather, those approvals have the project on track for the scheduled April opening. Farinacci notes that they've already booked 25 weddings for 2016.
 
"We've really gotten a great response and it's not even built yet," he says, noting that clients made the reservations for their big day based solely on the architectural renderings. "We're pretty confident we'll do 40 to 50 weddings a year."
 
Just how long had the white tent been a part of the University Circle landmark? Farinacci isn't sure.
 
"I've been here 15 years and it's been here since well before I got here," he says. "We'd put it up in April and tear it down at end of October or beginning of November."
 
Financial details for the privately funded project are confidential. The Glidden House is owned by the Glidden House Associates, a private group of citizens that managing partner Joe Shafran convened when he was unable to get a bank loan for the hotel addition in the late 1980s.
 
"They all told him that a hotel in University Circle wouldn't work," says Farinacci. "He went out and raised the money himself."
 
Obviously, the success, reputation and longevity of the venerable locale have proven those bankers wrong. The hotel has 52 traditional rooms and there are eight suites in the mansion. Marigold Catering handles all events at the Glidden House. Room service, however, is provided by Jonathan Sawyer's Trentina, which is housed in the mansion's original carriage house.
 
Farinacci notes that the majority of the brides and grooms – as many as 90 percent – that choose to have their receptions at the Glidden House also have their ceremonies on the lawn.
 
"It's just really pretty out there," he says.
 
For information about booking an event in the Juniper Room, contact Carrie Cooney, director of catering and events at 216-658-9108.

Revisiting Cleveland's whales after hurricane damage repair

It was about three months after Hurricane Sandy blew through town when Steve Tucky, Wyland Ambassador for Ohio and the Great Lakes region, was driving along the East Shoreway and noticed that the giant whale mural to which we've all become accustomed was in the dark: the array of lights normally illuminating it had apparently been damaged by the notorious October 2012 hurricane.
 
"I'm kind of attached to it," says Tucky of the "Song of the Whales" mural, also known as a Wyland Whale Wall. Additional inspection revealed that a section of the painted panels had apparently blown off the building as well. Tucky contacted the city and Cleveland Public Power in order to get the repairs in motion.
 
It took more than two years and a notable amount of red tape, but 49 new painted panels are now in place and the lighting has been restored. Completed last fall, the work cost $50,000.
 
"They did get it fixed," says Tucky, noting that the new panels do not replicate the original artwork, but are simply painted a solid sky blue (the damaged section depicted clouds). "It kind of blends in," he says. "You don't really notice unless you really look at it."
 
As an ambassador, Tucky advocates for the Wyland Foundation, which was founded by artist and environmentalist Robert Wyland in 1993 and is dedicated to promoting, protecting, and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways, and marine life. The foundation fosters environmental awareness through education, public art, and community events. To that end, Tucky is active with campaigns and organizations such as Sustainable Cleveland 2019 and the West Creek Conservancy.
 
To be sure, most of today's Clevelanders pass by "Song of the Whales" with little knowledge of it. Hence, Fresh Water celebrates this subtle repair with the following must-know Cleveland Whale Wall facts:
 
- Cleveland Mayor Michael White dedicated Wyland's "Song of the Whales" on Oct. 6, 1997.
 
- "Song of the Whales" was one of 100 aquatic murals Wyland painted over a 27-year period.
 
- Wyland's last such mural, "Hands Across the Oceans," was dedicated in July 2008 in Beijing, China, ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
 
- Wyland painted "Song of the Whales" free hand – without the aid of any templates – inside of a few days. A basket crane provided access and volunteers helped out with paint mixing and clean up. "I was there for that," recalls Tucky.
 
- Sherwin Williams donated more than 160 gallons of paint and primer for the project.
 
- The mural measures 240- by 88-feet.
 
- Per the Oct. 4, 1997 Plain Dealer, the mural depicts, "a humpback cow, calf and 'escort' male, plus another male challenging the first for the honor of escorting the female."
 
- The original mural tour was dedicated to Jacques Cousteau and was aimed at bringing awareness to the earth's aquatic systems and their connectivity. "It all ties in," says Tucky. "The Great Lakes flow into the ocean."
 
- The green space adjacent to "Song of the Whales" is a public park complete with a walkway and benches. While it has no name, "some people fish over there," says Tucky of the space.
 
