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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.”

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

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

CDCs: the quiet but powerful engines driving neighborhood revitalization

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

Gray-Kontar launches unique artistic center in Collinwood

Daniel Gray-Kontar has been performing poetry for 25 years, but it was only recently that it dawned on him that there are no area venues dedicated to his art. “Usually you have to go to a coffee house or a bar [to perform],” he says. “Because there’s nowhere designed for poets and playwrights to craft and perform their works in the early process.”

Gray-Kontar decided to do something about that and now there is exactly such a place. Last month he launched Twelve Literary and Performative Arts Incubator, 325 E. 156th St. in Collinwood. The incubator is an intergenerational teaching, learning and performance space for poets, playwrights and performing artists.
 
The incubator’s unusual name comes from meanings in numerology, says Gray-Kontar. “The number 12 symbolically represents the building of transformative institutions,” he explains. “Hence, our mission is to nurture youth and adults through the creation of literary works that inspire communities to dream and build a more just and equitable society."
 
Earlier this year Northeast Shores Development Corporation approached Gray-Kontar about the 750-square-foot space after he formally applied to take it over as some kind of performing arts center. Gray-Kontar tossed a few ideas around before he came up with the mission of Twelve.
 
He knew what he didn’t want. “What I’m not interested in is adults coming into the space and teaching about their own interests,” Gray-Kontar says. “I really had to take a deeper dive into who I am as a person, who I am as a public intellectual, artist, and artivist, and what the needs of the community of artists are. I do want lifelong learners, adults engaged in working together with youth. Let’s merge the two so everyone becomes experts.”
 
Northeast Shores renovated the space for a variety of uses and leased the building to Gray-Kontar at a discounted rate that made it “relatively easy for a working artist to afford it,” he says. “It could clearly be a space for workshops, for poetry readings, dance rehearsals. But it can just as easily be an art gallery.”
 
Gray-Kontar plans to add a 10- by four-foot stage, lighting, soundproofing and a video projector to the space, which accommodates 60 to 75 people.
 
“The space will always change,” he says. “For some events it will feel more like a comfortable living room space, geared more for very intimate events and workshops/discussions. But for other events it will feel more like a performance space with folding chairs around the stage. It all depends on the feel of the performance.”

Twelve officially opens on Friday, May 6 with a poetry reading featuring Terry Provost, Eris Eady and Alishia McCoy. On Thursday, May 12, The center will host its inaugural Merge at Twelve DJ-poet collaboration with Eva Barrett and DJ Red-I. A membership drive will help fund programming. Memberships are $10 a month or $60 a year.

Those using Twelve are asked to conform to a community agreement, which is posted on the wall and states that people of all races, genders, religious backgrounds and health backgrounds can feel safe in this space.
 
Gray-Kontar unofficially opened last Friday, April 15, with a building session to discuss possibilities for Twelve, which the community has already embraced. “We've found that youth, in particular, really enjoy being in this space because it provides them with a writing space that feels more like their home environment and much less like the sterility of school spaces,” he says.

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."
 

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

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

CLE Clothing opens third storefront ahead of holiday rush

Earlier this month, Cleveland Clothing Co. (CLE) opened a new location in Uptown at 11435 Euclid Ave. The shop joins three other CLE ventures: Native Cleveland at 15813 Waterloo Road, Cleveland Clothing Co. at 342 Euclid Ave. downtown, and a holiday pop up shop in Legacy Village.
 
"We've been working on this over a year now with the developer," says CLE owner/founder Mike Kubinski of the newest venture, tagging MRN Ltd., the real estate development force behind the resurrections of both East Fourth Street and Uptown. MRN had a space available and offered it up to Kubinski, who jumped at the chance.
 
The new store will employ four or five, bringing CLE's total workforce close to 30. The company is the brainchild of Kubinski and Jeff Reese, who started it in on a creative whim in 2008. At the time, Kubinski was 28 and working as a graphic designer… sort of.
 
"I worked for a company doing packaging graphics, but I was relegated to the box of packaging," he says, which meant drawing up directions, cautions and regulatory information. "I needed a creative outlet."
 
The duo saw a void for Cleveland-centric clothing, so they purchased some shirts and a printing press and got to it. Now they've grown to the retail outlets, a warehouse in the Lake Erie Building (aka the Screw Factory) and a robust online business via their website.
 
