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Challenge along the North Coast: maintaining momentum of 2016

Few people in northeast Ohio would argue that 2016 was Cleveland’s moment in the sun.

The city successfully hosted the Republican National Convention without a hitch. The Cavs became world champions and more than a million people celebrated the victory downtown. The Indians went to the World Series and fought a valiant fight, and the Monsters brought home the American Hockey League Calder Cup.
 
“2016 was an incredible year on so many fronts,” says Michael Deemer, executive vice president of business development for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “Not just to see the city on the national stage for the first time with the RNC, but to see that day in October with game one of the World Series and the Cavs season opening game.”
 
DCA estimates the RNC had a $200 million economic impact on the city, while the NBA finals playoff games contributed $36 million and the World Series brought $24 million. The new Huntington Convention Center also held its own, hosting 440,660 guest last year.
 
Of course the opening of the new $50 million Public Square brought a new reason to come downtown for the many events or just to relax in a new urban green space and people watch.
 
But 2016's memorable events were not the only sign of progress for downtown Cleveland last year. This month, the DCA released its 2016 Annual Report, indicating many people are choosing downtown to live, work, play and visit.
 


“The decision was made 10 years ago to form the DCA that set us on the course we’re on,” says Deemer. “We’ve worked with businesses, the RTA, to create innovative transportation and provided historic tax credits — all of those things working in tandem over the last 10 years created this environment.”
 
According to the report, downtown’s residential population is more than 14,000 — a 77 percent increase since 2000. Residential occupancy remained at 95 percent for the sixth consecutive year in the 6,198 market rate apartments and 880 condominiums.
 
More than 2,000 apartments were added downtown over the past six years, according to the report, with another 1,000 expected to come online in 2017 and more than 3,000 planned by the end of 2019. Deemer says he expects to downtown population to surge to 16,000 by the end of this year.
 
“2017 is shaping up to be a big year,” Deemer says of the residential growth.
 
Furthermore, Class A office space is at a 17 percent vacancy rate, with that number expected to dip below 10 percent in the next couple of years on account of new business and vacant office buildings being converted into apartments, says Deemer.
 
With the growing population comes new business to serve those residents. More than 30 new retailers opened for business in 2016 — 18 new restaurants and bars and 15 stores.  “We’re seeing a lot more resident-oriented businesses come in downtown, like Monica Potter Home, J3 Clothing and Cleveland Clinic Express Care,” says Deemer. “We continue to have a terrific restaurant and food scene.”
 
The residential population growth goes hand-in-hand with a highly qualified workforce living downtown, says Deemer, providing employers with a young, well-educated and diverse talent pool to draw from. Drilling down the numbers, downtown Cleveland ranks fifth nationally in the percentage of 25- to 44-year-olds in the labor force; seventh in the number of immigrants with four year degrees; and tenth in the number of candidates with advanced degrees.
 
Today, 95,000 people work downtown, with 70 employers leasing 1,213,141 square feet of office space and 6,932 jobs created or retained in 2016.
 
Furthermore, with Cleveland’s great healthcare presence, Cuyahoga County ranks fifth nationally in health services employment. Pair that with the number of quality secondary education institutions, and Cleveland becomes a lucrative place for employers to recruit talent.
 
“I think what I’m most excited about is the job growth because that’s what make everything else sustainable,” says Deemer. “As we lose the older, less skilled workers, they’re being replaced by younger, highly skilled and educated workers. Momentum begets momentum and as millennials find it an attractive place, more will follow. Cleveland is becoming the kind of place that already has great talent. Downtown in particular is becoming a place for young, skilled workers who want to live here and walk to work.”
 
RTA contributed to Cleveland’s transformation by working with the DCA on a accessible transportation. “We’re created an infrastructure of transportation options, complete with things like the free trolley to business and entertainment centers and hotels,” says Deegan.
 
Three new hotels — the Kimpton Schofield, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown and the Drury Plaza Hotel — contributed almost 1,000 new rooms for visitors to the city, further encouraging tourism.


 
Deemer cites the extension of Federal and Ohio Historic Tax Credits programs as critical to continued growth. “These have been an important tool to attract businesses to invest in downtown Cleveland,” he says, adding that the credits also help grow the residential market and get rid of unoccupied office space.
 
Transportation is another key factory in attracting millennials, says Deemer, who tend to forego car ownership and rely more on public transportation and walking.
 
“We have to make sure we’re offering a full variety of transportation options to millennials and generations beyond that,” he says. “We have to make sure we stay ahead of the curve on transportation. And we still need to grow our residential population. Office space has to be filled and we have to connect the neighborhoods with downtown.”

It all boils down to sustaining momentum.

“Most importantly, we cannot become complacent,” says Deemer. “We’ve had boom and bust cycles in the past. We must recognize the work we are doing, but keep working with partners.”

Wizard World lands in Cleveland with Rocky Horror, costumes and stranger things

Thousands of pop culture fans will descend upon the Cleveland Convention Center next week to attend the notorious Wizard World Comic Con’s 15-stop tour.

Running Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19, this year marks the third consecutive year that Wizard World has come to Cleveland. Each year, fans attend the weekend-long event to show off their costumes, meet celebrities, tour more than 100 vendors and exhibitors and attend workshops centered around topics such as cosplay, zombies, the Simpsons and super heroes.
 
“Everyone wants to be themselves,” says Wizard World PR manager Jerry Milani of the characters attendees become. “Wizard World is the place to come out and be themselves.”
 
Highlights of this year’s Wizard World include guest appearances by Anthony Mackie of Avengers, Captain America; Jennifer Carpenter from the cast of Showtime’s Critically-acclaimed serial murder series Dexter; Millie Bobby Brown of the Netflix original series Stranger Things; and Loren Lester and Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series. Locals will enjoy saying hello to Ted Sikora, creator of Apama – The Undiscovered Animal and Cleveland's resident superhero.
 
KISS fans will appreciate a guest appearance by the band’s front man Gene Simmons, who will be on hand for photographs and autographs before performing at the Agora on Saturday, March 18. “It’s an opportunity to meet him and also hear him on the concert side,” says Milani.
 
The concert will be followed by a Wizard World After Party, also at the Agora.
 
Saturday night screenings of cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a popular addition to the lineup from last year. This year, Rock Horror star Barry Bostwick will be in Cleveland and local shadow cast group Simply His Servants will be acting out the movie in tandem with the screening.
 
"It's a new, kind of different format for us,” says Milani of the screening and shadow cast.
 
Perennial favorite Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame will be in Cleveland all weekend. “She’s science fiction royalty,” proclaims Milani of the 84-year-old actress. “She’s really something else. She’s just a must-meet for so many people.”
 
