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Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomes African penguins

Next Friday, April 3, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will be introducing some visitors, the likes of which it hasn't had for 13 years.
 
Penguin Shores will feature six African penguins, which average two feet in height and weigh about eight pounds. The tuxedoed guests will jet up from Florida a few days early to prep for their big reveal.

"They're coming up like the snowbirds to enjoy a beautiful Ohio summer," says zoo executive director Chris Kuhar.

Also known at the black-footed penguin or jackass penguin (not on account of the birds' unfortunate party antics, but because of it's braying call), the birds will be hanging out near the grizzly bears in a special habitat created just for them in the Northern Trek section of the zoo around the former Grin ‘n’ Bear Eats concession stand. Their exclusive space will be decked out with all the amenities a proper penguin could want.

"There's water for them to swim in and land for them to get up on," says Kuhar, adding that the motif is fashioned after the rugged and rocky coastline the birds would normally populate in South Africa. As for getting too hot, African penguins are inclined to more temperate climates than the Antarctic birds normally seen chillin' in the documentaries, but these visitors will have A.C. just the same.
 
"The temperature will be in the 60- to 70-degree range," says Kuhar.
 
Presented by Cleveland Clinic Children's, Penguin Shores is included in a regular admission and will be available during regular Zoo hours. The exhibit will run through mid-September. Those interested in getting better access to the waddling visitors (which have been described as curious, nosy and loud) might want to look into one of the Zoo's Night Track programs, which include an overnight stay at either the Wolf Wilderness Cabin, Reinberger Homestead or Waterfowl Lake Tent. In the morning, guests can visit the penguins (or other animals) before the zoo opens.
 
"You kind of get your own personal penguin experience without the crowds," says Kuhar.
 
The Zoo has not hosted penguins since the old bird building was dismantled in 2002. Hence, Penguin Shores is not only a great opportunity for Zoo visitors to see the exotic birds, it's also offers a chance to learn about them. To that end, the exhibit will illustrate how pollution and climate change affect them.
 
"We know people love penguins," notes Kuhar. "This is a great opportunity to use that connection to talk about water quality issues and climate issues that are so important to our wildlife." He emphasized how the Penguin Shores exhibit is a perfect compliment to the Cleveland Office of Sustainability's Year of Clean Water, putting a real feathered face on the impact of water pollution.
 
"The penguins are sort of our ambassadors."

L.L.Bean launches national campaign with Northeast Ohio announcement

 
Apparently, the predictions that our collective online shopping habits would soon render brick and mortar retail outlets obsolete were a bit premature.
 
"Today's traditional customer is evolving," says L.L.Bean senior public relations representative Mac McKeever. Just a few years ago that sort of statement implied people wanted to shop more and more online. McKeever notes that L.L.Bean's customers want just the opposite: to get closer to the merchandise before they buy. Hence, the 103-year-old catalog company is expanding into the physical retail market with an ambitious plan to have 100 stores across the country by 2020. Last week, L.L.Bean kicked off that campaign with the announcement of a new store slated to open later this year in Legacy Village in Lyndhurst.
 
"This is the first store we announced since we announced the expansion," says McKeever of what will also be the company's first Ohio location.
 
L.L.Bean chose Northeast Ohio for a number of reasons. Although McKeever would not disclose specifics, it seems we're pretty reliable customers for the company. Having an array of outdoor recreational resources as well as a population that regularly engages in them were significant factors as well.
 
"While it is a more urban setting, there's several places in that area where we're going to be offering outdoor programming," said McKeever, noting area parks and waterways.
 
The programming will be part of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School, which will feature free in-store clinics and on-site classes. While the Northeast Ohio line-up won't be available for months, a $79 sea kayaking class at Nockamixon State Park sponsored by the company's Center Valley, Pennsylvania store sold out months in advance, as did a $190 junior Olympic archery course at the Freeport, Maine location. Free in-store fly fishing clinics regularly fill up. Kids and teen camps, wildlife tours, first aid clinics, snowshoe adventures, biking tours and an array of overnight and fishing outings round out the myriad Discovery School offerings
 
"We know it's going to be a great home for us," says McKeever of the new 16,000-square-foot Legacy Village location, which will be built to LEED certified standards and will employ 100. The space currently houses clothier Talbots, which will relocate within Legacy Village.
 
While the build-out will be happening here in our backyard, it's tightly tethered to the great state of Maine.
 
"Maine is part of our history, part of our heritage. It's part of our DNA," says McKeever, adding that the company's retail facilities reflect that legacy. "We're kind of bringing a little bit of Maine to Ohio."
 
The grand opening is scheduled for November. McKeever promises an event to remember, noting that inaugural L.L.Bean events include giveaways, demonstrations, a possible Bootmobile sighting (think part operational pick-up truck, part boot that would fit a 143-foot-tall human) and family-friendly activities. Attendees often queue up before dawn and number in the hundreds.
 
"We throw a heck of a party."
 