Kubinski takes pride in a few well-earned achievements, starting with brand establishment. Everyone knows that CLE skull and crossbones means apparel and gear for 216 aficionados. The iconic trademark graces the front left breast and back of one the company's best-selling shirts.
 
"We can't keep them in stock," says Kubinski of the CLE Logo Tee. "That's truly a testimony of what we've done."
 
He cites another achievement: CLE is debt free.
 
"In 2008, they weren't handing out business loans," recalls Kubinski. Great Recession notwithstanding, he and Rees plowed forward, putting every nickel they earned into printing more shirts. They were riding on a wing and a prayer and a voice from inside only a northeast Ohioan could understand.
 
"In 2008, the economy was down; Cleveland was down," says Kubinski. "But there was this shop local/local pride that was starting. We could see that the renaissance had started. We wanted to be on the forefront of what was to come."
 
Cleveland Clothing Co. never looked back, but the founders did start to look around and found organizations worthy of a helping hand. To that end, CLE has donated creative efforts and portions of proceeds to The Gathering Place, the Cleveland Metroparks, the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and the West Side Market (WSM) in the aftermath of the 2013 fire.

For the WSM effort, they created a tee shirt to sell with the proceeds to help make affected tenants whole. Along with efforts from Michael Symon, they raised $13,000 for the WSM Vendor Relief Fund.
 
"That was really cool because it was helping small businesses just like us during hard times," recalls Kubinski.
 
They didn't stop there. They continued selling the shirts, with 20 percent of proceeds going towards the market's subsequent restoration, in order to "make sure we have the market for another 100 years," says Kubinski, adding that the firm's ongoing philanthropic efforts go to entities big and small, public and private.
 
"We're always connected to the community."
 

East Cleveland duplex now permanent housing for veterans

While social media bloomed with kind words for veterans last week, a project that truly gives back to those who have sacrificed so much was quietly taking shape in a duplex in East Cleveland.
 
Previously vacant, the house is now home to three veterans who were experiencing homelessness and utilizing the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) Men's Shelter, 2100 Lakeside Ave.

This is the pilot project for the Veterans' Affordable Housing Initiative, a collaboration between the Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB) and LLM. While another non-veteran shelter client is also living in the duplex, it has six bedrooms. Hence LMM is in the process of placing two more vets.
 
"We really try to have the application and criteria as open as they can be," says Michael Sering, LMM's vice president of housing and shelter. "We didn't want to create barriers for someone's housing. There are enough barriers in the community." Prospective applicants must be able to live independently, get along with roommates and pay 30 percent of their income towards monthly rent, but no less than $325. All utilities are included.
 
"We have to break even on it financially," says Sering of the minimum rent payment. "There is no government subsidy or anything."
 
The open slots will be filled by eligible veterans that are from the 2100 Shelter population or via a referral from the Cuyahoga County Veterans Service Commission (VSC), but if there is a vacancy and another appropriate applicant waiting, he will be offered residence.

The housing is permanent, which Sering notes as the most impactful point of the initiative.

"Everyone wants people in permanent housing - not in a shelter. Ultimately that’s the goal," he says. "They pay rent and live here indefinitely. We imagine some people might move on," he adds, citing an increase in income or other housing opportunities presenting themselves. And if not, "this is definitely permanent housing."
 
Located within walking distance of a grocery, pharmacy and two bus lines, the duplex features two separate residences, approximately 1,300 square feet each. Each side has its own front and back doors, kitchen, living and dining rooms, basement and three bedrooms.
 
The land bank identified the property and prepared it for title transfer to the LMM as a donation. The paperwork was completed in September; and the men, who are in their 50s and 60s, moved in just a few weeks ago.
 
So far things are going along well.
 
"Two of the guys had already known each other and were referred together," says Sering. "They're good friends. They're glad to be moving in together. They're a support network for each other; they had that built in. The other two guys are off to a good start."
 
While LMM will be sending along a staffer once a month to check in and make sure the men's needs are met and that they have access to services, that's about it.
 
"This is not a rigorous case load," says Sering, adding that counseling and monitoring will not be required. "These are people that just need affordable housing."
 
