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Closer look: two eco-friendly townhome projects bloom amid urban—and green—settings

Developer Andrew Brickman of Brickhaus Partners create luxury living spaces in Cleveland’s urban areas that are not only eco-friendly, but also provide a park-like setting. So, what better location than along the borders of the Cleveland Metroparks?

The Emerald Necklace is what drew him to his latest projects: 95 Lake at 9508 Lake Road in the Edgewater neighborhood and Riversouth, 18871 Lorain Road in Fairview Park, both of which offer spacious, luxury city living with spectacular views of the Metroparks, as well as easy access to transportation, shopping and nightlife. Riversouth sits on the border of the Rocky River Reservation and Big Met golf course, while 95 Lake overlooks Lake Erie and Edgewater Park.

“We try to be near parks, public transportation,” Brickman says of his projects. “We’re near all the Metroparks”
Furthermore, both developments provide the amenities of city living that is so popular in Cleveland right now—another priority for Brickman.
“I try to develop in the city and inner ring suburbs to stop urban sprawl,” he says. “Because urban sprawl contributes the most to duplication of services. You know, Cleveland’s not getting any bigger, it’s just spreading out. So I’m trying to bring people back to the city.”
In the Edgewater neighborhood, the first residents are scheduled to move into their new townhomes at the end of this month, says Brickman. Seven of the 10 townhomes are sold, he says, with a “lot of interest” in the remaining three units.
Brickhaus broke ground on the project last April, on the site of the former St. Thomas Lutheran Church. The 95 Lake townhomes were designed by architect Scott Dimit, principal of Dimit Architects, as were the 32 units at River South.
The three remaining three-story homes range from approximately 1,800 square feet for a two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath floor plan to a 2,168-square-foot, three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home. Prices range from $499,000 to $649,000 and include 15-year tax abatements.
The townhomes come equipped with attached two-car garages, optional fireplaces and stainless steel, energy-efficient appliances in the kitchen. The furnace and hot water tank are also energy efficient.
Brickman notes that energy efficiency is a standard in all Brickhaus properties, adding that the company’s Eleven River project in Rocky River is the first geothermal multifamily development in Northeast Ohio.
“Energy efficiency is important to us because we’re trying to bring a lifestyle to people, and that involves being a good citizen of the earth,” says Brickman.
Each residence has its own private rooftop balcony, ranging from 250 to 350 square feet and offering great views of the lake and Edgewater, as well as of downtown Cleveland and the neighborhood’s tree canopy.
Many of the residents who have already purchased properties at 95 Lake are local, with one buyer returning to Cleveland from out of town, and others coming from Tremont, Ohio City and Battery Park, says Brickman.
“What they said was they loved the inner ring suburbs and they love this Edgewater area because it’s older,” says Brickman of the typical buyers. “It has character like those other neighborhoods, it’s a mature sort of neighborhood.”
The Edgewater area also offers a sense of security, says Brickman, while still being in the Cleveland city limits.
“They want to be close to everything in those neighborhoods, but this has a different feel to it because we have the single family housing,” Brickman explains. “You’ve got the park and you’ve got lot of owner-occupied houses. These are people who want to be in the city, because it’s still the city.”
Residents will be moving in to 95 Lake through the next few months, says Brickman, with the entire project scheduled for completion by summer.
All but 10 of the 32 townhomes at Riversouth have sold, Brickman says, and all of the site work and landscaping is completed. In addition to the views, he points to the development’s proximity to Kamm’s Corners—a 10 minute walk—and Fairview Hospital as well as access to the biking and hiking trails right outside the door.
“Riversouth is surrounded on three sides by Metroparks,” says Brickman, “so your views are right there.”
The townhomes offer a seven-year tax abatement and range from 1,148 to 2,808 square feet. Prices start at $269,000 and go up to $539,000.
Brickhaus calls Riversouth “Ecohomes,” in that the townhouses are smarthomes with everything from lighting to the sound system integrated through the owner’s smart phone. Of course, everything is energy efficient, has bamboo floors, private decks and balconies, and two-car insulated garages.
Outside, like all Brickhaus properties, the landscape is planted with native perennial plants that do not require irrigation. A dry basin storm water retention system keeps everything in check.
“We expect to win awards for the landscaping and the creativity in which it was handled,” says Brickman of the storm water retention system at Riversouth.
In keeping with its commitment to develop in Cleveland and stop urban sprawl, Brickman says there are a few more urban projects on the horizon for Brickhaus. It’s what he loves to do.
“It’s a lot easier to develop a cornfield out in Avon because you don’t have any neighbors to deal with than it is to develop in an existing neighborhood,” explains Brickman. “Because you have the neighbors to deal with, and they don’t want change, and the guy next door doesn’t want to be living next to construction.