 

Restore Cold Pressed organic juice and superfood smoothie bar coming to Gateway District

 
In as little at five weeks, the Gateway District will be home to Restore Cold Press, a fresh juice and Wi-Fi bar that will also feature small bites catering to vegans, paleos and just about anyone wanting a fresh and nutritious pick-me-up.
 
Christie Pritt and Adam Wright are the force behind the effort. Both Northeast Ohio natives have boomeranged back to the 216 after relocated to New York City for professional reasons in 2008.
 
"In Manhattan there's a juice bar on just about every corner," says Wright. "That's where it really started to grow on us."
 
While in the Big Apple, the couple kept Cleveland on their radar by watching our renaissance from afar. Earlier this year, they decided to fulfill the long-standing desire to launch their own venture.
 
"We decided to take the leap and start a business of our own," says Pritt.
 
Located at 1001 Huron Road, the 1,500-square-foot facility previously housed the American Institute of Architects Cleveland Division.
 
"We opted for a much larger space than the typical juice bar would have because we want to incorporate that community feel into our place," says Wright, noting the 18-foot ceilings and copious windows. He hopes the inviting space will attract book clubs, running clubs and even yoga events.
 
"We'll have comfortable seating, communal tables and some local art work," adds Pritt. "Definitely a welcoming atmosphere is what we want to project—somewhere you feel comfortable staying a while." Monarch Construction is at work on the build out and Vocon Partners are the lead architects. The space will seat approximately 23.
 
In addition to cold pressed juices and smoothies, Restore will also offer salads and build-your-own bowls of oatmeal and açaí.
 
Açaí?
 
"They're actually Brazilian," says Pritt of the exotic berries' origin. "Basically, they do really well when you mush them up, which sounds weird, but it creates a really nice texture, with almost a chocolatey taste. From there, you can add grains, coconut flakes … whatever toppings you want."
 
Tentative hours will be Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The couple expects to announce a grand opening date within a month; dependent on how quickly Monarch can finish up.
 
The privately funded project has been in the works for almost a year. The couple signed the lease late last fall and construction started earlier this month.
 
So why Cleveland? Why now?
 
"Just seeing how much growth potential there is in the area, it seemed like the perfect fit for us," says Pritt. "The momentum is in the right direction and we decided now is the time to jump on that trend."
 
"There is so much going on in downtown Cleveland right now," adds Wright. "There's a great vibe and a good energy. It was kind of a no-brainer to come back."
 
Restore Cold Pressed is hiring all positions, full- and part-time, with flexible hours. Interested parties are encouraged to contact Adam Wright, restorecoldpressed@gmail.com, 330-806-3893.

 

Odeon Concert Club to reopen in May after nine year hiatus

Before it closed its doors in 2006, the Odeon Concert Club was a famous Flats entertainment venue that once hosted such eclectic acts as Nine Inch Nails, Björk and the Ramones. This spring, the sound of rock music will be shaking the walls of the East Bank club once more.

The Odeon is scheduled for a grand reopening on May 1st, in the same 1,100-capacity spot it held in the old Flats. Cleveland-based heavy metal group Mushroomhead will headline the event, kicking off what owner Mike Tricarichi believes can be a new era for the much loved rock landing place. 

"I don't know if people are going to expect a nostalgia trip or whatever," says Tricarichi. "This is going to be a destination compatible with what's forecast to be on the street with the (Flats East Bank) project." 

The Odeon's interior is getting revamped for its new iteration, Tricarichi notes. Though the room's basic design will remain unchanged, a new sound and lighting system will be installed. In addition, inside walls will be painted and the club's infamously grotty bathrooms will get an overhaul.

"Everything's going to be fresh," says Tricarichi. "We're trying to make people more comfortable."

Tricarichi, president of Las Vegas-based real estate company Telecom Acquisition Corp., owns both the Odeon and Roc Bar, a 250-capacity club located nearby on Old River Road. He bought the Odeon building in 2007, one year after it shut its doors. The decision to reopen Odeon came in light of early success Tricarichi has had booking acts at Roc Bar, which itself reopened in December. 

"We opened Roc expecting it to bring people down here, and it did," Tricarichi says.

Along with Mushroomhead, the Odeon has set a date for a Puddle of Mudd show and is working on bringing in horror punk act the Misfits for an appearance. Tricarichi, who spends part of his time in Las Vegas booking hotel shows, also expects to host comic acts at the refurbished Cleveland club.

"I've produced Andrew Dice Clay shows in Vegas, and he wants to play here," he says.

As Tricarichi owns the building, he views re-opening the Odeon as a worthy, low-risk experiment that can be a key component of a revitalized Flats entertainment scene.

"It's a stepping stone," he says. "We can be a piece of what's happening down there."

Skidmark Garage set to burn rubber with May grand opening

Brian Schaffran has been riding motorcycles for 15 years, starting with a 1978 Honda CB750 he found on the side of the road in his hometown of Strongsville. He quickly fell in love, not just with the romantic notion of riding itself, but with the restoration and maintenance required to make his baby street-ready.