As for the house, LMM spent $40,000 refurbishing the interior. King's Sons 820, an organization that helps young people adopt trade skills, did the work. 
 
"The house was in decent shape," says Sering. "It's brick and has a fairly new roof and windows, so most of work was on the interior. They painted everything and sanded the wood floors, which came out beautifully. They pretty much gutted the kitchen," he adds.
 
Sering hopes that the East Cleveland house will prove to be a successful pilot for the initiative and an example for many more to come.
 
"The land bank has thousands of houses that they want to see go to a good use," says Sering. "We have lots of homeless people and homeless vets that need housing.
 
"If this works as we think it should, the sky's the limit on doing it over and over again."
 
LMM is accepting household donations for this venture, including linens for six new mattress sets (four queen and two twin) and pillows that were donated by Mattress Firm. Cleaning and paper supplies are also appreciated. Any duplicate items will be shared with other veterans moving out of the shelter. Contact Kelly Camlin, associate director of LMM's Men’s Shelter, at 216-649-7718 ext. 480 for more information.

Former Cleveland Brown Jurevicius nurtures small business, aims to expand

Amid the ongoing controversies plaguing professional sports, talking with Cleveland native Joe Jurevicius reveals that not all pro players have pro-sized egos.
 
"I like to call myself a has-been," says the humble Jurevicius. "My plane landed in 2008."
 
While his professional career with teams such as the Browns, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks did indeed come to an end in 2008, he was a few years away from an unlikely second act: that of a small business owner dealing in laundry.
 
Laundry?
 
"The thing that seems obvious is a steak house or bar," says Jurevicius. "I didn't want to lend a name. I didn't want to just say I was an owner of a business because my name was involved. I literally wanted to be involved in the business. I'm a guy who likes to work."
 
Hence in 2012, Jurevicius built his first Spins Laundromat at 6912 Lorain Avenue and subsequently opened other locations at 7989 Euclid Avenue and earlier this year at 14930 Saint Clair Avenue.
 
"One laundromat would literally drive you crazy," says Jurevicius. "You would think that if you doubled or tripled what you had, it would maybe become worse, but it's actually just the opposite," he adds, noting that shopping for supplies in bulk is easier than purchasing the smaller quantities only one location would need. 
 
Earlier this year Jurevicius also launched a full-service laundry pick up and delivery business, WashClub Cleveland. While he's signed a handful of commercial contracts, including one with Cleveland Hopkins Airport, he's targeting any and all customers and urges people to feel comfortable about someone else, well, dealing with their dirty laundry.
 
"These are the tee shirts, the underwear - the personal stuff that you wear on a day-in/day-out basis," says Jurevicius. He urges prospective customers to be as comfortable hiring someone to do their laundry as they are hiring someone to plow the drive or mow the lawn.
 
"I know that for a mother who works all week and has four kids, the last thing she wants to do on the weekend is attack the laundry," says Jurevicius, adding that the same goes for anyone who's short on time and long on tasks. "It's a convenience thing: one less stress for a family or individual."
 
Services include wash and fold, dry cleaning and tailoring. Customers sign into their account via the website or a mobile app and tap in their order.
 
"It's basically letting us pick up [your laundry] and taking care of it so the only thing you have to do is take it out of bag and put it back in the closet."
 
One cannot help but admire the former NFLer's down-to-earth work ethic. He'll take up the slack when duty calls no matter what the task, be it washing clothes, sweeping up, making deliveries or taking out the trash.
 
"If you're going to know a business you need to know everything that’s encompassed in that business," says Jurevicius. Being a hands-on boss also garners the respect of his 12 employees and eases communications about what's going well and what isn't.
 
Jurevicius isn't done yet. He's looking to purchase additional property in as little as a few weeks, although he's mum on details other than to say the parcels he's eyeing are on the "near east side and near west side." He's also toying with finding a warehouse space to house all WashClub activities.
 
"The goal is to ultimately double or triple the number of employees I have," says Jurevicius. He also hopes to turn one delivery van into a fleet of six or more and eventually "walk away from this business down the road someday and say, 'Man, I accomplished something.'"
 