"It’s probably the most difficult kind of development you can do but to me, it’s been pretty satisfying.”

From West Africa to West Boulevard: an artist's journey

Born in Accra, Ghana, West African artist Harry Larweh uses African mahogany and Rosewood for his craft. He reimagines the beautiful wood into meticulously carved tables, wall hangings, chairs and both small and enormous works of art. Touring the vast inventory throughout his garage and backyard workshop in his West Boulevard neighborhood home, Larweh explains a simple premise for his artistic process, “All these creations, I see the wood and I just start creating.”
Young and with a passion to travel, Larweh moved from Ghana to Holland where he met his wife. In Holland, Larweh continued to explore his love of woodworking. Visits to antiques shops and galleries reaffirmed a passion that he'd nurtured his entire life.

“I didn't realize when I started, I just grew up doing it,” Larweh notes of his journey into the arts. After a decade in Holland, Larweh returned to Ghana and then finally made the move to Cleveland to be with his wife, who had moved to Ohio to be closer to family.
Most of Larweh's family still remains in Ghana, and his passion for his homeland is apparent. “I am a self taught artist," he says. "I have very good people back home.” After an eight-week visit earlier this year, Larweh arranged to have a freight container full of Mahogany planks shipped to the United States. “It is difficult and expensive”, he describes of the delivery.

The move was enabled in part by the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), and allows him to use materials from his homeland, keeping him focused and excited to create. ECDI relationship manager Rebecca Mayhew, who worked directly with Larweh, explains, “I love Harry's work. It is just marvelous, that here we are in Cleveland, and we have an artist carving this amazing African mahogany furniture...Not everyone is in the position for a bank loan, and that is why ECDI is so important. We help the individual start a business or continue their business with our loans.”

ECDI, a statewide SBA lender, started in Columbus in 2004 before expanding to Cleveland in July 2012 and Akron in November 2014. Since 2004, ECDI has benefited local communities with small business loans throughout the state of Ohio, and assisted over 8,500 individuals - people like Larweh.

Not only does ECDI provide loans to small business owners, but they also provide contact and network information to the clients. Mayhew continues, “We are hoping to connect him (Larweh) to the appropriate contacts so he can find potential markets for the raw wood planks and his art.”
Even with the assistance, Larweh says it can be difficult to find a niche and earn enough to make a living in the art community, but he has found an audience. “I do things differently, I just create … I am finding people who are admiring a lot.” As Larweh explains, however, making a living as an artist is a challenge of its own, “It is early. As for the art, I knew it wouldn't be something that would be selling just like that.” He soldiers on nonetheless, continuing to design his own pieces and looking forward to providing high quality materials to his fellow artisans.
Larweh's work is available for sale on etsy.

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

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."

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."

superelectric coming to Gordon Square with more opportunities for pinball wizards, kids

It's difficult to describe the art of Ben Haehn, David Spasic and Nathan Murray. Call it one part retro, one part funk and two parts pinball with a splash of video and music to bring it all together. They also throw in a few motorcycles for style.