"There's a gratifying aspect to fixing something with your own hands," says Schaffran, 43.

A mechanical-minded DIY attitude is something Schaffran aims to impart with Skidmark Garage, a 2,800-square foot space for riders to roll in and work on their choppers, crotch rockets, hogs or other hotrodding euphemism of choice.

The garage, located in the Hildebrandt Building on the corner of Clark Avenue and Fulton Road in downtown Cleveland, will rent out tools, lifts and storage bays to motorcycle enthusiasts. If all goes well, the space will also create a community of folks to share advice, spare parts and perhaps a beer or two while they maintain their rides.

"I'm not a mechanic," says Schaffran, a former history and computer teacher at Saint Martin de Porres High School. "I'm providing a place to hang out and work on your bike."

Although the space is open for business, its owner is preparing for a grand opening celebration scheduled for May 2. Schaffran hopes to draw not just current riders, but people from surrounding city neighborhoods who don't yet own a motorcycle as apartment life leaves them few storage options.

"My average customer will probably be a guy in his 20s who bought some used piece of junk and doesn't have anywhere to put it," says Schaffran.

The bike-loving entrepreneur has been sitting on the idea for a community fix-it clubhouse since he himself was in his 20s. Living in Los Angeles at the time, Schaffran would borrow tools from friendly mechanics and tinker with his vehicles at home.

"Friends would come over and work in my garage, too," he says. "I thought how cool it would be to have a place with a couple of lifts for people to work on their vehicles."

Schaffran has excitedly expanded that picture in his head now that it's becoming closer to reality. "I can see a garage full of 10 or 15 guys helping each other out and fixing their bikes, no matter what time of day, then leaving here feeling like they accomplished something huge," he says.

One magnificent bench to unite Clevelanders east and west on April 4th

So, what are you? East sider or West sider?
 
Clevelanders have fielded the glib question since, well, anyone can remember. The classic geographical divide in the 216 dates back to the 1830's and a dubious brawl on the first Columbus Road Bridge. Yet even today, the side of the river from which one hails still seems to matter in this town.

"You're asked to self identify," says Michele Kilroy, a native Clevelander who's decided to take on the the embedded split. "I understand that everyone has pride in their respective neighborhoods, but we're all Cleveland."

While she admits the classic Cleveland question isn't going away any time soon, about a year ago, an idea bloomed that would meld our industrial history, art and technology all while aiming to close west/east divide. The concept is about to come to fruition in a way that will make any Clevelander's face split into a toothy grin.

Cleveland Bench is 12-feet long, two-and-a-half-feet high and nearly as deep. It's constructed of 1,000 pounds of reclaimed Rust Belt steel and, perhaps best of all, its permanent home will be smack dab in the middle of the Terminal Tower's main entrance.

"The objective is to get a west sider and east sider on that bench, take a photo and upload it to Instagram or Twitter or Facebook," says Kilroy, noting that the project is part public art, part function and part social experiment. She imagines photos ranging from east/west marriage proposals to east/west college reunions. "Wouldn't it be hilarious to have a West Side grandma and an East Side grandbaby?"

The bench will face Public Square from the center arch of the main Terminal Tower entrance. The door in that arch does not open; a post office blocks it from the inside.

Kilroy commissioned Kevin Busta to create the unique sculpture, which will be constructed from industrial hoppers, angle iron, structural bridge rivets and flat stock steel. A long-time admirer of his industrial aesthetic, she was also compelled to his work because Busta creates it from repurposed metals plucked from our hulking past. That was important to Kilroy, who is a specialist for the Cleveland Climate Action Fund by day.

"I'm a tree hugger," says Kilroy.

Private parties are funding Busta's commission and ongoing maintenance, which Kilroy will manage. Financial details are confidential, but Clevelanders will get a peek beneath the mysterious veil on April 4 at 11 a.m, which is the bench's coming out party, so to speak. At that time, the financial supporters will be revealed via a small plaque.

For the curious, Kilroy, a lifelong Clevelander, has pitched her tent on both sides of the Cuyahoga. She's lived in Lakewood and currently calls North Collinwood home.

"I'm not afraid to cross the river," she quips. That ideology is symbolically represented in one of the bench's more subtle details.

"The way the back is oriented, the W is on the east side of the bench and the E is on the west side," says Kilroy. "We're already asking people to flip their mentality a little bit."

Old Brooklyn is 'poised to pop' with launch of new business plan competition

The Old Brooklyn and St. Clair-Superior communities in Cleveland and the city of Shaker Heights are launching individual programs to help existing businesses and attract new businesses. The programs are funded through the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), which received a $30,000 grant from Huntington Bank at the Ohio Capital Income Corporation.
 
The three communities were chosen by Huntington. “The grant was given to support these three neighborhoods,” says Eric Diamond, ECDI executive vice president of lending. “We went to these neighborhoods and asked, ‘What would you find most helpful?’” Each community came up with its own idea for encouraging economic development.
 