Between 100 and 150 exhibitors will sell unique and hard-to-find items, says Milani, while replicas of famous cars from movies and television shows will also be displayed. Popular vehicles include the Batmobile, the Sanford and Son salvage truck and the Ghost Busters Ecto-1.
 
Guest from the comic strip and cartoon world include Simpsons illustrator Phil Ortiz, who is known to draw Wizard World attendees as Simpsons characters; Muppet Babies creator Guy Gilchrist; and Ren and Stimpy illustrator Bob Camp.
 
Saturday night is capped off with a costume contest, judged by professional cosplayers.
 
"There's a little bit of everything," says Milani. "We have everything in the world that's pop culture at our shows."
 
Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland runs Friday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets start at $35 for general admission, while three-day passes are $75. VIP packages and tickets to specific events cost more. Admission to Rocky Horror is $15.

New Chagrin Falls Heinen's: "Urban in a suburban setting"

When brothers Jeff and Tom Heinen open their 23rd Heinen’s grocery store — 19 of which in Northeast Ohio and four in Chicago — in pedestrian-friendly Chagrin Falls next week, residents are sure to be pleased with not only the quality food offered by the Warrensville Heights-based chain, but also in its convenience.

“I think the number-one thing, is we’re very pleased to have a quality store like Heinen’s come to town and make an investment,” says Chagrin Falls Village mayor Bill Tomko. “With sidewalks everywhere in Chagrin Falls, to have a grocery store where you can walk to is a real plus.”
 
A series of grocery stores have occupied the new Heinen’s space since the Chagrin Falls Shopping Plaza opened in the 1980s, says Tomko, including two original grocers — Mazzulo’s and Fazio’s — and then finally, Russo’s Giant Eagle. Woolworth’s and CVS also occupied a portion of the original space.
 
CVS still remains, and Heinen’s will take over the 26,000 square feet at 20 Shopping Center Plaza that Giant Eagle left in 2014. The store will officially open on Wednesday, March 1 at 10 a.m with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
 
Tomko says the space didn’t quite fit the “big box” approach of Giant Eagle. “It didn’t fit the Giant Eagle format,” says Tonka. “It didn’t really receive the management attention and time it deserved.”
 
Tom Heinen agrees that the store needed work when they took the space over. “We gutted it,” he says of the renovations. “We made it a Heinen’s.”
 
With stores in Pepper Pike and Bainbridge, Tom Heinen says the Heinen's chain has carved a unique place in the far eastern suburbs. “The neighborhood demographic first the way we do business,” he says. “It’s just a good overall fit.”
 
Since 2014, Tomko says residents have been begging for a new grocery store to come into the plaza. “During the vacancy, the biggest complaint we received was ‘why don’t you put in a grocery store,’” he says. “Heinen’s stepped up.”
 
In almost as much time, while the Heinen’s downtown celebrated its grand opening in February 2015, the brothers were already in talks with the plaza owners about leasing space.
 
Tom Heinen calls the new store a bit unique, with narrower aisles and higher shelves than other grocery stores. “It’s kind of urban in a suburban setting,’ he says. “It’s a beautiful store.”
 
In addition to quality food and produce selection, Tomko says Chagrin Falls residents will enjoy Heinen’s emphasis on its ready-made chef-prepared foods and its close proximity. “On those days when you’re tired, you can walk up to the grocery store and get dinner and go home,” he explains. “Or when you’re grilling in the summer and you realize you forgot the ketchup, it’s a huge convenience.”
 
The food offerings fits with the lifestyle brand Heinen’s has created through its culinary team. “We’re always trying to create innovative, health foods,” Tom Heinen says of their offerings.
 
With 48 wines by the glass and 12 beers on tap, customers can also enjoy food and drink while they shop or try one of a series of food and wine classes, pairing seminars and other unique events.
 
Tom Heinen says two large garage doors will open up to curbside dining. “It’s going to be a fun gathering place,” he says, adding that Chagrin Falls has emerged as a popular destination for happy hours, small plates and casual dining. “We think this will be a nice addition to the Chagrin Falls array.”
 
Of course, the new Heinen’s will also offer its standard services, including an in-store butcher with source-verified meats, fresh seafood, quality seasonal and locally-grown produce, an assortment of organic products and a gourmet cheese department.
 
Regular store hours will be 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

PizzaFire spreads across Ohio and beyond

In August 2015, Fresh Water reported on the opening of PizzaFire on Public Square in downtown Cleveland. It was the second such location for the fledgling company. The first was established in Akron the previous October.

Since then, the fast-casual pizza franchise has spread like wildfire.

There are no less than 10 PizzaFires in Northeast Ohio, including eateries in Parma, Woodmere, Rocky River, Strongsville, Fairlawn and Kent. Columbus is home to two PizzaFires, with another in Toledo and one in Kettering, Ohio. There's even a Texas location, which brings the total to 15.

Back in 2015, Ryan Rao, the company's franchise development executive, told Fresh Water that the company had seven more locations in the works with its sights set far beyond that.

"We want to build out the Midwest with 100 units in six years," said Rao in 2015.

Considering they've realized 13 in just 17 months and have 23 new sites in the works listed on their Coming Soon page, with locations slated to bloom from Los Angeles to Long Island and Tampa — the company is well on track to meet that goal.

Fans of Romeo's Pizza won't be surprised to learn that the man behind that long-standing area favorite, Sean Brauser, is also PizzaFire's CEO.

"He really is a pizza genius," said Rao of Brauser. "He's very well recognized for his pizza creativity," he added, citing a host of awards and accolades that Brauser has garnered for his pies and a 2005 appearance on the Food Network's $10,000 Pizza Challenge.

PizzaFire credits its success to its build-your-own pizza model, with six sauce options, including the "Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Sauce," which is concocted from hand-crushed tomatoes, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and Italian herbs and spices. Five different cheeses and 40 fresh toppings round out the selection. Dough is made fresh daily and then let to rest for  24 to 48 hours to allow the flavor to mature.

After customers watch their pizza get built, the pies are baked in a domed brick oven that reaches 800 degrees and can turn out a pizza in less than three minutes.

"You throw that pizza in there," says Brauser of his ovens in a company video, "that dough immediately starts to cook."

He continues, "I really want [our customers] to get an authentic Italian pizza experience and then be able to customize it exactly the way they want it."

Hungry? Of course the Public Square location is open for business at 236 Euclid Ave., and PizzaFire also has deals in the works for University Circle, Mayfield and Broadview Heights.

Dinner-for-two, prix fixe specials and competitions in 56 local eateries for weeklong event

The 10th annual Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week will kick off this Friday, Feb. 17, in a 10-day competition between downtown restaurants for the title of Restaurant of the Year, as well as a chance for diners to shake off the winter blues and get out to enjoy discounts at some of Cleveland’s best and newest restaurants.

