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High-end tea, local nibbles coming to vintage Slavic Village building

There’s something about that purple corn that Ryan Florio uses in his Inca Tea blends. After being inspired by a tea brewed by his Sherpa while hiking in Peru with college buddies, he started the company out of his parents’ North Royalton home in February 2014.
 
Today, Inca Tea can be found on store shelves in Cleveland and across the country, and in a small café at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. He announced his latest expansions last month: a second café in the airport and his first free-standing site at 6513 Union Ave. in Slavic Village, which will house a cafe, production facility and warehouse.
 
When Florio launched Inca Tea, it was an immediate success. Within 10 months he had opened a small, 60-square-foot café in Hopkins Airport B concourse and his teas were available in more than 200 grocery stores and Bed Bath and Beyond stores nationwide.
 
Today, Inca Tea is available in nearly 500 stores nationwide, including 70 Bed Bath and Beyond stores, all 39 Earth Fare stores and The Andersons. Locally, Inca Tea is stocked in Heinen’s, Whole Foods, Mustard Seed and Giant Eagle Market District stores.
 
Inca Tea has made the Cleveland Hot List for the past two consecutive years as the area's favorite tea house.
 
Florio hopes to maintain that status as he expands, particularly at the more elaborate Slavic Village location.
 
“Now I have a true home base where I can do it all in one facility,” he says of the Union Avenue site. “Once I walked in, I knew it was the place.”
 
The “place” is a 1930s two-story red brick 15,000-square-foot building with 20-foot-high ceilings that originally served as an electric company substation and later a warehouse. Florio is converting the space to include a 400-square-foot café that will seat more 30.
 
Florio's customers will enter the cafe through a solid oak, 14.foot-high, three-inch-thick front door. The café will be furnished with high top tables and couches among exposed brick walls and the Inca Tea logo painted on a wood wall.
 
The entire café is furnished using recycled materials Florio found inside the building.
 
“We have benches made out of cast iron floor grates, we have the bar, which is made from the recycled corrugated metal that was on the back of the building,” Florio notes. “The main wall is made from the wood that was inside the back wall and the coffee tables are made from cast iron grates and iron piping.”
 
Customers in the cafe can watch the creation of more than a million tea bags a year through a window into the 4,500-square-foot production center. The second floor will have a conference room with a view of the first-floor café.
 
“It’s a unique and interesting building,” Florio says of the space, adding that Slavic Village officials were eager to bring Inca Tea to the neighborhood. “It has amazing curb appeal and is the epitome of what I was looking for to grow the business.”
 
In addition to Inca Tea’s four blends, Florio plans to serve plenty of goodies made by local vendors, including Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Cleveland Bagel Company, Anna in the Raw, Breadsmith, Garden of Flavor, Randy's Pickles, Pope’s Hot Sauces, Nooma, Good Greens and Sweet Designs Chocolatier.
 
“Our main objective for this café is to have a minimum of 90 percent local,” says Florio. “It’s always been my mission to focus on Cleveland-based products.”
 
While Florio prepares to open his Slavic Village café, he is simultaneously planning a second, 310-square-foot café on Hopkins C concourse. He signed the letter of intent to move into the new space last month.
 
“It’s five times the size,” Florio says as he compares the new location to his original location. “It’s more of a full-size café.”
 
Florio adds that the mission to stay local in the products he sells is especially important in his airport cafes. “Customers can come in and take home a little of what Cleveland has to offer,” he says. In addition to his regular vendors, Florio also plans to carry food from Aladdin’s.
 
A late March opening is planned for the Slavic Village Inca Tea, while the timeline for the  airport café has not been finalized.
 
Florio plans to hire five to seven employees at the Slavic Village Inca Tea Café, which will be open during the week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Perkoski's 'These Walks of Life' is a study in frozen motion

Those who walk religiously know the activity can be highly personal. A walking person may be in a rush. They may be deeply engaged in thought or a complex audio experience. They may be giggling over a podcast. Perhaps they are misting up over a lover's last whisper. Maybe they're tired. Maybe their feet hurt. Maybe those feet are the only mode of transportation they have.
 
In a new solo show, "These Walks of Life," Fresh Water's managing photographer Bob Perkoski has captured the essence of walking and its nuances with a collection of more than 40 images on display at Negative Space Gallery, 3820 Superior Avenue. "Walks" will run through mid-February.
 
The practice started out casually, with Perkoski taking clandestine photos capturing images of people while he drove around town – to and from shoots, grocery runs, wherever. Eventually, it became an intentional cataloging.
 
"I consciously started doing it in 2012," says Perkoski. "I put my camera on a high shutter speed so I'd catch it fast without getting a blur." The entire collection numbers in the hundreds and also includes people waiting for the bus or just standing along the street. Yet another category includes photos of bicyclists.
 