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) is hosting a business competition to receive training and grant money to fill vacant storefronts along the area's main streets, former garage and service facilities, and office and creative space.
 
All eligible applicants will receive business canvas plan training from ECDI. A canvas plan is essentially a basic business plan. Eight finalists will then be chosen to receive more advanced business training from ECDI before pitching their businesses to a panel of judges in June for the chance to win up to $10,000 in grant money, additional training and financial incentives.
 
“We could select all of them, or we could select a small batch of them,” says Jason Powers, OBCDC director of marketing and development. "We hope to come out of this with some funded businesses, all of them trained, and considering Old Brooklyn as a place to grow their businesses.”
 
All types of businesses, from new concepts to existing companies, will be considered, says Powers. The neighborhood is on the rise and its central location in Cleveland makes it a prime draw for new restaurants, bars and retail shops. “Old Brooklyn is just poised to pop,” he says. “Everyone’s just really, really ready. We’re looking for those next things.”
 
Interested business owners have until April 24th to apply.
 
Meanwhile, St. Clair-Superior is taking a “business triage” approach with the program, focusing more on assisting existing businesses in the neighborhood. Experts from ECDI and Business Advisers of Cleveland will assess participating companies in everything from their sales to social media to financing. The companies will then get training and support in the area where they need help. The program should launch next week, according to Diamond.
 
Shaker Heights is also considering a business competition similar to what Old Brooklyn is doing. Diamond says the process in Shaker takes longer than in Old Brooklyn because city officials must first meet with landlords to facilitate new businesses coming in. The Shaker program should launch later this year.

E. 34th Street rapid station slated for a $6.8m makeover

After nearly a year-long campaign by members of the Campus District community, the E. 34th Street rapid station will be renovated to make it more accessible, ADA compliant and less isolated. The RTA Board of Trustees voted on February 17th to move ahead with plans to design and build a new station.

The E. 34th Street station serves all three Rapid lines, but it’s not a popular stop right now. “The only people who use that station now are the people who really need it,” explains Campus District Inc. director Bobbi Reichtell. “It’s kind of secluded, the lighting is poor and you just feel isolated.”
 
But members of the Campus District community began arguing last May that the station is needed in the neighborhood, with places like Judge Nancy McDonnell Center and Oriana House, the Women's Reintegration Center, CMHA and the main branch of the Cleveland U.S. Post Office all within range of the stop, as well as a high population of residents who depend on public transportation to get to school and work.
 
“And there is $330 million in investment going into the Campus District and Cleveland State University within a mile of the 34th Street station,” adds Reichtell. “There’s a huge amount of investment underway and planned, and there are people who need access.”
 


Plans for the new station include better visibility, lighting, parking and an ADA compliant ramp down to the platform. Advocates argued that making the station more accessible and attractive will increase ridership.
 
Reichtell said they also cited the W. 65th Street and Lorain Avenue rapid station in the EcoVillage community of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood as a success story that could be mirrored at E. 34th. “It used to be even worse than 34th Street,” Reichtell says of the W. 65th station. “The community lobbied that if you can create a better shelter more people would use it. And that’s exactly what happened.”
 
RTA’s deputy general manager of engineering and project management Mike Schipper said the construction phase of the project will cost $6.8 million. Requests for design proposals will begin in April. The design phase will most likely take a year, says Schipper, with construction bids starting in late 2016 and construction beginning in early 2017. A study phase has already been completed.
 
“I’m glad we have gotten through the study phase so we can get going,” says Schipper. “Whatever we do there will be an improvement over what’s there now. We got a lot of great input from that neighborhood, and we expect them to provide good input when we get to the design phase.”

Charter school purchases iconic Hugo Boss building, plans expansion

Last week, the Menlo Park Academy (MPA) announced that it has acquired the Joseph & Feiss Cloth Craft Building on West 53rd Street just south of Interstate 90. The nearly seven-acre property houses two structures that were formerly a warehouse and administrative building, approximately 80,000- and 25,000-square-feet respectively. Hugo Boss acquired Joseph & Feiss in 1989, along with the notable site, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

In recent years the warehouse building has attracted numerous graffiti artists, including one whose advice to "READ MORE BOOKS" may soon be taken by MPA students.
 
Preliminary plans include using the larger building with the iconic water tower for the school and mothballing the smaller building in a way that respects the historical integrity.
 
"By doing some innovative things for an innovative (student) population, I think we're taking the history of that property to the next step," says Fraser Hamilton, who sits on the school's board and is spearheading the facility expansion committee. Two of his children attend MPA and one is a graduate. "It's not unlike what Joseph and Feiss did when they developed the property originally."
 
Currently located at 14440 Triskett Road, MPA focuses on gifted children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The charter school has two classes for grades K through seven and one for eighth. Founded in 2007, the MPA has 363 students.
 