“The whole reason we produce Downtown Restaurant Week at this time of year is because February tends to be a slower month,” says Heather Holmes, marketing and public relations director of event host Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “It gives people the opportunity to get out to downtown and try something new.”
 
Fifty-six downtown restaurants will participate in Restaurant Week this year — with both the old favorites and some newcomers to the scene — and will offer prix fixe lunch and dinner menus for $15, $20 and $40.
 
“Some of the restaurants even use those prices for dinner-for-two specials,” says Holmes, adding that Rose’s Braai in the Arcade plans to offer a two-for-$15 lunch special. Many newcomers, like Parker’s Downtown in the Kimpton Schofield, Nuevo Cleveland, Raving Med and the Burnham — just to name a few of the 12 new restaurants that opened downtown last year — will also be participating.
 
Another newcomer, Chicago’s Chicken and Waffles, at 1144 Prospect Ave. in Playhouse Square, chose not to participate this year.
 
This year, local chefs and restaurateurs in six districts — Public Square/Tower City, Gateway, Playhouse Square, Campus District, Warehouse District and the Flats — will also compete in The Hungry Games: Battle of the Districts for the title of Best Dining District.
 
"It’s a fun thing for the chefs to get behind, and what’s better than a little friendly competition” says Holmes of the battle. “I thought it would be fun to see the Zach Bruell [places] bringing their game and competing against the Michael Symon places.”
 
The winning district earns bragging rights, says Holmes, as well as a mention in an upcoming issue of Cleveland Magazine.
 
Other categories during Restaurant Week are Judge's Choice, Best New Restaurant and Restaurant of the Year. Diners can view the participating restaurants and their menus, as well as vote for their favorites. For every vote cast, diners earn a chance to win free downtown dining for a year.
 
Last year, judges chose Johnny's Downtown as their favorite, while diners picked Elements Bistro and Cleveland Chop took home Restaurant of the Year. The Rusty Anchor at Music Box Supper Club claimed the award for “most mouthwatering,” says Holmes.
 
Additionally, DCA will host a kick-off party this Thursday, Feb. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Cleveland in the Arcade, 401 Euclid Ave. Attendees can sample selections from more than 30 participating restaurants, enjoy cocktails from the cash bar and shop the Arcade’s retailers.
 
“Sponsors will parachute gifts off the balconies,” promises Holmes, and a panel of celebrity judges will name the Judge’s Choice establishment.
 
Tickets are $25, with all proceeds going to DCA’s GeneroCity Cleveland, an organization dedicated to helping the city’s homeless population find permanent housing, get job training and other assistance. The Kick-off party is for people ages 21 and older.

New hope for historic Scofield Mansion restoration

The 1898 dilapidated mansion of renowned Cleveland architect Levi Scofield is about to get a makeover and a new chance to become a crown jewel of the Buckeye Woodhill neighborhood, thanks to the valiant efforts of the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS), Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and a team of volunteers.

Scofield’s vacant historic home, tucked away at 2438 Mapleside Road, has fallen into disrepair over the past two decades.

“It’s in a forgotten corner of this neighborhood, in an area you wouldn’t normally go to,” says CRS president Kathleen Crowther. “It’s like a haunted house. But if it’s restored and sold, it could be a showcase for the city and could really turn this neighborhood around.”
 
That optimism is why the CRS formed a blue ribbon task force last year with the hope of saving and restoring the home. “This is a last-ditch effort on this property,” Crowther says, noting the structure has been flagged for potential demolition. “It’s completely open to the elements, kids can get in there. It’s horrible. It’s now or never.”
 
Despite the repairs needed because of vandals and exposure, Crowther says the house is structurally sound. “The stone is Berea sandstone, the wood is hard as steel,” she says, adding that the original slate roof is still intact. “The wood that was used back then was hard, dense lumber. The building was very well-built.”
 
Saving the mansion is now looking like a possibility, as the property could be signed over to the Land Bank as earlier as the end of this week, says Justin Fleming, director of real estate for Neighborhood Progress.
 
The move was made possible through a legal deal in which the current owner agreed to donate the property to the Land Bank in exchange for the court waiving $55,000 on back property taxes. In turn, the Land Bank has agreed to hold the property for two years while Neighborhood Progress and the task force try to save the house.

“We’ve been working on it in earnest since last spring and not it’s really all hands on deck,” says Fleming of the effort. “This gives us time to clean it out, stabilize it and secure the house and really set the stage for what could happen.”
 
When Scofield, who is best known in Cleveland for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Public Square and the Schofield Building, now the Kimpton Schofield on E. 9th, was looking to move to the country in the late 1890s, he bought six acres of land on a bluff overlooking the Fairmount Reservoir and built the 6,000-square-foot, three-story Victorian home.
 
“It was designed in a very picturesque setting to overlook the city,” says Crowther. “He built it in a bucolic area to have magnificent views of the city.”
 
After Scofield’s death in 1917, his family remained in the house until 1925. Over the years the house served as a chapel, a convent, and finally a nursing home until 1990. Sometime in the 1960s, a second building was erected on the land as an extension of the nursing home.
 
Both buildings stood vacant and went into disrepair since 1990. In 2011 a buyer, Rosalin Lyons, bought the property for $1,400 at a foreclosure auction, thinking she was just buying the 60s building. But the sale included the mansion, according to Fleming.
 
“I can understand the thought process on the building because it has really good bones,” he says. “But Lyons was in way over her head and nothing ever happened to either property.”
 
Crowther says the owner had plans to transform the property into a rehab center, but nothing every came of it and Lyons ended up in housing court. “She had dreams of doing something good for the community there but that dream needed money,” Crowther says. “She was between a rock and a hard place.”
 
Now members of the task force are making preparations for stabilization work on the house as soon as they get the word the transfer is complete. “The clean-out, the stabilization and securing of the house really sets the stage for what could happen,” proclaims Fleming. “Let’s save the asset.”
 
Three companies have already committed their time, labor and services to stabilize the house, says Crowther, who calls the process “mothballing,” which means preserving the property for future renovations.
 
Joe DiGeronimo, vice president of Independence-based remediation company Precision Environmental, has pledged to clean up both the mansion and a 1960s building built on the property. The DiGeronimo family has roots in the neighborhood, says Crowther, and has an interest in revitalizing the community.
 
“They have been heroes in this endeavor,” says Crowther of Precision Environmental.
 
Steve Coon, owner of Coon Restoration and Sealants in Louisville, Ohio, sits on the CRS board of trustees and has committed to roof and wall stabilization as well as masonry work. Cleveland-based SecureView will measure all of the doors and windows and fit them with the company’s patented clearboarding—clear, unbreakable material. The help is a relief for proponents of the renovation.

“In the beginning we were knocking out heads because we didn’t know what to do—there were so many pieces, all moving at the same time,” says Crowther of the project. “But inch by inch, we got somewhere.”
 