"I have people sitting on the corner, laying in the street," says Perkoski of some of his other images that are outside the scope of "Walks."
 
As for those included in the show, he took them at points all across town, including Playhouse Square, Ohio City, Clark Fulton, Little Italy, Woodland Avenue and Slavic Village among others. There are also two shots from out of town, one taken in London and another in Chicago.
 
All of the images are evocative and ironic in the sense that they are frozen images depicting motion. To be sure, the static background in each photo lends scale and contrast to the moving subject. One of the most jarring aspects of the show is also one of the most subtle: the voyeuristic feel of the images cannot be ignored – the majority of the walkers had no idea they were being photographed.
 
"I try to catch people that aren't looking at me. I just want them to be natural," says Perkoski of his subjects.
 
"You're wondering what they're doing and where they're going and what they're thinking."
 
"These Walks of Life" is on view on the second floor of Asian Town Center, which is a fascinating mall worthy of a visit on its own. The gallery housing Perkoski's work is in an annex to Negative Space and open for visitors whenever the mall is open, which is seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Contact Negative Space for extended evening hours.

Two ioby campaigns make waiting for RTA a little more productive, enjoyable

Waiting for the bus is about to get a little more interactive. ioby (In Our Own Backyards), the New York-based organization that uses crowd-funding to turn grassroots neighborhood projects into realities, established Cleveland offices in March and organizers have wasted no time in getting behind worthwhile projects.
 
Two of its latest projects involve public art at RTA shelters and offering riders fitness suggestions while they wait for the bus. The projects are part of ioby’s Trick Out My Trip campaign to improve public transportation in cities nationwide. Cleveland was chosen for two out of 10 total projects across the country.
 
Art Stop
 
At East 22nd Street and Superior Avenue in the Superior Arts neighborhood within the Campus District, a group of artists and residents are working to make the area art-friendly and safer for riders waiting at the bus stop.
 
Art Stop will create a bus shelter to shield residents from the elements while also providing a canvas for public art by a rotating list of artists. Campus District officials hosted a barbeque to get input on what the diverse neighborhood needed and wanted.
 
“People were very excited about this because Superior Avenue has a lot of bus stops, but not a lot of shelters,” says Kaela Geschke, community coordinator for the Campus District. “There are so many artists that live in the neighborhood and this is way to highlight them.”
 
Geschke adds that, with three homeless shelters in the neighborhood, the stop will also provide some shelter from the notoriously windy corridor.
 
The group then turned to Cleveland Institute of Art adjunct professor Sai Sinbondit and his students to design the shelter’s elements. They were charged with keeping the shelter’s functionality while also creating a pleasing environment.
 
The group needs $10,335 to realize all of the features they want in the shelter. So far, they have raised $3,100. If they meet their goal, the bus stop will have Wi-Fi and solar lighting. The Wi-Fi will make it easier for riders to check bus schedules and for the homeless population to research services, Geschke says.
 
“We’re really working hard to create a connection between students, artists and the homeless,” says Geschke. “The artwork will build community and be a way for neighbors to get to know each other.”
 
Bus Stop Moves
 
Bus Stop Moves gets riders exercising while waiting for the bus.
 
The concept was first spearheaded last fall by Allison Lukacsy, an architect and a planner for the city of Euclid, as a pilot program through RTA’s adopt-a-shelter program with MetroHealth System.
 
The program began after a survey of Collinwood residents revealed that people wanted more opportunities to exercise. “Something jumped out at me [in the survey] that people could be healthier and wanted more opportunities to be active,” says Lukacsy.
 
The pilot program involved three bus shelters in Collinwood, in which translucent vinyl adhesive wraps over the shelter walls illustrate simple exercises and health tips. The exercises can be done while sitting or standing and in normal street clothes.
 
“That sort of 20 to 25-minute period between bus rides is the perfect amount of time, physicians will tell you, to get some exercise,” says Lukacsy, who designed and drew all the illustrations.
 
The fitness shelters were so well-received that ioby has partnered with RTA to wrap 10 additional shelters with workout moves in the Central-Kinsman, Slavic Village and Detroit Shoreway neighborhoods.  So far, the group has raised about $500 of the $618 needed to fund the project.
 
The exercises vary at different shelters – some more intense and some more relaxed. For instance, in Collinwood a shelter that has a lot of high school students features more engaging exercises, like jumping jacks, while another shelter features strengthening and stretching exercises.
 
“Some people are willing to break out and dance in public,” says Lukacsy. “But more people are more comfortable doing the strengthening. You could totally drive by and not know someone is doing exercises.”
 