"We're maxed out," says Hamilton of the leased space, adding that the school hopes to expand to three classes in each grade and a student population of more than 600. While that growth is expected to span three to five years, the organization aims to begin the 2016-2017 school year in the new facility. The design team includes Herman Gibans Fodor, Inc. and Robert Maschke Architects. The site's significant green spaces will be transformed into play areas and learning gardens.
 
"We take a holistic model to the education of our children," says Hamilton. "It's more than just sitting in the classroom and learning from books. We encourage a lot of experiential learning."
 
During the due diligence process, the MPA team enlisted the services of the Mannik Smith Group to work with state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies and evaluate the site's brownfield status and any required remediation.
 
"The bulk of the environmental work that has to happen out there is asbestos abatement," says Hamilton. "There's a small area of contaminated soil that we'll cover with asphalt and concrete to make sure no one gets to it." The group is also assessing whether or not there is an indoor air issue. A $250,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (obtained via Cuyahoga County) will fund the remediation work.
 
Due diligence also included tabulating crime data for the new location as well as the existing Triskett location. Both areas had low overall numbers for 2011 through 2014 and crimes against property in the West 53rd Street neighborhood were 45 percent lower than for the Triskett location.
 
Funding for the renovation will include traditional bank financing and any awarded federal and state historic tax credits and market tax credits. The organization also hopes to garner support from the community via donations and philanthropic participation.
 
"We'll be kicking off a capital campaign shortly," says Hamilton. "Those details are still being hammered out."
 
Of the $275,000 purchase price for the building, he adds, "Let's just say it was a bargain on the Cleveland real estate landscape."
 
The expansion includes the lofty goal of seeking out a diverse range of gifted children, particularly those who are under-served and low-income in order to "ensure that every child who is gifted gets the opportunity they deserve." says Hamilton, adding that a unique educational facility can also act as welcome community anchor.
 
"We will be a catalyst for that neighborhood."
 

Once-dazzling Variety Theatre set for rebirth as new Lorain Avenue anchor

The Variety Theatre, 11815 Lorain Avenue opened Thanksgiving Day 1927 with Clara Bow starring in "Hula." Over the years, vaudeville acts, movies and a host of heavy metal bands have boomed in the 20,000-square-foot main stage and theater area. It's been dark since the late 1980s. Due to the efforts of the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre, however, previously stalled efforts to bring the vacant space back to life have renewed energy.
 
"The building is in pretty remarkable condition," says Rose Zitiello, executive director at Westown Community Development Corporation, which is a stalwart partner in the project.
 
The building is much more than a theater. It also houses eight storefronts ranging from 1,000- to 1,200-square feet, and 13 second-story 600-square-foot apartments, all of which front on Lorain Avenue and have one bedroom.
 
"It literally is one city block," says Zitiello of the fascinating structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
Current construction plans, which were put together about a year ago, call for extensive plumbing work and renovation. The apartments are to remain as such and the 300-seat balcony is slated to become a venue for a large-screen theater. Specific plans for the orchestra pit, main stage and theater space are pending. The characterization of the reborn Variety, however, will be one friendly to original musicians and grass roots music production.
 
While the project was turned down for a 2014 historic tax credit from the State, Zitiello is optimistic that the forthcoming application, which the Friends group will file next month, will be successful. She pins the hopes on the fact that the building is vacant and that the group has secured an anchor, the George Group, which intends to occupy one storefront and part of the lobby with a sports bar.
 
"We do have other local businesses that would like to go in there that are already in the neighborhood," adds Zitiello, but she was mum on further details.
 
Thus far, the $12 million project has some construction financing in place, various grants and backing from the George Group, which is headed by local entrepreneur and restaurateur Tony George. Details are confidential, but Zitiello isn't shy about her hopes for the historic tax credit dollars, both state and federal.
 
"We have been sharpening our pencils for the last year and we feel our proposal will be much more competitive," she says.
 
The Friends group, spearheaded by American Tank and Manufacturing's CEO Michael Ripich, purchased the Variety in 2009 for nearly $1.1 million. Ripich is also donating structural work on the project including steel framework from which to hang signage. First Energy funded electrical work and Wagner Sign, which Zitiello designates as a "major supporter of the project," is fabricating a new historically accurate marquee and blade sign.
 
The Variety Theater Restoration will be the centerpiece of Variety Village Streetscape Plan, which is a key feature of the Lorain Avenue Master Plan that covers territory from West 110th to West 123rd Streets and has feet in Cleveland's Cudell, Jefferson and West Boulevard neighborhoods.
 
Zitiello brings a unique perspective to the overall vision: "If you go to the far west side of Lorain at Kamm's Corners you see the transformation; the City has made a huge investment there. At the other end of Lorain is Ohio City," she says, noting that neighborhood's much-celebrated renaissance.
 
"You have both ends of Lorain anchored, but you have nothing in the middle," she says. "The Variety is smack dab in the middle. This is a viable strip. It holds up the middle."
 