“We brought one of these motorcycles up those stairs," says Murray, referring to the three flights leading up to their space at 78th Street Studios. "That was the shadiest thing we’ve ever done.” Shady? Perhaps, but not surprising; superelectric is decidedly alt. Just dig the group's most recent online commercial (you'll want to review all 57 sublime seconds).
Courtesy of their popular free-play Third Friday events, the trio has delivered more replays, hi scores and orbits than even Barracora can tally. (And yes, superelectric has a Barracora, and a Quick Draw and a Fun Land and a Majorettes.) The pinball palace boasts nearly 50 machines, but over 100 have been through the shop over the past three years as the gents also service and refurbish machines for an array of customers.
In a triple bonus development last week, a sign appeared in the window of the 1,700-square-foot space at the corner of West 65th Street and Detroit Avenue that formerly housed Yellowcake: superelectric is bringing their talents to Gordon Square.
Stand down, fans of Eight Ball and Scuba. The Gordon Arts storefront will be an expansion, not a move. The 78th Street Space will go on, with resident cat (Tom Waits) keeping guard over the games, rental events and Third Fridays. The group tentatively plans to pull the plunger on the new location this summer.
"The earliest would be June. The latest would be July," says Spasik. "We want to bring a lot of our older games."
Food, potables, seating and between 20 and 25 machines will all be in the mix, as will a couple of vintage jukeboxes that play 45s. The new space needs electrical and plumbing work, which they hope to start as early as this week with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
The new location will be open six days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and denizens of the Gordon Square neighborhood couldn't be more delighted, starting with one happy dog.
"It's going to be one of the coolest businesses in the country," says Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson. "Maybe there's one in LA. Maybe there's one in NY, but I've got a feeling this is going to be cooler than anything on either of those coasts or anything in the middle."
"They really wowed us with their commitment to the neighborhood and their vision and how it aligns with everything else going on in the Gordon Square Arts District," adds Jenny Spencer, managing director at the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.
Aside from pinball wizards and curious passers-by, all those bumpers, flippers and tilts will be aimed at an unexpected kickout: kids and education. The group intends to expand its educational efforts, which heretofore included work with Progressive Arts Alliance and area high schools showing kids that a pinball machine's cool factor is really a confluence of electronics, physics and art: what Spasic calls, "things they'd never conceive of going on in there."
He explains: "We'll open up the machines, go through the history, how they work, how the angle of playfield and gravity effects the ball and the action taking place." One group of kids even made their own machines, which superelectric showcased during a Third Friday event.
Before the learning can begin, however, some kids have to take a certain leap.
"We get little kids up here," notes Murray. "They play pinball as an app or on Xbox. They didn't realize there was an actual physical object." And when they see a real live machine with all those lights and bells? "They freak out sometimes."
So whether it's an old-timer revisiting Corvette or a tot blinking in awe before the likes of Black Jack for the first time, Murray offers up a spot-on observation regarding our collective digital existence.
"The world is ready for something tangible."

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."