Considering approximately 24 of the Wyland Whale Wall murals are listed as "extinct" by Wikipedia, meaning they are "no longer accessible" and "may have been covered, destroyed, or significantly altered" and a handful of others are noted as tiled, partially covered or no longer visible, that the Cleveland mural endures so vividly should inflate northeast Ohioans with renewed pride the next time they pass it.
 
Moreover, the gentle giants depicted in "Song of the Whales" quietly urge us to live locally and think globally. After all, the water flowing in our delicate river and lake that we often take for granted eventually end up amid whales and dolphins and flying fish.
 

Marketing firm Spruce moves into iconic Gordon Square landmark

The building with the iconic turret gracing the intersection of West 58th Street and Detroit Avenue in Gordon Square now houses more than just a popular eatery. The marketing firm Spruce took up residence on the second floor of the building at 5800 Detroit Ave. earlier this week.
 
"Primarily what I do is work with small businesses that love what they do and usually have some kind of connection to the community," says Tom Sarago, owner and founder of Spruce, noting that many of his clients are non-profit organizations. His portfolio includes work for Cleveland Print Room, Seeds of Literary, Kalman & Pabst Photo Group, the Near West Theater and Borrow Rentals among others.
 
Sarago spent his first day in his new 250-square-foot office this past Monday.
 
"It's not a big room," notes Sarago, adding that he does have access to a shared area. The second floor offices are also home to Spice of Life Catering, which is a sister business of Spice Kitchen & Bar, the building's first floor restaurant. While Sarago is delighted with the new space and gets along wonderfully with the Spice team, he concedes there is confusion between the two names Spice and Spruce.
 
"It's never easy," he says, laughing at life's little stumbling blocks, but it's a fair assessment considering he's in the business of name recognition and brand management.
 
Spicy distractions notwithstanding, Sarago moved his operation, which he founded in May of 2014, from his Lakewood home to the Gordon Square neighborhood in order to lend more legitimacy to his growing business. The move also supports the separation of home and work, particularly when home matters include a curious 16-month-old daughter who does not always understand the requirements of a professional setting.
 
"I owed it to myself and to my clients to have my own space outside of the house," says Sarago. "Business is going well."
 
The Gordon Square address was appealing for many reasons, including the energy in the area, a compatible space and a feeling of homecoming. Sarago worked for the Detroit Avenue Arts nonprofit in the mid-aughts, just ahead of the neighborhood's boom. The group occupied the then-vacant parish hall in the former Orthodox church campus.
 
"I felt like we did a really great job of bringing a young demographic to the neighborhood," says Sarago, "which you see now but you didn't see back then. It was a little bit ahead of the curve." He did that work while holding down a day job. Sarago worked as a marketer for Playhouse Square from 2005 to 2012.
 
While Spruce is starting 2016 in its new home as a one-man operation, it may be ending the year with the addition of a part-time employee.
 
"Presently I'm working with a team of freelancers that's working well for me, but being able to rely on that extra person, that extra set of hands and that extra brain would certainly be beneficial," says Sarago. That future employee will be busy. Sarago is already planning big for 2016.
 
"I'm hoping to be active with the Republican National Convention in some capacity, whether it's assisting an organization with trying to get their message out during the event or working on parts of the campaign myself," says Sarago. "I think there will be a lot of relationships forged out of that event," he adds.
 
"There is so much going on in the city right now, it's tremendous," says Sarago. "The sky's the limit for anyone looking to be in in any type of business. And really, if you're focused on being as passionate as possible about it, those results will be there."
 
Two additional units are available for let at 5800 Detroit Avenue, including an 800-square-foot space and another that is 200 square feet. Contact Nathan Dent of fit home realty for more information.
 

Forthcoming Ohio City Music Settlement to attract more than 200 students

The otherwise unremarkable corner of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street is on the verge of a rebirth that will include hundreds of students, the bulk of which will be five years old and under.
 
"We think Ohio City is a perfect fit for us," says Charles Lawrence, president and CEO of The Music Settlement, a 103-year old organization that offers music therapy, early childhood education, and music instruction to people of all ages and levels of experience. "Hingetown is an incredibly energetic and engaging area."
 