Hard to argue with that logic, but Zitiello notes yet another geographical absolute that further supports the realization of the project.
 
"There are five major retail banks within a mile of me," she says of Westown's Lorain Avenue offices. "That's is a phenomenal show of financial strength. To allow Lorain Avenue to deteriorate? It's just not going to be acceptable."
 
Curious shutterbugs and history buffs will have an opportunity to poke around inside the Variety on April 11 and 12 when Abandoned America will hold The Variety Theatre: An After the Final Curtain Photography Workshop in the space. Ticket purchase and registration details are available in the link.


 

DCA seeks qualified firms, individuals to rethink Main Avenue bridge underpass

The area under the Main Avenue Bridge underpass at the intersection of West 9th Street and Main Avenue is an unusual corner of the city that's soon to get some attention—from up to three entities that have yet to be determined. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) is on a mission to find them.
 
The organization has queried near and far to find up to three creative professionals or teams they deem qualified to propose upgrades for the underpass area, which Laura Wiegand, director of development and community relations at DCA describes thusly: "We view it as an area that has either real or perceived gaps or barriers in the urban fabric, meaning that it's not a pleasant pedestrian experience," she says. "It's not a working bicycle connection."
 
The space also lacks lighting and wayfinding for pedestrians, says Wiegand. "It's actually even difficult for vehicles to figure out that this is how you get down to the Flat's east bank. It's especially dark in daylight because of the shadows."
 
The Main Avenue Bridge Underpass Improvement Competition is an offshoot of the Step Up Downtown initiative, which the organization bills as a "visual and tactical plan for downtown Cleveland." DCA sent out information about their quest to architectural websites and various networks.
 
"We've received inquiries from firms all over the world," says Wiegand, tagging Canadian, local and mostly U.S.-based firms, although one entry came from China that will not be considered, as the competition is limited to North America.
 
Up to three qualified entities from the applicant pool will receive an $8,500 honorarium and $3,000 travel budget to inspect the underpass space and draw up a proposal that gives it an identity, improves lighting and safety in a creative way, makes it attractive, and "does the work of connecting two of our most vibrant downtown neighborhoods, which are the Warehouse District and the Flats," says Wiegand.
 
By way of example, she cites Playhouse Square as another key connection that has a unique character and placemaking attributes such as the chandelier and archways.
 
"We are not looking for a similar treatment but for a treatment that is potentially identifiable and creates a unique experience on the other side of downtown," says Wiegand.
 
The deadline for interested parties to submit their request for qualification (RQF) forms is March 6 at 4:30 p.m. The qualified candidates will be selected by April 1st. Their exploratory site visits should be complete by the end of April with final proposals due in mid-July. The winning design will be selected in early August, with fabrication and installation, the estimate for which is $800,000, tentatively scheduled for spring of 2016.
 
"We are working on fundraising for implementation of the final project," says Wiegand, adding that the current activities were made possible with the support of the Cleveland Foundation and other strategic partners. "Hopefully we'll be able to move forward in implementing it exactly as described or in combination with local firms, but that remains to be determined."
 
Details regarding the project, including RFQ submission guidelines are available here.
 
"We're looking forward to seeing qualifications from all kinds of firms," says Wiegand, "but we're particularly interested in local submissions."

 

Heinen's quiet message: you are worthy of this divine space

The buzz surrounding Heinen's grand opening last Wednesday included the predictable photos and fawning. Stories were written; tweets were twittered. Local dignitaries narrated the ribbon cutting with wholly earned praise for one of the area's most highly anticipated projects.
 
Amid all the hubbub, one challenge in a Facebook post from Cleveland Yelp guru Cara Lageson caught Fresh Water's attention.
 
Question: How do you explain the entire population of Cleveland losing their minds over a grocery store to your colleagues from cities around the world?
 
Answer: You can't.
 
Actually, Cara, we're going to try.
 
Simply put, the downtown Heinen's has elevated the universal act of dropping a can of corn or a box of cereal into a shopping cart to divine heights. And no, that is not hyperbole. Where else can you order a pound of bologna under an arching Tiffany-style stained glass rotunda, or dither over single- or double-ply before the watchful eye of Francis Millet's Ohio settlers?
 
We have become so accustomed to stepping into unattractive and cheaply built big box stores that the idea of shopping as anything other than drudgery has all but vanished. They want our money; we need their stuff. Transaction complete
 
Not so at the new Heinen's. This family is glad you're here. These people respect you before you've spent a single dime. They know you are worthy of this beautiful space and so is their grocery business. After all, they spent $10 million to deliver it unto Cleveland in all of its stunning glory.
 
To celebrate that lofty assertion, Heinen's wine merchandiser Ed Thompkins offered up samples of Moet Champagne at the opening for the pauper's price of 25 cents each. That's saying something considering the regular price per bottle is $68.99.
 
Let them drink wine, indeed, and to that end, plenty of people were toasting the dazzling endeavor, but not exclusively with bubbly.
 