Crowther says CRS continues to raise money for the project. Once the building is stabilized, CRS and Neighborhood Progress will figure out the next steps in saving the house, marketing it and selling it. Both Crowther and Fleming say there is no concrete plan yet for the final outcome of the project, but they say they are pleased with the initial progress.
 
“I think it illustrates what can happen with lots of partners willing to come in and do something,” Crowther says.
 
John Hopkins, executive director of the Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation and task force member, says he sees restoring the Scofield Mansion as beneficial for the neighborhood in three ways.
 
“It would bring stability for the neighborhood,” says Hopkins. “It would not just stabilize the building, but stabilize the neighborhood. Second is the economic impact in that it would increase the value of some of the homes around it [the mansion]. Third, there will be a sense of pride in this great building we saved.”
 
Fleming says Neighborhood Progress must next bring in an architect to draft new floor plans for the home, as the originals are lost. “That will help us talk to a tenant,” he explains.
 
Eager to move forward, organizers on the task force are encouraged by the pending transfer.

“They are trying to save it as an anchor and a monument,” Fleming says. “The neighborhood deserves it. The house deserves it.”

Steaks, craft cocktails, raw bar to be amid offerings in spectacular Marble Room

As designers, architects and construction workers hustle to transform the former National City Bank headquarters into Marble Room Steakhouse and Raw Bar, 623 Euclid Ave., owner and manager Malisse Sinito is juggling a variety of tasks.

But Sinito’s priority is to make sure the massive, three story restaurant, lounge and private party areas offer a warms and inviting environment for everyone who enters the magnificent space.
 
“We want guests to feel welcome, above all,” Sinito says. “We don’t want it to feel intimidating or stuffy; but special, comfortable and welcoming.”
 
The Marble Room will be housed in the banking hall of the Garfield Building, originally Guardian Bank and Trust. The space is the second largest banking hall in the world, second only to the massive L-shaped lobby of the 925 Building down the street.
 
The new Marble Room space encompasses nearly 21,000 square feet on three floors. Sinito and her husband, Frank, founder and CEO of Millennia Companies, bought the building two years ago, as well as the adjoining Garfield Building, which was built by two of President James A. Garfield’s sons. The Sinitos also own LockKeepers in Valley View.
 
Transforming the bank into a restaurant has been a daunting $6 million task. “The challenge has been with working with a non-restaurant space—transforming it, yet protecting and preserving its beauty,” Sinito says. “I’m proud of the amazing construction workers that are converting this historic gorgeous bank space into a new restaurant. It amazes me.”
 
Millennia worked with Morris Nathanson Design on the interior design elements of the Marble Room.
 
The 3,500-square-foot vault in the basement will be a private party area, complete with a pool table. In addition to the steel and reinforced concrete, three-foot-thick vault door, Millennia design and construction director Matt Solomon says the area also gives a glimpse into historic bank security measures.
 
“Back then it was high-tech security,” he says, adding that there is a separate ventilation system and “significant” vault door combinations, among other features. “The vault has view ports to see under the vault floor, lest someone digs underneath.”
 
Patrons to the private vault party area will also have private access through a hallway off of Vincent Avenue.
 
When guests enter through the restaurant’s front entrance on Euclid, they will be greeted by the 8,627-square-foot main dining room, which is flanked by two, 400-square-foot cocktail areas.
 
“They will have comfy couches and seating,” says Sinito of the lounges, adding that they plan on offering signature cocktails. “You don’t have to come in and have a steak, you can just have a glass of wine.”
 
A long bar will line one side of the main dining room. Behind the bar will be a two-story wine cellar, accessible by staff with a switch-back stair on the side wall.
 
A raw bar will be on the other side, featuring oysters, sushi and other items. The main menu will feature prime steaks, fish and “interesting” side dishes, says Sinito, although she says they are still working out those details.
 
LockKeepers executive chef Alberto Leandri will head up the cuisine. “We will be hiring an executive chef for Marble Room who will open alongside chef Leandri, promises Sinito, “so chef Leandri can stay very involved at LockKeepers.”
 
Booths will line the rest of the main dining room, with tables filling the center space. The Marble Room will seat 125.
 
Sinito says that timely service in the large restaurant was a concern. “We had to make sure we addressed service issues so guests wouldn’t have to wait,” she explains. So the main dining area was configured with smaller spaces within the room.
 
Overlooking the main dining room is a small balcony, which Sinito has wired for sound and may feature live entertainment.
 
To be sure, sound was one of the major issues around creating a restaurant in the former bank space. With its cathedral ceilings and marble floors, stairs and columns, noise tends to bounce around. Sinito is addressing the acoustics with planned ivory draperies cascading from the marble pillars and sound-absorbing wall tiles fashioned from teal fabric. Wood floors will also address the issue, as will colorful and funky carpeting. “It’s fun, playful and not too serious,” Sinito says of the contemporary animal-print carpet.
 
The 3,794-square-foot kitchen is in the rear of the space, with another lower level prep kitchen for the raw bar.
 
A marble staircase leads to a private banquet space for up to 150 guests, while the second floor in the front of the building will house 1,789 square feet of private dining space within three rooms. One of the rooms—the former office of the bank chairman—is entirely paneled in mahogany.
 
The third floor will house the restaurant’s administrative offices.
 
The team will incorporate a lot of the bank's history into the overall décor, Solomon says, with old ink bottles, a document stamping machine and other banking office tools on display as design accents. He says they are also considering displaying the original, hand-drafted floor plans.
 
Both Sinito and Solomon say they are in the middle of the entire project—the part that is always the hardest. “Getting decisions made as conditions are revealed are expected surprises,” Solomon says.
 
But Sinito says the work is worth it. “It’s still early on and the fun is yet to start,” she says. “I think the highlight will be when the vision starts to become a reality.”  

Otani Noodle expands menu, eyes second location

Joyce Luo is a self-proclaimed foodie. She’s lived all over the world and is always watching for new trends in dining. Now that she's landed in Cleveland, her radar is on the 216.
 
“I’m really picky for food,” she says. “I’ve lived in Hong Kong and California, so I’m really picky on food. And I love to eat.”
 
That particularity is what prompted Luo, her son Jacky Ho and business partner Janet Yee to open Otani Noodle, 11472 Euclid Ave. in University Circle Uptown last June.
 
“We could foresee that ramen is a trend. It’s so popular in the big cities like New York, Chicago and Toronto,” says Yee. “We travel a lot and been to those ramen places.”
 
The trio was correct in predicting the trend would take off in Cleveland—especially in a neighborhood nestled amid academic and cultural institutions and two major hospitals. Otani Noodle's popularity has taken off, especially with the lunch time crowds, says Luo.
 