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

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

o-wow: former wmms program director set to launch internet radio station

After two years of jumping through financial hoops, the brains behind WMMS's heyday years will be launching oWOW, a Cleveland-based live and local internet radio station, this Friday, but you can help yourself to a sneak peak.
"We're on the air right now, testing," says John Gorman, oWOW Media LLC's chief content officer and former program director at WMMS, from the outfit's temporary studio space in the 78th Street Studios.
As if on cue, a purring voice interrupts the interview.
"Hey everybody, I'm Ravenna Miceli. Got a B-side of a Stone's tune for you, "Jump On Top Of Me Baby" going back about 15 years, but it sounds brand new here on oWOW."
And as Jagger and co. pour from the studio speakers, that unmistakable feel from radio's past is reanimated: Ravenna Miceli picked this song just for me.
Miceli will join three other oWOW personalities: Steve Pappas, Susie Frazier and Charlotte DiFranco, all of whom have traditional radio experience. The staff has been trotting between a makeshift office (affectionately nicknamed "the trolley") and the temporary studio while their permanent 1,600-square-foot digs undergo construction. Scheduled for completion in mid to late spring, the space will include a studio and a production area with large interior windows so 78th Street visitors can look in on the action, be it a celebrity interview, a live performance or just the everyday studio buzz.
"What used to get people interested in radio was that it was exciting," says oWOW director of sales and marketing Jim Marchyshyn. "You looked in. You saw the DJ and you thought: this is cool. We are in show business. That's been forgotten."
"Studios are all empty," adds Gorman of today's traditional radio venues. "They don't have an air staff. Most of them are disembodied voices coming from another city. We're real live people. We're based in Cleveland. We can do all the things that radio can no longer do."
That means attracting listeners as well as advertisers. To wit, House of LaRose and Budweiser will be sponsoring oWOW's launch this weekend. As for programming, Friday Night Live will run Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and exclusively feature live concert audio. Daily programming will aim to give people back that live mix-tape feel, one the oWOW team thinks listeners will respond to in a world where bots make calculated music recommendations based on mysterious algorithms.
Look to hear Cleveland performers such as Kristine Jackson, Bob Gatewood and the Speedbumps. Lesser-known acts from across the country will also find airtime on oWOW, adds Gorman, citing Lucero and Charlie Faye.
"She's the new Joni Mitchell," says Gorman of the little-known singer songwriter out of Austen, Texas. "She's on a small independent label so she can't promote and market." Hence, play on oWOW could make a difference in her career while delighting Cleveland listeners, despite the geographic divide.
oWOW's target area will cover Northeast Ohio at large, from Erie to Columbiana County. As a perfect side note, David Helton, who created WMMS's legendary buzzard, also designed oWOW's logo.
While details on the complex deals are confidential, oWOW was funded by a host of private investors, a local bank and a loan and grant from the City of Cleveland.
"We had the odds so far against us at one point that it looked like it would never happen," says Gorman. "It made us fight even harder. We refused to give up." He adds that the founding partners also have a significant financial investment in the effort.
"We have serious skin in the game," says Gorman. "This has to be successful."

Photos Bob Perkoski

city tours aim to lure suburbanites, repopulate classic urban neighborhoods

Riding high on the success of the 2014 program, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will kick off the 2015 City Life Tours in less than two weeks with six scheduled tours starting on Monday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. Other dates include Thursday, March 19 at 1 p.m. and a quartet of 10 a.m. Saturday slots: Feb. 28, March 21 and April 11 and 25.
Jeff Kipp, director of neighborhood marketing for CNP, is tour master both on and off the bus. In chatting with him, it's clear he's not simply aiming to entertain riders, but connect them to the city in a more profound—and permanent—way.
"We're looking at 50 years of sprawl," says Kipp of Cuyahoga County at large. "There's a lot of people that fully disengaged from our urban neighborhoods over the past few decades. We're looking to reel them back in and reintroduce them to the city that they call home." And maybe even get them to move back into Cleveland proper. After all, sixty percent of the more than 300 City Life Tour attendees in 2014 said they live in Cleveland, even though they hailed from the suburbs.
"Our ultimate goal in all of this," says Kipp, "is to repopulate Cleveland's urban neighborhoods." To that end, nine percent of his 2014 riders said they intended to do just that. In an interesting side note, 25 percent of the 2014 attendees were young professionals and 25 percent were empty nesters. Hence the call of the city harkens to all ages.
The 14-mile tour loop begins and ends in Ohio City and includes Downtown, Uptown and Midtown among other neighborhoods. The group also disembarks to explore a residential unit, which may be a townhome, traditional home or apartment. Offerings change with the tours and have included stops at Park Lane Villa in University Circle and the Painters Loft Condominiums in Detroit Shoreway.
"We're showing them things that they're reading about in the news: a resurgence that’s happening in Cleveland," says Kipp. "It's one thing to read about it or hear about it second or third hand. Its another thing to sit on a bus for two and a half hours and see it nonstop—the houses being renovated and the new construction."
All of the upcoming tours kick off at Paul Dunbar School, 2200 West 28th Street, save for the March 19 event, which will depart from the lot behind the West Side Market. While this batch of tours will roll out on a private limo/bus, in the fairer months, riders will embark on Lolly the Trolley for the adventure. The $12 price tag includes a tee shirt.
Future plans may include tours that spend more time in focus areas such as University Circle, the near West Side, Fairfax or Shaker Square/Larchmere.
"People will have almost a menu of tours to choose from," forecasts Kipp. "If we can condense our area, we can show more."
Kipp is not just selling historic housing stock, diverse neighborhoods and a connection to the area's urban roots; he's offering a lifestyle.
Of Cleveland's great museums and institutions he says, "Of course they're here, but they could be in your backyard if you live in the city. A lot of our audience is coming from a demographic for which coming Downtown is a big part of their day," he says, noting that it's an event that requires planning and travel time.  "Whereas when you live in the city, all of these assets and all of these gems are in your back yard."
Hence, a glittering venue such as the Art Museum's Ames Family Atrium transforms from an occasional destination to an everyday pleasure.
"You can just pop in and brown bag lunch it," says Kipp. "That's a lot better than an office park cafeteria."