"For preservationists today," remarked Cleveland Landmarks Commission chair Jennifer Coleman, "it's a Mardi Gras-style holiday. I wish there were beads that we could throw."
 
Heinen's Joe Boscarello from the produce department didn't have any beads to toss amid the crowd, but he did have a suggestion on what to eat.
 
"Try a sumo orange. It's a nice big orange, easy to peel. They're the sweetest oranges, very juicy." But are they fresh? "We get deliveries five days a week. We do whatever we can to get the freshest stuff possible."
 
Local foodie and Edible Cleveland publisher Noelle Celeste found more than just oranges to laud.
 
"When you have a family business not only in Cleveland--but in the center of Cleveland--contributing to the food community here, it is just spectacular," she said. "What I love about Heinen's is that community isn't an afterthought for them."
 
The same goes for meat manager Scott Boggs. Afterthoughts have no place in his corner of the 27,000-square-foot store.
 
"We cut everything fresh daily," said Boggs from behind the bountiful counter. But how well does he know those whose sole commentary was "moo" not so long ago?
 
"These cows? I could tell you about their parents, their grandparents. We go to the farms. We know that much about our products."
 
Judging by the lines that formed at the checkout, the Heinen family knows a thing or two about the grocery business.
 
And it's a good bet, Cara, that they would welcome any of your international colleagues to walk amid the rows of peanut butter and toothpaste and bask in this most unique Cleveland cathedral.
 
They will be in good company, just ask Ward 3 councilman Joe Cimperman.
 
"Look at this room," he said at the opening. "I've got residents from public housing here. I've got residents who own half million-dollar condos here. You've got the mayor. You've got the county executive.
 
"This is one Cleveland, right here. We are no longer invisible, we're indivisible."
 

Single-family homes, nature center and container park eyed for Kinsman/Colfax neighborhood

The team at Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. (BBCD), which focuses on restoring the residential components of the Central, Kinsman, and Garden Valley neighborhoods, is crossing its collective fingers over whether or not state dollars will move the ambitious Colfax Family Homes project forward.
 
The proposal will populate the Colfax corridor between East 79th Street to just west of East 69th Street with 40 single-family residential units ranging from 1,850- to 2740-square feet. The structures will range from single-story ADA accessible units to three-story homes with a basement.
 
"It's a very innovative project," says Tim Tramble, BBCD's executive director. "The design is a different look. It's not what we've typically seen in Cleveland."
 
BBCD has agreements in place with area land banks for acquisition of some of the associated properties, with deals in the works on 10 additional lots. Funding is ongoing.
 
"We applied for state funding through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency," says Tramble. "If we get it, we move forward."
 
He sees the Colfax Family Home project as a compliment to two other unique Kinsman neighborhood projects: a nature center and a container park, both of which are outlined in the pending Kinsman Master Plan, which was updated just last month.
 
The nature center will be in the green space known as Kingsbury Run, an area characterized by dense vegetation and wildlife such as deer, rabbit and a hawk that nests there every year.
 
"It's about 500 feet from Kinsman Road," says Tramble, "but when you're there you feel so far removed because it's entrenched in a valley. It's amazing how close it is to the hustle and bustle of urban life."
 
BBCD eventually hopes to partner with the MetroParks on the project.
 
"We have had initial conversations with them," says Tramble, adding that the MetroParks would be the ideal entity to own and operate the property. He sees the development of the Kingsbury Run green space as building on the "health and wellness/urban agriculture/sustainability theme that we've established on Kinsman."
 
Further east down the Kinsman corridor, the proposed container park centers around an idea that has been gaining popularity.
 
Tramble explains: "It's taking shipping containers and converting them to small retail spaces," which in turn can be used by individuals in the community with goods to sell, but no means to lease a traditional retail store.
 
This "commercial node of containers" will be on the north side of Kinsman Road between East 81st and 79th Streets.
 
BBCD expects to finalize a report on the master plan late next month.
 
All of this activity will need a narrator, and the BBCD team has an app for that—or more accurately, a radio station, for which the organization has already obtained a license. Possible locations for the studio include the offices of BBCD, 7201 Kinsman Road, and Arbor Park Place at East 40th Street and Community College Avenue.
 
The community radio station will be operated by locals with the intent to bridge the disconnect between generations, give groups the opportunity to have their own radio shows and reinforce positive messaging.
 
"Sometimes we feel that we don't really have the vehicle to do that," says Tramble. "It's going to be a wonderful innovative way to engage people where they are."
 

 

fairfax update: 400 housing units in preliminary planning

Last year, the Fairfax neighborhood welcomed the opening of Griot Village, the area's first intergenerational housing project. In just a few short months, the project's success has mushroomed. To qualify for residency, a person 55 years of age or older must have custody of a minor. All 40 units are occupied and bustling with approximately 80 children. Most of the units are single-family households, many of which are headed by women, the oldest of which is 84.
 