His enthusiasm is in response to the prospect of the organization's announcement last month that it will be expanding into a second location as part of the Snavely Group's forthcoming mixed-use project, which will transform the drab intersection with new construction on the north side of Detroit and renovations on the south side in the historic Forest City Bank Building.

The Music Settlement will occupy 19,000 square feet on the first floor of the new building, which will also house retail and apartments on the upper floors. While all of it will positively impact that stretch of Detroit, a school – particularly one with so many very young children – brings a special brand of activity.
 
"The city and other individuals are looking to make Detroit a walkable street from 25th to Gordon Square. Our school is busy from six thirty in the morning to nine at night. We're open all the time Monday through Saturday," says Lawrence, adding that such constant activity will improve the presence of pedestrian and family traffic.
 
"That's a big thing," notes Lawrence.
 
Slated to open in late summer 2017, the school will serve approximately 150 early childhood program students, 75 music and music therapy students and have about 50 employees. While Lawrence expects the early childhood programs to fill quickly, the music and music therapy sessions are likely to reach capacity more slowly.
 
"It may be four years before we hit out target numbers," says Lawrence.
 
Two thirds of the Settlement's space will be dedicated to the early childhood development center catering to preschool children, kindergarteners and day care kids. The balance of the space will house studios and instructional space for the institution's music and music therapy programs. The facility will also have a kitchen and access-controlled outdoor playground.

Funding for the $3 million project is underway and will benefit in part from New Market Tax Credits. The Snavely group is managing the design (with input from The Music Settlement) and construction of the project.
 
Considering the intersection of Detroit and West 25th was once home to a go-go club and the site of one of Cleveland's most notorious gang murders more than 40 years ago, the ideological transformation for those with long memories is no less than staggering, but The Music Settlement is accustomed to a neighborhood in transition.
 
"We've been in University Circle since 1939," says Lawrence of the organization's home campus, adding that today's desirable University Circle addresses weren't always thusly described. "We've been there in good times and bad times and challenging perceptions of our location. We've persevered through all of it." Lawrence vows that perseverance will extend to the new Detroit Avenue location.

"We're not going about this with a wish and a prayer," he says. "We're in it for the long run. We're going to help to elevate the community and be a key to avoiding the perception that Ohio City is just going to be another Flats, that in 10 years Ohio City will fade." He believes The Music Settlement will become a stalwart anchor with consistent offerings that will help stabilize the area and attract residents and families long term.
 
Outreach programs are a big part of the Settlement's legacy. To that end, the organization is already engaged in an array of off-site programs on the west side including an after-school orchestra program at Tremont Montessori School, a music therapy program at Lutheran Hospital with the Behavioral Health unit and individual music lessons at St. Ignatius High School, where they are also developing a Latin jazz ensemble that will be open to the community.
 
"We're going to be meet with representatives of the Spanish speaking community" in order to solicit their input, says Lawrence. He also emphasizes the fit between the Settlement and the unique diversity of the near west side, tagging residents in new and renovated historic housing, in Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority units and the Spanish speaking community.
 
"That's our DNA," says Lawrence, noting the organization's inherent commitment to serving all members of the community.
 
Lawrence notes that the project at West 25th and Detroit has gotten some push back about the issue of gentrification, but he sees the Settlement's move to Ohio City as just the opposite.
 
"The Settlement has always been an organization that exists for those who can afford it and those who cannot. We're bringing programming and opportunity and access for folks regardless of where they're coming from and what their background is. By bringing that element to the Hingetown area, we're actually counteracting any perception of gentrification," he says.
 
"We're raising the sea level for everybody."

February opening eyed for duck-rabbit coffee in Duck Island

Calvin Verga, founder of duck-rabbit coffee, has very specific standards when it comes to pouring a proper cuppa, starting with where the beans are grown.
 
"We roast in such a way to highlight all the different characteristics," says Verga, adding that a good cup of coffee is defined by its origin. He tags berry, currant and grape notes in coffee from Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi; citrus and floral flavors from Ethiopian beans and rustic earthy notes in those from Sumatra. Unlike the more common dark roasted beans, a delicate light roast brings out those nuanced flavors.
 