unique vinyl record mastering engineer moves into 78th street studios

Considering only about 30 people across the nation do what Clint Holley does, Cleveland is very lucky to have him and his small business Well Made Music.
"I'm the guy who takes your audio and transfers it to a record for the first time," says the vinyl mastering engineer. "I make an acetate or a lacquer."
He heretofore operated out of his home, but will be moving into 78th Street Studios next month. He's been sprucing up the 1,200-square-foot space since July, along with digital mastering engineer Adam Boose of Cauliflower Audio. While the two will share the space and often collaborate on projects, their businesses are separate entities.
Vinyl is an odd business. While sales are soaring (some eight million vinyl records were sold last year, up nearly 50 percent from 2013 according to the Wall Street Journal), the machinery used in their production is as rare as the people who know how to operate it. This is doubly true for Holley as he owns two mastering lathes.
"I got in before the vinyl craze started and got really lucky with my first machine. I paid around $28,000 for it five years ago. Now they're $50,000 to $60,000," says Holley. "Nobody knows how many are still in existence. It's very difficult to get into this business now."
The lathes Holley uses were produced between the 1950's and 1980's. There were only about 500 made and their use is mandatory in the vinyl record making process. Holley's models were manufactured by the legendary Georg Neumann company in Germany and he uses them to machine the first record, which becomes a template of sorts.
"I make the first one," says Holley. "Every one after that is an exact copy of what I make. The pieces that I make become the stampers."
When he's finished with them, Holley's stampers go to a studio such as Gotta Groove Records and are used in special presses, rare in their own right, to stamp record after record.
The boom in vinyl was one impetus for Holley's move to 78th Street, but it wasn't the only one.
"It's kind of a solitary job. You work by yourself," and when you work from home you end up spending a great deal of time there. "You start to feel a little crazy after a while," says Holley. "I thought it would be good to get around some creative people."
He also sees his operation as part of a loftier goal for Cleveland, the creation of a music production infrastructure, which goes far beyond good musicians and hip concert venues.
"In cities like Nashville or New York or Los Angeles, they have an infrastructure to get people to produce music. They have studios and production facilities. Cleveland is starting to build that infrastructure," he says, tagging his business, Gotta Groove and area studios.
"We're looking for a way to bring all these people together and put us on the map."

habitat for humanity set to open second restore in north randall

Fortified with grants of $25,000 and $75,000, respectively from the Gund and Cleveland Foundations, Habitat for Humanity will be opening the area's second ReStore location this spring at 4601 Northfield Road.
Similar to the existing ReStore at 2110 West 110th Street, the North Randall location will sell a mix of new and used furniture, appliances, housewares and construction materials. The new location is adjacent to a number of discount retail outlets as well as a Salvation Army thrift store, but ReStore director Matt Haren feels confident that the venture will add a new dimension to the existing competition.
"I think we're bringing in that uniqueness of furniture and building materials and household wares," he says.
The new 22,000-square-foot space requires some updates. The work is being financed by the grant money and will include flooring repair, new restrooms, a delivery door and a new employee/volunteer lunchroom to accommodate the planned staff of five and diverse volunteer pool. ReStore attracts volunteers through organizations that cater to the disabled, low-income and disadvantaged such as Bridges Rehabilitation Services, Towards Employment and LEAP.

The new site, which formerly housed a Unique Thrift outlet, will feature a 16,000-square-foot showroom and the same policies, product mix and layout as the successful West Side store, which turns around its inventory in a brisk 90 days.
"We're going to try and mimic the same philosophy and culture we have here and transport it over to the east side," says Haren. One of the reasons the formula works is that it's a win-win-win, for customers, workers and even the folks supplying all the merchandise.