“Lunch is really busy,” says Luo. “When you have [just] an hour, you don’t have to wait too long.”
 
Customers line up in the 750-square-foot restaurant for the traditional Japanese ramen: pork- or miso-based broth with noodles and then topped with pork, chicken or seafood. The dish is nothing like the grocery store ramen noodles that's a life-sustaining staple for so many college students, notes Luo, laughing.
 
“We’re doing well,” says Yee. “American people like noodles.” Luo adds, “Young people love this because it’s new.”
 
An open kitchen offers a direct view of the food prep while customers walk up to the counter and place their orders. The dining room has more than two dozen high-top tables. Take-out and some third-party delivery round out the options.
 
“It’s colorful,” says Luo of the striking red and black interior. “It’s a traditional Japanese theme.”
 
The menu offers 10 options, one of which is vegetarian. The most popular, both Yee and Luo say, is the pork belly with tonkotsu soup (broth made from pork bones) and noodles, topped with scallions, kikurage mushroom, seaweed and seasoned boiled egg. Prices range from $7.95 to $11.95.
 
In the scant seven months since opening, Otani's success has prompted the owners to start a search for a second location downtown. They've also added four donburi rice bowls to the menu just this week, because “I think it’s a good thing to add,” says Luo.
 
The partners are no strangers to operating restaurants and sensing food trends. Yee's family opened the Otani Japanese Restaurant in Mayfield Heights in 1978 and offered up sushi to the established meat-and-potato Cleveland crowd. But it caught on, as did the hibachi style entrees and noodle dishes. “We’ve served ramen for as long as we’ve been here,” Yee says of the Mayfield location. “But we never tried to boast about it. Our customers say we have the best sushi around.”
 
Luo also has a long food history She owned an American deli in Euclid before joining the Otani Mayfield team.
 
Yee says they had planned on offering sushi at the Uptown noodle shop, but ultimately decided against it because next door, Zack Bruell’s Dynomite Burgers, already had it on the menu.

The Otani team opted to be a good neighbor instead of a competitor.
 

Trending Downtown: loft office space

Residential development in downtown Cleveland is going gangbusters, attracting the working millennial crowd and empty nesters alike. And much of the action is playing out in the city’s historic buildings.
 
The growth has interesting side effects. According to Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s fourth quarter Cleveland Office Market report, the conversions of vintage office and industrial buildings in the Central Business District (CBD) to apartments has effectively dropped the office vacancy rate in the fourth quarter of 2016 to 24 percent for class B office space and 22.4 percent for class C. Overall combined vacancy in the CBD is 19.9 percent.
 
However, Terry Coyne, vice chairman of commercial real estate for Newmark points out the vacancy is even lower when Newmark’s office space Zombie Report is factored in. The report does not include vacant space that is currently being renovated and off the market. Omitting these offices brings the vacancy rate down to 18.2 percent for class B and 15.4 percent for class C space.
 
Eleven such buildings are omitted in the Zombie Report because they are being converted to apartments or are functionally obsolete, Coyne says, including the Tower at Erie View, the Halle Building, the former Cleveland Athletic Club and the Standard Building, among others.
 
Part of the reason the office vacancies are declining is attributable to unoccupied office buildings being converted to apartments, says Coyne. And while he admits that the downtown living trend is encouraging for Cleveland, he says landlords and developers should also be thinking about converting downtown office space.
 
A new generation of offices
 
A new generation of workers are living and working downtown with educated millennials drawn to the city’s core. They are enamored by Cleveland’s history and its historic buildings, says Coyne. As residential living grows, he notes, so must attractive office space.
 
“It is not just millennials who like to live near their offices,” explains Coyne, adding that at one time residences and businesses were more centered in Cleveland suburbs. “People historically like to live near their offices. The difference is the offices are now moving downtown where the people live.”
 
The next generation of workers are driven to employers with what Coyne calls “cool loft office space,” which is often characterized by historic buildings with high ceilings, exposed brick and wood floors reminiscent of the structure’s original purpose.
 
“I believe there is great demand for loft office space and I think the numbers show it,” says Coyne, suggesting that as downtown buildings are converted to apartments, conversion into loft offices should not be forgotten.
 
“The overall health of the market is being driven by conversions,” explains Coyne, adding that the apartment conversions have stabilized. “The annual net absorption of office space in 2016," he also notes, "was approximately 254,000 square feet. However, the absorption for cool office space is currently keeping pace with supply.”
 
Leading the way
 
The successful developers downtown have noticed this change and are following suit with their developments. Coyne cites Tyler Village, 3615 Superior Ave., as one perfect example.  
 
Graystone Properties spotted this trend when they decided to convert the former Tyler Elevator building at East 36th Street and Superior Avenue, which they had owned since the 1970s, into loft office space,” says Coyne. “Without the use of tax credits, Graystone repurposed this million-square-foot-plus property into a neighborhood of retail, office and warehouse.
 
“The development is performing so well they are now able to charge for indoor parking in an area of town where parking is free and abundant,” he adds.
 
Coyne also cites the 1903 Caxton Building, 812 Huron Road, as another success story. “The leader in this trend—the Caxton Building—has seen an increase in rents over the past year for both parking and office that other landlords can only dream about,” he says. Quantifiably, the Caxton has seen a 90 percent occupancy rate over the past 10 years, according to commercial real estate broker Gardiner and Associates.
 
Meanwhile, Quicken Loans’ Cleveland offices garnered acclaim for its 2016 move into 81,000 square feet of space on the fourth and fifth floors of the Higbee Building at 100 Public Square. The company preserved much of the original architectural elements and historic nature of the building. Coyne says there is still 90,000 square feet of raw space available in the iconic 1931 art-deco building.

A fourth example is the renovation of the old Sammy’s Building in the Flats. With its views of the river and a rooftop deck, the owners are getting some of the highest rents in the city, Coyne notes.

While he estimates the overall vacancy rate of trendy office space in the CBD to be around 12.6 percent—or 2.9 million square feet—Coyne suggests landlords consider renovating their older buildings for loft-style offices, which drives drown vacancy rates and drives up rental rates.
 
Embracing change
 
Coyne asserts that the days of cubicles, dropped ceilings and wall-to-wall carpeting are gone. “It’s a changing style of office,” says Coyne of the trend towards loft office space. Millennials, he notes, want more of a “SoHo look” in their workspaces. “The market changes and those people want a different style of office.”
 
It’s fairly easy to achieve this look and create a whole new office space, says Coyne, although some buildings are more conducive to it than others. “You can’t convert the KeyBank Tower into a loft building,” he says, “but you can expose the duct work and mimic an older, industrial type building.”
 
Coyne cites  the 1921 925 Building, formerly the Union Trust Building and later the Huntington Building, as being prime for redevelopment into loft space. He adds Hudson Holdings would be wise to consider loft offices in its redevelopment of the 925 Building.