"When you roast light in order to highlight those origin-specific characteristics, you need a phenomenal coffee. Any sorts of defects in the coffee will show in clean cup. It's imperative that our coffee is of the highest standard," says Verga.
 
He launched duck-rabbit in 2014 as a bean-roasting venture and sold his product wholesale. Verga's coffee was heretofore available only at a handful of locations such as Root Café in Lakewood.

As early as February 1st however, Verga will be offering his high-end brew at an emerging storefront at 2135 Columbus Road in Duck Island. The coffee house will be part of the Forest City Brewery project, which is also slated to include a meadery and brewery and is currently home to the quirky Cleveland Cycle Tours operation, with its two 15-seat bikes.
 
duck-rabbit will occupy an 800-square-foot space and will employ about five, with both part- and full-time positions. Verga tentatively plans to have about a dozen seats. Hours will be 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Not surprisingly, the menu will be Spartan in order to showcase Verga's painstakingly chosen and roasted beans, with the star being pour-overs. He'll also sell roasted beans and some brewing equipment. A deep respect for coffee, where it comes from and how it's processed comes free with every purchase.
 
"We'd like people to really get into coffee in a close personal way and be able to replicate/brew great coffee at home," says Verga, adding that he hopes to host workshops in the future.
 
Verga will offer some espresso drinks, including macchiatos, cappuccinos and lattes. As for sugary flavored syrups and cups topped with clouds of whipped cream, they will not be found at duck-rabbit.
 
"The main focus is the coffee going into the drinks," says Verga, who also concedes, "mocha is one thing I could see possibly on the menu at some time." He does, however, plan to offer a very limited selection of small bites such as French macaroons or madeleines, which he will source off-site. 
 
"No details on that yet," says Verga.
 
While construction hums along, Verga has taken delivery on a high-end La Marzocco espresso machine and is roasting beans in a unique vintage German Probat machine, which he chose as carefully as the beans he puts in it.
 
"When you're roasting on this," says Verga as he displays the Probat, "there are no computer programs. It's full sensory engagement by the roaster." Hence, success requires experience and a honed sensitivity regarding the sight and smell of the beans, all of which is married with timing and temperature.
 
Verga, a Lakewood native, was in the San Francisco Bay area when he became engaged in the world of high-end coffee while immersed in academics. He eventually opted for joe over the lecture hall and after he "cut his teeth" in the coffee business on the west coast and established a network, he returned to Cleveland to launch duck-rabbit.
 
"It felt like a great time to come back to Cleveland," says Verga. "That sentiment has really been reinforced since I came back. There is a good energy in Cleveland these days."
 
Since Freshwater reported on the Forest City Brewery project last April, partners Matt Mapus, Jay Demagall and Cory Miller have realized their funding package, which now includes a Vacant Properties Initiative grant from the City of Cleveland. Mapus reports that the rental space for Western Reserve Meadery will be ready by February 1st and that Forest City Brewery will be offering up beer by this Saint Patrick's Day.
 

Model home of yesteryear on track for rebirth in Shaker Heights

Built in 1922 for the then-princely sum of $30,000, the stately home at 2834 Courtland Blvd. in Shaker Heights is long on history – including its celebrated inception as the future of Cleveland residential living and, more recently, a dark period when it was abandoned, neglected and slated for the wrecking ball.

But now with the careful ministrations of the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS), this fascinating home is set to return to its former grandeur.
 
The home was built as one of four swanky demonstration units put forth by the Van Sweringen brothers, an iconic Cleveland real estate development team that was heavily involved in the development of Shaker Heights. Famed architects Howell and Thomas designed the quartet of homes, all of which are located at the intersection of Shaker and Courtland Boulevards near what was the terminus of the Shaker Rapid at that time.
 
"These demonstration homes represented what you could expect in Shaker Heights," says Michael Fleenor, director of preservation services for CRS, noting that the homes were marketing tools similar to the model homes we see today heralding a new residential development. The original architectural drawings for 2834 Courtland, as well as a 1933 addition (also designed by Thomas and Howell), are available via the Cleveland Public Library.
 
The 4,738-square-foot home, for which CRS is asking $379,000, features a two-story great room with a vaulted ceiling, seven bedrooms and four full and two partial baths. It also has an attic, basement and in-ground pool, which is rumored to be the first in Shaker Heights. Enduring design elements of the English Tudor include half timbering, projecting gables, fireplaces, leaded glass with some stained glass embellishments and a slate roof, one wing of which required significant work by CRS.
 