"The donor population sees us as being able to move stuff into the community in both a recycling aspect and repurposing aspect," says Haran, "but also in taking those proceeds and applying them to our mission of putting families into homes."
The grand opening is tentatively scheduled for April 2. Haren hopes the day marks a new partnership between Habitat for Humanity and the North Randall community, as well as that entire southeast quadrant of the county.

"From our perspective," he says, "it's a community center. The community will shape what we're going to be all about."

inside the bizarre cleveland bazaar and 10 years of peddling indie arts

While organizer Shannon Okey is expecting upwards of 7,000 shoppers to roam through Cleveland Bazaar's 10th annual holiday show on Dec. 13th and 14th, the event actually started more than a decade ago and quite a few miles away.
"I was living in Boston," recalls Okey of the early aughts. "The show started there. One of the originators used to do filthy embroidered things.*" Another participant was make-up artist Punk Rock Mary Kay. "It was hilarious," says Okey, who returned to her hometown of Cleveland in 2004 and decided to host a similar event for the 216.
She found a space, the 1300 Gallery (now 78th Street Studios). The first holiday show in 2004 had 15 vendors and approximately 1,000 attendees.
"It went well," says Okey. "We got pretty good traffic considering there wasn't social media to promote on."
Since then Cleveland Bazaar (formerly Bazaar Bizarre) has become a year-round mainstay, with pop-up shops at places across the city. They have included Shaker Quality Auto Body (a working garage), Market Square Park (across from the West Side Market) and the Dittrick Medical History Museum.
"People saw that we'd bring traffic wherever we were," says Okey of Cleveland Bazaar's rise in popularity. "Now we've got stuff going practically every month of the year." This month is particularly busy, with two shows at the 5th Street Arcades, one last weekend for Winterfest and another this weekend—the Manly Mart.
The big holiday show at 78th Street Studios will be on Saturday, Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. While the show is free, early bird tickets are available for $20 for entry at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
This year's show will be Cleveland Bazaar's largest with 140 vendors. Many come from Northeast Ohio, but vendors have traveled from Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville and even Los Angeles to peddle their wares in past shows. This year, the unusual offerings range from durable handmade bags made in the Screw Factory to pottery from Buffalo, New York, to screen printed posters made by a duo that collaborates between Cleveland, Ohio and Brooklyn, New York. And while many vendors knock on Okey's door, not all make it into the juried show.
"If I see one more thing that came from Pat Catan's with a 216 stamped on it," laments Okey, "I'm gonna … " Not to fear, Okey's made sure her 2014 vendor roster is first-rate. "On top of it, you get the building residents, which will be open too."
Cleveland Bazaar is only half of Okey's professional life. She's also a one-woman show with her niche business, Knit Grrl Studio, which she operates out of a Screw Factory studio space she shares with artist Arabella Proffer.
"Books are the primary business right now, but we're expanding that," says Okey of her LLC, which she founded in 2009 after penning 12 knitting books for other publishers. Knit Grrl also runs a digital magazine with more than 1,500 paid subscribers and sells knitting patterns that it promotes along with its books via a mailing list of 13,000. The company grosses $250,000 annually.
Clearly Okey has dived into the maker movement and made it work -- literally. That ethic is also the glimmering drive behind Cleveland Bazaar's indie mentality.
"A lot of us come from families where you made stuff. There's almost a heritage factor: grandma embroidered, grandpa made things out of wood. It seems to me sort of a Rust Belt thing: You're thrifty. You're saving things up. You're not just going to the mall and buying 18 pieces of jewelry at Claire's.
"The (Cleveland Bazaar holiday) show started before there was an Etsy, before there was a Facebook, before any of those things were around. It wasn't that sort of monkey-see/monkey-do stuff you see now. It wasn't informed by what Martha Stewart told you was cool."
*For those smoldering with curiosity over what "filthy embroidered things" entails, visit Greg Der Ananian's flickr pages—at your own risk.
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