“Overall, these changes in our market present opportunities for both tenants and landlords,” says Coyne. “And understanding these trends helps both sides make better decisions.”

MetroHealth transforms the medical arts with cultural arts

MetroHealth System is focusing on an aspect of healthcare that is sometimes overlooked: the power of the arts in healing.
 
Launched in 2015, MetroHealth’s Arts in Medicine is a cooperative effort to promote healing and create community through both the visual and performing arts. As a result, the hospital walls are adorned with paintings, dance and theater companies regularly perform in various spaces and music fills the hallways and atriums.
 
“There is a direct impact on patients and caregivers when arts is involved in healthcare,” MetroHealth president and CEO Akram Boutros says in this video about the program. “Art is healing, art is hope, art is life. How could you not include art in healthcare?"

MetroHealth Arts in Medicine from MetroHealth on Vimeo.

The budget for art and programming varies by project. Some funding comes through MetroHealth’s operations budget and some comes from the MetroHealth Foundation, while other projects receive donor funding.
 
Linda Jackson, director of the Arts in Medicine program in the Patient Experience office at MetroHealth, says that embedding the visual, performing and therapeutic arts across the MetroHealth system is a great way of accomplishing the hospital’s mission of inspiring a sense of hope, healing and community. She also notes the program's many goals extend throughout the system and beyond.

“First, we use arts to address population and health issues like opioids, gun violence and infant mortality,” she explains. “We want to integrate arts throughout the system – in waiting rooms, with patients and families, in staff and the community and through school health programs," says Jackson. "Cleveland is so rich in culture.”
 
To that end, several members of the stalwart local cultural network are involved including LAND studio, Cleveland Public Theatre, Inlet Dance Theatre, Kulture Kids, Dancing Wheels Company, Cleveland Print Room, Cleveland Ballet, Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Zygote Press, and the Julia De Burgus Cultural Arts Center, among others.
 
Then there is also an extensive list of local individual artists whose work is featured in many of the new buildings in the MetroHealth Transformation Plan, which was revealed in November. The program extends throughout all of MetroHealth’s campuses.
 
Bringing diverse events to those campuses is a high priority. For instance, professional musicians perform on a regular basis, while Cleveland Public Theatre brought its Road to Hope performance to the outpatient center at the main campus. LAND studio worked with Jackson and other MetroHealth officials to curate the art that created the program’s vision.
 
“The three themes that really were prevalent were hope, healing and community,” says Erin Guido, LAND studio’s project manager. “These are the themes that tie in the whole art collection.” For instance, Guido explains that the critical care pavilion reflects poetic abstraction themes, while the Brecksville facility depicts perceptions of the outside world.
 
“There is a very big focus on local artists in Cuyahoga County, but in a purposeful statement,” Guido explains. “While it is a local focus, we’re also incorporating a lot of national and international artists.”

Jackson says the impact is impressive. "It can be as simple as how live music can help an oncology patient relax before an appointment or how, through the performing arts, we can help illustrate the devastating effects of gun violence on our community,” she says. “It's exciting that in just a short time our patients and caregivers are now seeking out our programming and also to know that we are just beginning and so much potential lies ahead.”
 
One component of the program highlights patients who have thrived after hardship. The Faces of Resilience project, shot by Cleveland photographer Paul Sobota last year, includes portraits of 14 MetroHealth patients who have thrived in the face of trauma. This month, the rotating exhibit will be installed in the waiting areas of MetroHealth's NICU and the Burn Care Center and Specialty Services Pavilion.
 
Last year, Community Partnership for Arts and Culture fellow and performance artist Ray Caspio hosted a month-long storytelling workshop with the hospital’s AIDS and HIV community – teaching participants how to tell their stories. The workshop culminated with a performance in the last week.
 
“It has been extraordinary to see the impact of our Arts in Medicine program,” says Jackson. “I witness daily the effect it has on our patients and equally on our staff - and there are so many examples.”
 
Jackson adds that the program has transformed MetroHealth on both physical and emotional levels. “We've brought spaces to life by adding a visual art collection that engages patients and caregivers and transforms an environment,” she says.

“We see how the arts therapies help patients recover and provide empowerment and engagement. Other people have the opportunity to engage in the arts that might never have the experience otherwise.” 

The Foundry adds rowing tanks, attracts thousands

Almost two years ago, nonprofit MCPc Family Charities, and Mike and Gina Trebilcock announced plans for a $9 million transformation of a group of industrial buildings in the Flats into The Foundry – a park, fitness center and boat house designed around fostering youth rowing in Cleveland. The effort has grown into a thriving center for area kids interested in rowing and sailing.

“We’re just beginning, and we’re starting to watch it take off,” says Foundry executive director Aaron Marcovy, adding that the organization now has nearly 250 athletes-in-residence who use the center on a daily basis.
 
The 65,000-square-foot building sits on a 2.7 acre lot at 1831 Columbus Road in the Flats. About 60 percent of the facility encompasses boat storage, while the remaining 40 percent is reserved for programming, workout facilities and locker rooms.
 
The Foundry has already expended $16 million in constructing the state-of-the-art facility, all of which was funded through private donations, Marcovy says. The organization continues to seek out additional grants and sources of capital.
 
The goal is to guide any student interested in rowing or sailing through the basics and, hopefully, to help them garner college scholarships. “We want to introduce the sport of rowing and provide pathways if they fall in love with it – and they usually do,” Marcovy says. “We want to eliminate as many barriers as possible.”
 
The latest addition to the Foundry is two state-of-the-art indoor rowing tanks – allowing for one person to get a rowing workout or as many as 24 to row together.
 
“The [tanks] will certainly be a workout facility, where athletes can get an incredibly intense workout, in addition to learning the basics,” says Marcovy. “These tanks and the whole facility will be open for people to learn about a new sport, become fit and stay healthy, and utilize our greatest resources – the river and the lake.”
 
The tanks, which have 36 seats that sit in moving water pools, were installed and filled last week, and will be a nice addition to both beginners and seasoned athletes year-round. Marcovy quotes one 30-year-old athlete who marveled over the intensity of a rowing workout, noting with belabored breath, “I've done CrossFit for four years, and that was ... that was ... so much harder," after using one of the tanks.
 
Those new additions will also serve the Foundry well for students who are just learning the sport, many of whom Marcovy says don't know how to swim and have never even seen a body of water like the Cuyahoga River or Lake Erie. “The tanks allow students to get acclimated to the rowing stroke before they go out on the water,” he explains.
 
A new parking lot was also poured last week and the Foundry touts a 584-foot dock – the longest on the Cuyahoga River.
 
Other workout equipment includes about 100 Concept2 rowing machines, a battery of free weights, including five racks and five lifting platforms.
 