"We did it because we kept getting more and more requests for this type of housing," says Denise VanLeer, assistant executive director of the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC). "It is a market niche that’s badly underserved and strained by circumstance. They need a lot of support."
 
So much so that there is a waiting list to get into Griot and queries from urban planners have come from Akron, New York and even as far as Japan to learn from the model.
 
On the heels of that success, the FRDC is unfolding its wings, so to speak, with an array of tentative projects.
 
The first is a large-scale mixed income community between East 101st and 105th Streets, which is currently inundated with vacancy.
 
"We don't know the exact number," says VanLeer, "but we're toying with 400-plus units."
 
Still in the "very preliminary planning stages," the FRDC team has been in communication with the Cleveland Land Bank and Cuyahoga Land Bank.
 
"We are in the process of land acquisition," says VanLeer.
 
While still off on the horizon, VanLeer believes the project will come to fruition as a dovetail to commercial development in the area.
 
Of the Cedar Road corridor, she says she hopes the Cleveland Clinic's Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center, 10000 Cedar Avenue, will act as a commercial development catalyst of sorts, but she words it in a much more charming way.
 
"We envision that project to have some babies or cousins."
 
Also of interest is the East 83rd Street corridor, which garnered a significant anchor in 2013 when Rumi's Market launched at 8225 Carnegie Avenue in 2013. The brightly lit Middle Eastern supermarket and café has been doing a brisk business. Per VanLeer, the PNC Fairfax Connection, a community resource center, is another entity that makes East 83rd "a major thoroughfare" and to further strengthen it, FRDC has trained it's sights on East 83rd and Cedar.
 
"We're working with a church and private investors to bring that corner back." Details are preliminary and confidential.
 
The last project harkens back to the days when Fairfax populated with grand Victorian homes. The East 89th Street Housing Project includes eight apartment buildings constructed to emulate the style of days gone by. While the FRDC has talked to developers and worked with the city architect on a vision, the project has unfortunately stalled.
 
"Right now the numbers don't work," says VanLeer.
 
VanLeer encourages any developer interested in learning more about the project to call Debra Wilson at 216.361.8400 for more information.
 
When asked why she believes the project will eventually come to fruition, VanLeer responds, "There's a market for it," she says, noting the project's proximity to the Cleveland Clinic. "This would be ideal for all nurses and people who work there, especially the residents who come for three years and then they're gone.
 
"They could actually walk to work."
 

ymca breaks ground on new galleria location

Earlier this month, the Cleveland YMCA broke ground on their highly anticipated new space in the Galleria. The Parker Hannifin Downtown Y is slated to open in February 2016.
 
"We had about 85 come to the ground breaking," says Rick Haase, vice president of marketing for the YMCA of Cleveland.
 
Haase notes the timing of the project, which coincides with a staggering boom in downtown residential growth. He cites the Downtown Cleveland Alliance's 2014 fourth quarter market update (p. 10), which estimates more than 25,000 people will be living downtown by 2022—up from 13,300 in 2014.
 
Considering that and the population of daily downtown commuters, the organization hopes to double the current membership of its 2200 Prospect Avenue location, which numbers nearly 3,250.
 
"Our current location at East 22nd and Prospect is, quite honestly, a little bit off beaten path," says Haase. Cleveland State University (CSU) owns that building, which was built in 1911 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Floors 2 through 8 are dedicated to CSU student housing, with the YMCA's fitness center on the first floor. The YMCA also has offices on the first and ninth floors. All of the YMCA's functions will eventually move to the Galleria.
 
The new two-story 40,000-square-foot YMCA will occupy what was formerly retail space in the gleaming mall. Amenities will include a three-lane lap pool, sauna and steam rooms, approximately 75 cardio and 25 weight training machines, a spinning studio, three group exercise studios (one of which will accommodate hot yoga) and two massage therapy rooms. Haase says presales are tentatively planned for this summer, six months in advance of the grand opening.
 
"There will be special rates for those join early," he says, adding that a presale office in the Galleria is a possibility. "There will very likely be a corporate rate as well." Packages for the area hotels are also on the horizon.
 
The total project budget is just over $12 million. Parker Hannifin is one of the private donors on the project. Werner Minshall, owner of the Galleria, donated the space, which translated into a $2.7 million gift. The organization expects to employee 39 full- and part-time workers at the new facility with an payroll of about $1.1 million over the first two years of operation.
 
The project is expected to create about 100 construction jobs and generate $7.9 million in tax revenue from new construction and labor costs. Moody Nolan is the architect and Infinity Construction Company is the general contractor.
 
Aside from the obvious attraction of a fitness club, the new YMCA will feature youth and senior programming as well as specialty programs targeted at preventing diabetes and helping adult cancer survivors transitioning out of treatment.
 
"There's a lot of impact that this project has," says Haase, "not only on the City of Cleveland but also in terms in helping to revitalize the downtown community."
 
Having just celebrated the YMCA's 160th year in Cleveland, Haase feels it's safe to say this is a long-term relationship.
 
"We're not going anywhere."
 
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