"We had that wing done in slate and copper," says Fleenor, noting it had previously been covered in asphalt, which was an interim measure the city took after a roofing contractor walked off the job in 2009, leaving that entire wing open and exposed to the elements.
 
Other work included extensive drying as all the gutters had been salvaged by the previous owner. Also, a billiard room had to be completely demolished on account of moisture damage.
 
"We took out mold in another section," says Fleenor.
 
The home at 2834 Courtland had eight owners, the last of which abandoned it. The property rapidly became a tangled legal nest of mortgages, unhappy bankers and liens. For over a year, CRS worked to straighten out the mess while simultaneously getting the neglected structure stabilized and grounds cleaned up.
 
Although the structure is sound and in generally good condition, the current status is very rough as evidenced by a lengthy repair list compiled by the city. Fleenor notes, however, that many items on that list will likely be moot when the new owner guts spaces such as the kitchen or bathrooms.
 
Challenges notwithstanding, Fleenor says that several parties are interested in the home and that CRS is optimistic about forthcoming offers and an eventual sale. Interest was evident last month, when the group held two open houses that garnered more than 200 visitors. They included the serious, the curious and the nostalgic.
 
"Several former owners came through," says Fleenor. They recalled everything from teenage years spent in the house to fond memories of a grandmother. Conversations understandably included recollections on how different spaces therein were previously employed, which is par for the course for the restoration group. After all, every notable and historic structure has as many stories as the people it's housed.
 
"So much of what we have… " says Fleenor referencing the group's portfolio, "the properties have different stories related to different people's lives.

Holiday connections of a different sort: a little chickadee and a police station party

This holiday season, the Cleveland Metroparks invites families looking for something beyond the season's ubiquitous candy and glitzy digital animation to make a more authentic and gentler connection – with nature.

An array of free hand feed the chickadees programs offer up a breathtaking experience that's been a Metroparks tradition for more than five decades. Avian enthusiasts stand in a designated spot with an open hand of sunflower seeds and the tiny creatures land therein, pick up a seed and fly away to eat it.
 
"The trick is to watch a person's face as a bird lands in their hand," says the Metroparks' director of outdoor experiences Wendy Weirich. "That's worth everything."
 
The program is available at the Brecksville Nature Center from Dec. 19 through 31 from 10 a.m. to noon every day except Christmas, and on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 2 through Feb. 28 also 10 a.m. to noon. Two 1.5-mile Chickadee Feeding Hikes will be conducted at the Rocky River Reservation on Jan. 3 and 24 from 10 to 11 a.m., or meet the hungry and not-so-timid chickadees at the North Chagrin Reservation, which hosts bird-watching hiking events of various lengths on Dec. 19, 21, 26, 27, 29 and Jan. 4.
 
Would-be wildlife explorers are advised to dress for the weather with layered clothing and appropriate footwear (trails may be snowy or icy). Calling ahead to confirm programming and registering is always a good idea.
 
"It's connecting people to nature," says Weirich. "What’s more important than that? If we don't get the next generation falling in love with nature, we're in for some trouble."
 
She notes that the feed the chickadee programs do not impact the birds' natural feeding habits - but it does impact program participants.
 
"It's a life changing experience," says Weirich."
 
For a connection of a different sort, this Saturday, Dec. 19, the 73rd Street Block Club and Ka-La Healing Garden Resource Center will team up for their fifth annual Winterfest event, which is for children up to age 17. Free and open to the public, the event will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Cleveland Police Department's Third District Community Room, 4501 Chester Avenue. Kids will enjoy a host of holiday treats and receive toys as well as hats and gloves. Last year's event attracted nearly 20 volunteers and 100 area kids, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged homes.
 
Previously held at the Ka - La Garden, this year holding Winterfest at the new police station will help reinforce one of the ongoing goals of the organizers: getting urban youths to interact with police in a positive way. While that ambition is surely lofty and honorable, event founder and community organizer Tanya Holmes says it's not the best part of the annual Winterfest.
 
So what is?
 
"The looks on the kids' faces," she says, and somewhere a chickadee chirps.
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