The shelters not only offer a unique way to squeeze in a workout, Lukacsy says it also helps spruce up the neighborhoods. “If you look around, these are older shelters,” she says. “This is a way to not only aesthically improve the look of the shelters, it’s also something to improve people’s health.
 
Both crowdfunding campaigns have until Friday, August 5 to reach their goals. ioby had partnered with New York-based TransitCenter on Trick Out My Trip. The foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility will match the money raised when the campaign ends.

Village Market embraces Slavic Village

After only its second week, the Village Market in Slavic Village, hosted by Slavic Village Development (SVD) is already popular as a source for freshly-grown local produce, hand-made goods and a place to mingle with neighbors.

The market, which opened on June 13, is held each Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. through August 29 in Sonny Day Development’s outdoor space at 5106 Fleet Ave. It is the new and improved version of the former Broadway Famers’ Market, which closed in 2014 after struggling to attract vendors and shoppers.
 
In 2015, market manager Tiffany Andreoli began developing the concept with a focus on three things: making fresh produce easily available to residents, educating people on the importance of healthy eating and giving local businesses a place to sell their wares and grow their businesses.
 
“When they [SVD] approached me, I loved the idea because my husband and I live in this neighborhood,” Andreoli says. “I wanted to have vendors from the neighborhood and wanted to get attendance higher [than the Broadway Market].”
 
So far, she has succeeded. More than 150 people came out on opening day. And while attendance dropped a bit this past Monday, Andreoli attributes the Cavs’ NBA Finals victory the night before to a light turnout. “We still did some really good sales,” she says. “A few of our vendors sold out.”
 
A total of 18 vendors have signed up for the Village Market, although Andreoli says she expects an average of 14 vendors each week. “Half of the vendors are from the neighborhood,” she boasts. “We feel it’s very successful.”
 
The market participates in the EBT and Cleveland – Cuyahoga County Food Coalition Food Perks programs. Andreoli says she hopes the programs will encourage residents to come to the Village Market.
 
“This is a low-income neighborhood and it’s important to make it welcoming,” she says. “Many residents didn’t feel as welcome at higher-income neighborhood markets.”
 
In addition to locally-grown produce, the Village Market is also deeming itself a “makers market,” featuring local craftspeople. “The Slavic Village neighborhood has historically been a maker community of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers,” Andreoli explains. “Fleet Avenue is all mom and pop businesses.”
 
Vendors include Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend of Saucisson, which is in the midst of moving their butcher shop to the neighborhood, clothing designer Tourmaline Designs and Blue Lake Botanicals. Christy’s Custom Cakes owner Christy Barley sells her confections while her sons sell snow cones.
 
Produce vendors include the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland Farm, Community Greenhouse Partners and the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corps.
 
The market has a variety of events planned throughout the summer. Next week’s market will have a cooking demonstration and MetroHealth will have a booth for health screenings and information. Monday, July 11, will be ArcelorMittal Day, which will feature live music and other entertainment.
 
MetroHealth and ArcelorMittal, along with Citizens Bank, helped fund the Village Market.
 
After the market closes for the season in August, Andreoli says the market plans to host small business training classes through the winter months.
 
The Village Market is still accepting vendor applications for select dates.

CDCs: the quiet but powerful engines driving neighborhood revitalization

The economic recession that began in 2007 impacted nearly every United States city. Compounded by the burst of the housing bubble in 2008, many Cleveland neighborhoods took a hard hit.
 
“Every neighborhood was affected by the Great Recession pretty much everywhere,” says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), an organization committed to neighborhood revitalization. “Every one of our neighborhoods suffered.”
 
Many Cleveland neighborhoods have successfully recovered, with thriving places like Ohio City, Tremont and Collinwood being ideal examples. There are pockets in the city, however, that continue to struggle. “Most are coming back,” Ratner says. “The question is: where have they come back to and where were they?”
 
Ratner cites the Hough and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods as two areas that have not quite climbed out of the housing crash. “There are several east side neighborhoods that continue to have vacancies and abandonments,” he says. “The Hough neighborhood continues to struggle and places like Mount Pleasant really have a lot of work to do to restore the real estate market.”
 
For those neighborhoods that are beginning to bounce back, Ratner says the key to success is an active community development corporation (CDC). “We believe that where there is a strong CDC, they are able to lift up the neighborhood,” he explains, naming Tremont, the Detroit Shoreway, Central and University Circle as areas with robust CDCs. “Where there are great CDCs we’re seeing community benefits.”
 
Slavic Village Recovery Project, for example, is a collaborative effort between the neighborhood’s CDC, CNP, Forest City Enterprises and RIK Enterprises that acquires and renovates vacant homes, then sells them at affordable rates. The idea is to stabilize the housing market in Slavic Village while also making it an attractive neighborhood for potential home buyers.
 