On the water, the Foundry has 20 rowing vessels and hosts more than 35 other shells that are owned by individual teams-in-residence. Additionally, there are 12 motorized safety boats, most of which are owned by the Foundry.
 
Programming at the Foundry began to take off this past summer, in part through a partnership with the Cleveland Metroparks. After aligning with the Cleveland Youth Rowing Association in 2015, the Foundry has also joined with St. Edward High School rowing, St. Joseph Academy crew, Magnificat High School and the Urban Community School, among other schools in their rowing endeavors.
 
Marcovy says the Foundry hopes to attract even more schools as the organization grows. “We’d love to have school groups, youth groups and schools starting rowing programs,” he says. “Our doors are always open.”
 
The Foundry began a sailing program last summer with one Tartan-10 vessel, twelve 420 class two-person vessels and access to two Boston Whaler safety power boats. The organization operates a competitive youth sailing program out of the Metroparks’ Wendy Park.
 
The Foundry also worked with the Metroparks last summer on a 'Try It' sailing experience, which was free and open to the public at Wendy Park. “It filled up almost immediately,” recalls Marcovy.
 
This past Saturday, Dec. 10, the Foundry hosted the Bricks & Bridges Biathlon, a 10K run through the Flats and a 10K rowing machine race. The winners received real anvils as trophies.
 
On Sunday, Feb. 26 the Foundry will host the U.S. Junior National Team’s identification camp. The team is sending its head coach, Steve Hargis, and his staff to Cleveland to identify talented athletes for potential selection into the U.S. Junior National Rowing Team system.
 
“We hope that this will be a draw for high level adolescent athletes from all over the Midwest,” says Marcovy. “The event centers around a rowing machine test, as well as rowing in the moving water tanks.”  

Mural to bloom at Public Square bakery

Beginning next week, the employees at Bloom Bakery at the 200 Public Square location will tap into their creative juices to paint a 10-foot by 10-foot mural on the walls of the café.

Aiming to connect the arts with business, the project is a joint endeavor between Towards Employment, the non-profit organization dedicated to helping low income and disadvantaged adults achieve self-sufficiency through employment, the founder of Bloom and Negative Space Gallery executive director Gadi Zamir.
 
“We always wanted to do something with the space and tie in art,” explains Bloom general manager Logan Fahey. “This fits with our mission and uses art to represent what the business stands for. Through this mural, employees will be able to gain exposure to the artistic community and help create an artistic expression that is ingrained in Bloom.”
 
Five Bloom employees, all of whom recently came out of incarceration and are graduates of Towards Employment, volunteered to be involved in the project. Bloom employs 18 at its two locations, 16 of which are Towards Employment graduates.
 
“Everything we do is about providing opportunities to our graduates and employees,” says Fahey. “We want this mural to be emblematic of our commitment to providing training and employment opportunities to those with barriers.”
 
The mural is inspired by the painting “Purple Haze” by local artist James March, who specializes in abstract works.
 
Zamir, who is also an artist, will sketch the mural on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 8 and 9. The employees will begin painting it on Monday, Dec. 12. Zamir will help the employees through the process, then touch up the mural when it is complete.
 
Fahey says Towards Employment began talking with Zamir a few months ago about how to motivate the organization’s graduates through the arts. “He really has a passion for helping people with barriers to employment,” Fahey says. “He is an artist who was willing to open up to our graduates and let them into his studio.”
 
More than 6,000 people in Cuyahoga County are released from state prison each year, according to Towards Employment. The organization helps more than 500 of them with finding jobs. The organization helps a total of 2,000 people yearly in Cuyahoga County with its various programs.
 
Bloom Bakery plans two additional murals next year. Fahey says a second mural will be painted in the upstairs area of the Public Square location during the first quarter of 2017, while a mural at the Cleveland State University location – in collaboration with CSU students – is planned for next spring.
 
Bloom opened its bakeries earlier this year as a social enterprise venture.

Construction of Harness Cycle's new downtown location underway in historic Garfield Building

When Anne Hartnett opened Harness Cycle in 2013, her motivation was fueled by her love for spinning and interest in fitness. The cycling studio immediately took off in the Hingetown location, becoming Ohio City’s most popular place for an indoor cycling workout.
 
Now, Hartnett is in the midst of opening her second Harness Cycling studio – downtown in the historic Garfield Building on E. 6th Street and Euclid Avenue, 1965 E. 6th St. In addition to the studio, the new facility will also house a retail shop offering clothing and fitness gear from local makers.
 
“We’re really excited to go into the downtown market and build brand awareness among people who live and work [there],” Harnett says.
 
Hartnett asserts the Harness workout is perfect for people looking to get some exercise on their lunch hours. The 45-minute session incorporates hand weights into a spinning workout, which occurs in a darkened room with music and without computer metrics.
 
“We call it active meditation,” Hartnett explains. “It’s based on heart rate and beat. You’re really getting a full cardio workout. Lunch hour is a great time to unplug, ride for 45 minutes and get an awesome workout – a little reboot.”
 
While looking for a downtown location Hartnett originally eyed at a space in the basement of the Garfield Building before viewing the 5,000-square-foot space on the first floor. “It’s more than double the size of our Hingetown space,” she says, adding that she will have 35 bicycles at first but the space has the capacity for as many as 55.
 
Hartnett fell in love with the historic building and its marble pillars and large windows. While the Hingetown location has a more rustic feel, the new space will be designed more for the downtown clientele. To that end, she's working with John Williams of Process Creative to create a modern studio that embraces the building’s historic architecture.
 
“He has a great way of merging young and old in his architecture,” says Hartnett of Williams, who designed the downtown Heinen’s rotunda. “We’re keeping the integrity of the space and creating a modern studio.”
 
The new, larger location also allows Hartnett to offer men’s and women’s locker rooms with a total of five showers to accommodate clients coming in on their lunch hours. She also plans to use the lobby for collaborations with food entrepreneurs, many of which will stem from the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen.
 
“We want to streamline and create a more full-service experience,” Hartnett says. “Come in on your lunch hour and then grab-and-go lunch.”
 
While Hartnett signed the lease a year ago, construction just began with demolition of walls to make way for restrooms and to create the studio space. While she does not yet have an exact opening date, Hartnett anticipates they will open sometime in March. She plans to employ 15 additional people at the new location.
 
In the meantime, Harness Cycle has been holding CycleLab Tours – pop-up cycling classes at unique venues downtown. Hartnett has already hosted CycleLabs at the Rock Hall and House of Blues. Today, Wednesday, Nov. 30, Harness Cycle will bring out more than 40 bikes at the Cavs’ practice courts inside Quicken Loans Arena from 5 to 7 p.m. Pop-up workouts at CycleLabs last about 45 minutes.
 