At the same time Northeast Shores Development in Collinwood and other agencies have spent the last decade creating a destination for arts and culture with efforts such as the Waterloo Arts District. “Waterloo and Collinwood have a lot of exciting things going on,” says Ratner. “People are starting to see market recovery.”
 
In Glenville, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens reflect the neighborhood’s rebirth. “They’re beginning to see a renaissance there,” says Ratner. “The housing stock is really a treasure.”
 
St. Clair Superior and the Campus District CDCs teamed up to host Night Market Cleveland, creating a popular new destination event that brought exposure to AsiaTown and Quarter Arts District and encouraged appreciation for the diverse cultures that characterize the area. The effort garnered a CNP’s 2016 Vibrant City award.
 
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office also received a Vibrant City Award for its part in bringing La Placita to fruition. The Hispanic-themed open air market provides business development opportunities to entrepreneurs and easy access to local goods and fresh foods for residents in the surrounding Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
 
Ratner notes other projects, such as Goldhorn Brewery on E. 55th Street in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, the Innova apartments straddling University Circle and the Hough neighborhood, and quieter endeavors in the Central neighborhood such as the small but mighty Ka-La Healing Garden and Resource Center show signs of revitalization.
 
"There are a lot of promising efforts going on around our city,” says Ratner. “There’s a lot of great stuff going on.”
 
And people are noticing, he adds. While previous generations moved out of Cleveland in favor of the suburbs, the city’s booming residential construction today is evidence that the locals are coming back. “They’re beginning to see the joys of the city and what a treasure it is,” he says. “Now people are coming in to Cleveland, especially the boomerangers.”
 
Newcomers to Cleveland are attracted to city living as well. “Someone comes in and doesn’t know the city, or they’ve been away, they have a fresh eye and they are not encumbered by the previous notions of ourselves,” Ratner says. “One of our burdens is our too-negative view of ourselves. As more people come here, we have an updated view.”

Former Fleet retail space to emerge as 12,000-square-foot artists' mecca

Ben Domzalski’s family has long been a staple of the Slavic Village business community, operating the tax and accounting firm Commercial Enterprises on Fleet Avenue since 1952.
 
So when his father and business partner, Jeff Domzalski and Chester Cuiksa, bought the old Magalen Furniture building at 5203 Fleet Ave. three years ago, Domzalski voiced his idea of what to do with the 12,000 square foot space – the largest building on Fleet Avenue.
 
“[Jeff and Chester] believed it could carry a great influence on development of the Fleet Avenue commercial district,” recalls Domzalski. “Both being Fleet Avenue merchants for over 40 years, they were very concerned with the direction of the neighborhood, Fleet Avenue in particular, and wanted to do what they could.”
 
Domzalski immediately saw a way to bring arts to the community. “When I first saw the building I saw its potential for gallery and studio space,” he recalls. “I felt very strongly the size, unique features and location could help this building become a true destination.”
 
In January, Jeff and Chester gave Domzalski control over the space and, he promptly started making plans to convert it to The Magalen a mixed-use art gallery and studio space.  
 
Domzalski’s inspiration came from listening to Cleveland Public Theatre founder James Levin speak ten years ago about community development through the arts. “His words stuck with me,” he recalls. “Artists beautify their surroundings, they are patrons of the local establishments and, most importantly, they're courageous as seen in Waterloo, Tremont and Gordon Square. Each of these areas focused on arts first.”
 
Domzalski calls the artists who helped shape those areas “courageous” because of their influence on revitalizing neighborhoods. “Artists are courageous because of their willingness to venture into new neighborhoods, ones where development has yet to happen or is currently happening,” he explains “They're at the forefront of neighborhood development.”
 
He says he hopes Slavic Village will be the next such example in Cleveland. “As the Magalen grows and we open the studio spaces, I hope for more artists to move to Slavic Village, and in turn attract more people to the neighborhood.”
 
The two-story Magalen dates back to 1908, when the front section and a rear carriage house were built. The two sections were later connected by additional rooms and a loading dock. For decades, the space housed a neighborhood staple, Magalen Furniture.
 
While the front area, with large windows overlooking Fleet Avenue, will serve as a gallery and event space, the rear areas will provide two studios for artists and the second floor area will service as meeting space or additional studios, according to Rachel Hunt, events curator for the Magalen.
 
Hunt shares Domzalski’s vision of how the Magalen will give Slavic Village a boost. “The Magalen will be the only multi-use arts facility in the area that is run not only by management, but by the artists,” she explains. “It will eventually be available for use by artists with studio spaces 24/7. We've been inspired by other art facilities in the Cleveland area and want to bring Slavic Village up to date with what other desirable communities such as Waterloo and Ohio City are doing for their neighborhoods.”
 
Although the entire project will not be complete, the Magalen gallery will be open in time for Rooms to Let this Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22. The event transforms Slavic Village homes slated for demolition or restoration into galleries and art installations.
 
The Magalen will host an after-party during its gallery debut, Reimagined, from 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, May 21. Four artists will be featured, including Michael Marefka, Dustin Nowlin, Riley Kemerling and Maggie Duff.
 
The gallery will also be open on Sunday for pickup of purchased works. Otherwise, regular gallery hours have not yet been set.

New bike lanes to amp up Slavic Village connectivity

Road work is a common enough sight in Cleveland, but a large-scale re-paving project on Warner Road in Slavic Village can also be part of an overarching effort to make the neighborhood a safe, attractive and welcoming place to live, maintain those on the ground.

Work on the Warner Road Rehabilitation Project began early last week. Approximately one mile of the residential street will be re-surfaced and re-striped. Other improvements include ADA-compliant ramps and new pavement markings. Construction cost for the nearly year-long project is slated at $2.4 million.  

In the short term, one lane of traffic southbound will be maintained between Grand Division and Broadway Avenues. Northbound traffic will be detoured east along Grand Division Avenue then north along Turney Road.

It's when the project is finished in December 2016 that things get exciting, says Chris Alvarado, executive director of Slavic Village Development, a nonprofit community development corporation serving the North and South Broadway neighborhoods. Six-foot-wide bike lanes will replace diagonal parking spots on both sides of the street, stretching from the entrance of the Mill Creek Falls reservation to Grand Division Avenue on the border of Garfield Heights.

The new bike lanes will create a safe pedestrian passageway, as existing parking spaces are often used as though traffic areas by drivers, says Alvarado. Additionally, installation of much-needed biking options is taking place as strategic efforts, like Mill Creek Trail, aim to connect Cleveland via bike and walking paths.

To that end, Slavic Village is currently working with the City of Cleveland on linking its forthcoming bike lanes to the end of the Morgana Run Trail, a two-mile bicycling and walking path extending from E. 49th Street to Jones Road near Broadway Avenue.

Eventually, the Warner Road bike trail can be a single link in a five-mile biking and pedestrian access chain that runs all the way downtown, notes Alvarado. It can also serve as an amenity that helps draw new residents to the community.

"We pride ourselves on being an active neighborhood where walking, biking and exercise is part of who we are," Alvarado says.

Ultimately, the refurbished road can be part of a brighter future for a community trying to rebound, adds the development group official.

"It's a way to bring in new neighbors and make [Slavic Village] attractive for the people who live here," says Alvarado.

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."
 

PRE4CLE issues grants for four new classrooms

PRE4CLE, an extension of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District that aims to expand high-quality preschool options across the city, has awarded three grants totaling $120,000 to start four new classrooms, each of which will house 20 preschoolers.
 
The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland will open two of the new classrooms at the Oakwood Child Development Center, 9250 Miles Park Avenue. Another will be the first preschool classroom at The Citizens Academy, 10118 Hampden Avenue, which is operated by The Centers for Families and Children. The fourth will be at the Buckeye-Shaker Fundamentals Academy, 12500 Buckeye Road, under the umbrella of the Fundamentals Early Childhood Development Academy.
 
"The grants cover things like furniture, small tables, chairs and shelves," says Katie Kelly, PRE4CLE director, adding interactive toys, enrichment activities, books, puzzles and blocks to the list. "It's all the basic -- but very critical -- parts of a high-quality early childhood classroom."
 
The grants, which total $30,000 per classroom, will not cover any new construction, but the funds may be used to cover minor facility upgrades to make the spaces safe, healthy and inviting. In addition, the funding will cover staffing, but only for a short time.
 
"They have to hire the staff and have them on board before the state will give them their license," says Kelley of the chicken-or-egg dilemma. "That is a upfront cost; so the funds from the grants will also cover very short term staff costs that are related to that startup effort."
 
The areas impacted by the grants (Glenville, Buckeye-Shaker Square and Union-Miles) all have a demand for those preschool slots and are near the top of their supply capacity.
 
"Part of our effort is to strategically expand high quality programs in neighborhoods that are in the highest need," says Kelly. "These neighborhoods that were chosen have a variety of needs. We wanted to make sure that we continue to build access."
 
The Buckeye Road classroom is slated to open this November, with the CEOGC classrooms in Union-Miles opening by year's end. Citizens Academy in Glenville expects to have its preschool classroom ready for an early 2016 opening date. All of the grantees have space that's available and ready to be used for programs.