While today’s event is sold out with a waiting list, the next one is planned for Friday, Dec. 16 at Whiskey Grade’s Moto showroom in Ohio City, followed by a whiskey tasting by Tom’s Foolery. Future tours are planned in the new year.
 
Hartnett says the CycleLab Tours are at once an introduction for prospective customers to Harness Cycle and a way to do some market research on the downtown clientele. The tours don’t make any money, she says, and each event requires loading, hauling and unloading more than 35 bicycles.
 
“It’s a lot of work, but way worth it,” she notes. “Even if we don’t make money off the event, we spend more for people to learn who we are.”
 
While Hartnett’s original vision with Harness Cycle was to convert the energy used in pedaling into electricity, that dream has been put on hold until the technology is perfected and she has enough studios to make an effective impact on Cleveland’s power grid.
 
“It wouldn’t be cost effective now,” Hartnett explains, “but the goal still is to harness the energy of individuals to keep the sense of community.”

Family shelter opens as first of four Salvation Army capital projects

Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland officially opened its Zelma George Emergency Family Shelter, 1710 Prospect Ave. adjacent to its Harbor Light Complex, on Thursday, Nov. 17. The organization broke ground on the new facility in November 2015.

The new 30,000-square-foot facility replaces the previous shelter housed on two floors in Harbor Light, allowing the Salvation Army to provide better services to homeless families and victims of human trafficking.
 
When it opened earlier this month, Zelma George was already at capacity – housing 116 people, says Harbor Light executive director Beau Hill. The new facility has 35 family units, some of which are handicapped-accessible, and a three-bedroom apartment suite for up to six victims of human trafficking.
 
Hill says the opening went well. “There are still some quirks we need to work out, as with any new building," he says. “It has truly been an answer to the program.”
 
In addition to the living units, there is a flexible multipurpose room, a five-computer area, a common area for residents and staff and a cafeteria.
 
A walkway connects Zelma George and Harbor Light, with a newly-constructed playground in a courtyard. “It’s your typical school playground, with nothing too tall,” says Hill, adding that there’s a slide and a funnel ball structure targeted at elementary school ages.
 
In addition to family-specific programming offered at Zelma George, all of the residents will have access to the programming and services available at Harbor Light. Families can stay at Zelma George for up to 90 while they get back on their feet and find permanent housing.
 
The opening of the shelter marks the first of four construction, expansion and renovation projects being done as part of the Salvation Amy’s $35 million Strength for today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow capital campaign, which launched after a 2012 study showed the need for enhanced services for the more than 143,000 Cuyahoga County residents it serves each year.
 
The three other associated projects include the Cleveland Temple Corps Community Center in Collinwood, which is starting up its operation, says Hill, while the East Cleveland facility should open in January or February. The West Park Community Center expansion will be finished in March or April.
 
Thus far, the organization has raised $32.3 million toward its goal. “We have a little under $3 million to go,” says Hill, who notes the campaign is now in its third year but was only made public a year ago. “We were hoping to be done, but we’re going to keep pushing.”

Rock Hall comes of age, decks out for its 21st birthday

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame turned 20 years old last year, which prompted discussions of a new strategic plan to keep on rockin’ and give the museum an updated look and feel while keeping up with technology.
 
“We’re 21 years old and the inside joke is: ‘We’re of age. What are we going to be when we grow up?’” says Todd Mesek, the Rock Hall’s vice president of marketing and communications. “We’re looking at this with a new set of eyes. It’s about looking at how we can really engage people and make it exciting for everyone.”
 
Achieving that goal means looking at every generation and rock music style. It’s about telling in-depth stories and connecting visitors to the artists and musicians showcased in the museum.
 
“We’re going deeper, telling stories and making it engaging,” says Mesek. “For the Baby Boomers, the Rolling Stones might be an entry point, but we want to take them to Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga – make that connection point. If you’re 17, there are a lot of connections to classic rock – who’s doing it today, who’s carrying on that torch.”

Many of the exhibits will be more interactive, Mesek says, like the new permanent exhibit on the first floor, Backstage Stories, which chronicles how live concerts are produced, or the Paul Simon exhibit that includes film footage of the musician in his everyday life.

“It’s not just the music, the artist, the genre,” says Mesek. “It’s how it crosses over in other parts of their lives.”

The planned Garage Zone, will be a true hands-on experience with an educational element, where visitors can make their own music. “It’s a space where they can touch instruments, pick up a guitar or mix a soundtrack and learn what happens in a mix down,” Mesek explains.

Another future planned project is the Signature Experience, which will combine enhanced inductee exhibits with a signature multimedia presentation production by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme.

The experience will begin before visitors even step inside the Rock Hall, though. The giant Rock Boxes, installed before the Republican National Convention, are now permanent public art pieces lining East 9th Street - AKA Rock and Roll Boulevard - playing music and drawing visitors to the museum.

“It’s a long walk so we wanted the space to really come alive,” says Mesek of the trek down East 9th to North Coast Harbor.

Last Thursday, Nov. 17, the Rock Hall officially dedicated its giant welcome message – seven-foot-high red letters, spelling out LONG LIVE ROCK on the 65,000-square-foot entrance plaza. “People are climbing on them every single day,” says Mesek of the letters. “And they light up at night, adding energy to it.”

The atrium also has a new look, painted red, gold and black. “The red symbolizes the passion and energy of rock and roll; the black represents the edge and grit of rock and roll; while the gold, used sparingly, represents the inductions,” says Mesek.

The museum store has been redesigned to better meet the needs of visitors looking for more than just a souvenir t-shirt, as well as create a better layout with a relaxed atmosphere.

“There’s a place for people to sit down and charge their phones,” says Mesek of the new store, which is also keeping up with the times in a way. “There are fewer CDs, but more vinyl in matching consumer trends. We have lifestyle products that are co-branded with the inductees, like women’s scarves and cool unique t-shirts you’d wear out to a club.”

An “all-access” café, featuring cuisine from local celebrity chefs Michael Symon, Jonathan Sawyer, Rocco Whalen and Fabio Salerno, will offer unique, tasty dining, and no admission ticket is required. Mesek says people are encouraged to dine at the café for a casual lunch or as part of the whole Rock Hall experience.

“They’re so excited,” Mesek says of the chefs involved. “Rocco was joking about changing his name to RockHall. We wanted something that is fresh and forward-thinking.”

By next summer, a permanent stage with new sound and lighting systems will grace the entrance plaza for live entertainment. The popular beer garden and food trucks and plenty of greenspace will also add to the outdoor venue. “Sit down, have a beer, grab something to eat,” Merek says by as a welcome to future visitors. “It just adds to the experience.”

Other improvements include an updated ticketing system, which will speed up on-site and online advance ticket purchases and motorcycle parking.
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