"These early childhood programs that are community based (and not within the public school district) operate on tight margins," says Kelley. "So something like opening up a new classroom can be cost prohibitive. We don't want that upfront cost to be a barrier and often it is."
 
While the grants do not fund tuition, which is usually covered by the families, childcare subsidies and federal and state funding, Kelly is glad to be creating high-quality learning spaces for the area's preschoolers.
 
"The grants are only for classrooms, but we think it’s a great start," she says. "This is really our first brick and mortar venture into making sure that those neighborhoods have what they need," she adds. "This will serve 80 children, which we're really happy about."

Every Cleveland property to be photographed and rated

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

150-year-old Ohio Awning moves, leaves historic building in good hands

Earlier this month, Ohio Awning and Manufacturing, which was founded in 1865 by Civil War veteran James Wagner, moved from its historic 78,000-square-foot factory at the corner of Scranton Road and Auburn Avenue in Tremont to 5777 Grant Avenue in Slavic Village.
 
Ohio Awning vice president William Morse says of the company's former space, "it's just a gorgeous building with hardwood floors and big redwood beams and tons of windows. It's also incredibly inefficient," he adds, citing the drafty windows and the structure's antiquated four-story layout. With welding on one floor and sewing on another, there was much inefficient labor usage, including hand-carrying materials and finished products up and down stairs.
 
"To bring a 40-foot awning down the stairs really got to be inconvenient," says Morse. "It’s a couple hundred pounds. It took six to eight guys."
 
Hence their new 110,000-square-foot single-floor space makes life a lot easier, although they're only occupying about 65,000 square feet of it. They intend to lease another 40,000 square feet and also plan to open a 4,000-square-foot showroom mid-summer, where customers can view awning samples, touch and feel different fabrics and see an electronic rendering of their future awning, provided they bring a photo of their home.
 
"We'll have the ability to put it up on a television and add the awning to the picture," says Morse. "We can design your awning in our showroom."
 
The company purchased the Grant Avenue property last November for $1.05 million. Chase Optical built the structure in 1960 and expanded it in 1978. The last occupant began a build out, but then vacated the property, fortuitously leaving it in move-in condition for Ohio Awning.
 
The company's old digs will continue on as a landmark in the historic South Scranton neighborhood, with a stunning transformation that will make the 1893 structure, well, brand new. The group that brought the Fairmont Creamery project to fruition, Sustainable Community Associates, secured a $1.7 million state tax credit, which will help to realize more than 50 apartments and 10,000-square-feet of office space in the old Wagner factory. Vintage photos and project updates are available at the Wagner Awning Building's Facebook page.
 
Morse's father, Andrew, purchased the company in 1995 shortly after the name had changed from Wagner Awning to Ohio Awning and Manufacturing. While Morse has no flashy plans to celebrate the company's 150th birthday, he notes the history that's unfurled over the years, including a slew of military contracts going back through both World Wars and even to the Civil War. There were gentler events as well.
 
"We've got a bunch of old scrapbooks with old pictures of the tents we used to put up in the  '30s and '40—for the Hanna wedding and the Ernst wedding and somebody's debutante ball and this party and that party … just gorgeous old tent structures."
 
Some of the dance floors that went inside those tents have been transformed into desks in the company's offices and even a conference table for Ohio Awning's new location.
 
"The amount of history, all the different things we've been involved in," says Morse, "it's a little bit overwhelming to think of all the things we've done."
 
And while Ohio Awning and its employees will miss the Scranton Road location, Morse is happy to know it's headed for a new incarnation.
 
"It is in good hands. The character and just that nice feeling of the building will be maintained. I think it was a little wasted on us just because people were too busy working. A whole lot more people will be able to enjoy it."

First residents jump into Solarize Cleveland

"We're thrilled," says Barbara Hermes of the 23 new solar panels that grace the roof of her Parma home. The installation was completed just last week.
 
Hermes and her husband Rudy are two of the area's first residents to take advantage of Solarize Cleveland, an all-in-one program that allows homeowners to enter their address online and build a virtual solar installation that's custom to their home, complete with an estimate of their prospective energy savings.
 
"This is solar made easy for homeowners," says Mandy Metcalf, director of the Affordable Green Housing Center at Environmental Health Watch (EHW), which is helping to promote the program. "The program will walk you through all the options so you can make an educated decision."
 
Endorsed by both the World Wildlife Fund and Sustainable Cleveland 2019, Solarize Cleveland is administered by the national firm Geostellar, which aims to lower costs to homeowners with bulk purchasing power for the solar panels, inverters and mounting racks.
 
"They've got the cost of solar down to about $3.5 a watt," says Metcalf. "It's starting to make sense for more people."
 
Per Metcalf, the average residential installation costs between $10,000 and $20,000. Thirty percent of that, however, comes back as a direct rebate via a federal tax credit. Owners of energy generating solar panels may also sell Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), a market driven commodity. RECs in Ohio, however, have taken a hit on the market due to Ohio Senate Bill 310, which, per Cleveland.com, "(froze) state rules requiring electric utilities to sell more power generated by wind and solar." Governor Kasich signed SB310 into law last June.
 
If panels produce more energy than the homeowners use, they can sell the surplus back to the grid.
 
"I just love watching that meter," says Rudy of his new system.
 
Geostellar also offers financing options and arranges installation with one of four local contractors: Bold Alternatives, YellowLite, Third Sun Solar or Appropriate Applied Technologies.
 
While the program kicked off last November, the harsh winter months tend to eclipse the idea of a solar panel installation for most people. To date, the Hermes and one Cleveland Heights resident have committed to the program, although ten others are in the fulfillment process, which includes final design, permitting and/or financing. Approximately 100 people have pursued the program by establishing a solar home profile.
 
"The theory is that when it starts to get warm and sunny," says Metcalf, "people start to think about solar."
 
The Hermes are well beyond the thinking stage. The couple expects to see an energy savings of 60 percent on their future electric bill courtesy of the panels, which will generate up to six kilowatts per hour.
 
"We strongly believe in green technology," says Barbara. "Even on this relatively cloudy day, we're gathering sun. We hope that we will inspire other people in our neighborhood and in our community to follow suit."

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress announces finalists for Vibrant City Awards

On April 28, 2015, Cleveland’s community development industry will gather at the Victory Center, 7012 Euclid Avenue, to recognize the accomplishments of its colleagues and organizations with seven awards during the first annual Vibrant City Awards luncheon.
 
Event host Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will present the inaugural Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award along with six other awards recognizing an array of community development efforts.
 
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our organization to convene the community development industry alongside city stakeholders and recognize successful neighborhood revitalization efforts," says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of CNP. "The Vibrant City Awards lunch continues a tradition of celebrating our collective accomplishments and enlisting new city advocates and champions."
 
"This is a celebration of the city—a celebration of the neighborhoods—and all are welcome," adds CNP's director of neighborhood marketing Jeff Kipp. "Obviously, community development stakeholders will be there, but this is part of our efforts to build up the core base of ambassadors and advocates and champions of city living. So anyone who has any role in that, from a resident to a store owner to a corporate executive, we want them to feel welcome to attend."
 
Response to the event has been brisk.
 
"We are very pleased that over 400 people have registered so far," says Kipp, adding that the capacity of the venue is 500.
 
While the recipient of the Morton L. Mandel award, which recognizes an individual who has had a profound impact in the community development field, will be announced at the ceremony, here is a synopsis of the six other community development awards and the associated finalists.
 
The three finalists for the Neighborhood Branding and Marketing Award include the Downtown Cleveland Alliance for its “You and Downtown” video, the Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation for the Take a Hike Tour offering and Tremont West Development Corporation for its Gay Games 9 Neighborhood Marketing campaign.
 
Finalists for the Community Collaboration Award include Kamm’s Corners Development Corporation and Bellaire Puritas Development Corporation for their efforts on the One West Park Visioning Study; the Ohio City, Inc., Tremont West Development Corporation and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization; for their collaboration on the Near West Recreation effort; the Campus District Inc. for its Banner Up! project; and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization/Gordon Square Arts District for its innovative collaboration with Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre and an associated capital campaign.
 
The Burten Bell Carr Development for the Market Café and Community Kitchen, the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation for its Small Box Retail campaign, the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation for its Intergenerational Housing initiative and Slavic Village Development for its Slavic Village Recovery project are all finalists for the Community Development Corporation Catalytic Project/Program Award. 
 
Those vying for the Corporate Partner Award include Fairview Hospital for its sustained commitment to the West Park neighborhood, Heinen’s Grocery Store for its successful efforts to realize a full service grocery Downtown at The 9 and Third Federal Savings for its continued partnership and investment in Slavic Village.
 
For his work in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, Mike DeCesare of Case Development is a finalist for the Developer Award, as are Keith Sutton and Dave Territo of Sutton Builders for their efforts to revitalize Tremont, Mark Jablonski of CenterMark Development for his work at Lakeview Road and Superior Avenue and Sustainable Communities Associates partners Ben Ezinga, Josh Rosen and Naomi Sabel for completing the Fairmont Creamery development.
 
Finalists for the Urban Realtor Award include co-owners Keith Brown and Dave Sharkey of Progressive Urban Real Estate for their continued committed to Cleveland neighborhoods and Mark Lastition of the Howard Hanna Ohio City branch for his willingness to partner with developers on new construction and community events.
 
The Vibrant City Awards Lunch is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased via this link. For questions and comments, contact Jeff Kipp at 216.453.1453, or via email.

West Creek Conservancy battles unsustainable development, nurtures our water

Between the ominous headlines detailing the California drought and the algae bloom that shut off Toledo's water last August, virtually every northeast Ohioan has wondered about our own water source. Sure, Lake Erie is plentiful, but is it clean and well managed?
 
The West Creek Conservancy (WCC) is a little-known organization that perhaps ironically, measures its progress in tiny steps backwards with the goal of reclaiming and restoring our water ecosystem.
 
"We took 100 years to develop over them, fill them, move them and trench them," says WCC's executive director Derek Schafer of our waterways. "It's going to take a while to reclaim them. And be a bit more expensive."
 
Founded 15 years ago with the intent of establishing an 80-acre greenspace around the West Creek in Parma, WCC handily achieved that goal and has since been expanding the project, which now covers some 350 acres. In 2006, the Metroparks took over the West Creek Reservation, but WCC continues the expansion with the aim of connecting it to the towpath at two locations, in Valley View and in Cuyahoga Heights.
 
Looking at a map of the burgeoning greenspace, the project may seem unevenly developed, but each intricate parcel is realized when time, planning and funds free it up to become a link in the thoughtful West Creek Stream Restoration and Greenway plan.
 
"We piece it all together," says Schafer, "parcel by parcel, acre by acre: back yards, side yards, right of ways, consolidations … "
 
The latest achievement consists of 10 acres that had been unsustainably developed years ago. Just east of the intersection of East Schaaf and Granger Roads in Independence, what is now a free flowing section of West Creek and its confluence with the Cuyahoga River, which holds up to 100 million gallons of water during flood conditions, formerly housed four acres of parking lot, a giant warehouse, a bank and tavern.
 
"This is such a cool point on the Cuyahoga," says Schafer of the unique riparian feature. "This was a landscape-changing project. We removed 84,000 yards of fill to provide the stream access to flood plane and wetlands. We put in 12,000 plants."
 
Partners on the project, which started in 2007 and has just wrapped up, included the City of Independence and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. While the space is not currently connected to any other green space, plans to eventually link it to the Towpath in neighboring Cuyahoga Heights and to the West Creek Reservation are in the works.
 
Meanwhile, the WCC has set its sites on a project further south that is inching closer and closer to a Towpath connection.
 
The Hemlock Creek Trail will eventually link Normandy High School in Parma all the way to the Towpath in Valley View. It's also a bit-by-bit long-range project, but later this year, WCC hopes to break ground on the section between the Towpath and Route 21 in Independence. The organization has raised $2 million of the $2.5 million price tag. Schafer estimates the work will take 18 months.
 
"This is a daunting trail plan," says Schafer of the Hemlock project, "but we're so close to making it happen. We've got about 80 percent of it bought up."
 
Future parts of the trail will include a section along Interstate 77 and an on-road section on Hillside Road. Other links are already in place.
 
While the WCC's primary focus is on the expansion of the West Creek Reservation, the organization has gained a reputation as a can-do behind-the-scenes entity that gets results when it comes to complex urban land acquisition and usage rights. To that end, the WCC has also acted as a landholder for projects years in the making and Schafer has lent his expertise to an array of area organizations.
 
For instance, LAND Studio enlisted Schafer several years ago to acquire a tricky acre surrounding industrial railroad for the Lake Link Trail, as well as aerial rights for an associated pedestrian bridge that's slated for installation at the press time of this article.
 
"Trail plans are great, but you have to have the acquisition, the restoration, the connection and the management," says Schafer. "You have to have awesome community partners," of which WCC has had too many to list, but they include area municipalities, the Metroparks, the NEORSD and a host of state and federal entities as well as private donors.
 
Other diverse projects on which WCC has partnered include the Kinsman Farm, which is an innovative urban agricultural endeavor, the historic Henninger House Restoration and the Treadway Creek Trail project, which connected Old Brooklyn to Cuyahoga Hts.
 
Tagging the West Creek along with the Rocky River, Mill Creek, Big Creek, Tinker's Creek and others, Schafer says, "We're impacting all these tributaries. Suburban and urban waterways all drain to the Cuyahoga and the Cuyahoga drains to Lake Erie." In the end, Mother Nature's original design is the best for this delicate ecosystem, despite our well-meaning (and often disastrous) efforts to alter it.
 
"Flooding is natural," notes Schafer. "We've made it unnatural. We've put our developments in the way of the waterways. We've really got to look at removing unsustainable development and letting our streams and rivers breathe."
 
"They need to breathe."

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."
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