Judging from what he's been through, it's hard to imagine Jurevicius won't achieve those goals. His NFL career ended after a devastating staph infection put him through numerous surgeries, which he does not recall with bitterness. Instead he regards his 11 years with the NFL with endearing self-deprecation. "I look at a helmet or a pair of shoulder pads now and I go: no way. My body aches just looking at them."
 
While he concedes that the infection was one of the hardest things he's ever gone through, he is quick to add that it pales in comparison to the 2003 loss of Michael, firstborn son to Jurevicius and wife Meagan, who succumbed to a rare condition at just two and a half months old. Ironically, Michael's short life played out amid the Buccaneer's successful 2003 championship season and Super Bowl victory, when Jurevicius was a receiver for the team.
 
"I tend to put things in perspective," says Jurevicius. "I lost my career to an infection, but I've always been able to keep that in check compared to what I went through with my son."
 
For now, he's happy to be involved in the ongoing Northcoast renaissance.
 
"We have a lot of things to be proud of in Cleveland," say Jurevicius. "We're like a sleeper trendy city. I'm just trying to be part of it."

St. Martin de Porres, Salvation Army to benefit from $20m in New Market Tax Credits

The proposed new St. Martin de Porres High School in the St. Clair neighborhood and the Salvation Army's $35 million capital campaign for greater Cleveland will each receive $10 million in Federal New Market Tax Credits, which are part of a $50 million award the Cleveland Development Advisors (CDA) are shepherding on behalf of the city. The award was announced in June.
 
"At any given time we might have a dozen projects on the list that are close to or getting ripe for investment," says CDA president Yvette Ittu. "Once we get allocation we start moving very quickly to try to move those projects to fruition."
 
The Salvation Army campaign includes a new family shelter downtown, new community centers in Collinwood and East Cleveland and the renovation of a community center in West Park. The new 65,000-square-foot St. Martin de Porres High School will be at the intersection of Norwood Road and St. Clair Avenue.
 
As for the remaining $30 million in tax credits to be allocated, Ittu said plans have not been formalized, but hinted that the awards will go to a handful of high profile projects that are ready to move. Per the United States Treasury, the group has up to three years to allocate the tax credits, but CDA does not act leisurely when placing allocations.
 
"Our awards are generally out the door in less than 12 months," says Ittu.
 
In the program, entities such as CDA court private investment for local projects, particularly in low-income areas. Investors are rewarded with federal tax credits.
 
"The tax credit is not applied to the actual project," explains Ittu. "What we're doing is providing a tax credit to an investor who is bringing the capital to the table. It could be a bank or corporation that has the need for a tax credit. Maybe they are willing to invest X amount of dollars into a project in return for the tax credit." Funds must be spent on a project before the investor can reap the tax credits, which may be taken over a seven-year period.
 
The nature of the program makes for strange bedfellows: Goldman Sachs, for instance, was a satellite investor in the Fairmont Creamery project courtesy of New Market Tax Credits.
 
CDA, which Ittu describes as a real estate financing organization affiliated with the Greater Cleveland Partnership, selects candidates based on recommendations from its Community Advisory Committee. The group focuses on areas of severe economic distress with unemployment rates more than 1.5 times the national average, poverty rates of 30 percent or more, or median incomes at or below 60 percent of the area median. Considerations also include timing of the project, its readiness for financing, its sustainability and its economic impact.
 
"A lot of what we do is looking to try to invest in projects that will stimulate additional development and also create jobs," says Ittu.
 
Specific goals include affordable housing, healthy food accessibility, public transit access and repurposing vacant structures. The group's success can be measured in their results. Including this year's $50 million award, the CDA has received $155 million in New Market Tax Credits since the program's inception in 2003. They have helped finance more than 30 projects including The 9, the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry's Richard Sering Center, the Residences at 1717 and renovations at Saint Luke's Pointe.

Authentic Neapolitan pizza coming soon to Waterloo for all citizens

To anyone still lamenting the shuttering of Vytauras Sasnauskas's Americano in Bratenahl and the end of his weekly pizza café, a new day will soon dawn for handcrafted pizza here on the North Coast. Sasnauskas has partnered with Paulius Nasvytis of the legendary Velvet Tango Room and food writer Claudia Young to deliver unto us Citizen Pie, 15710 Waterloo Road, which is scheduled to open later this month.
 
The star of the menu will of course be Sasnauskas's Neapolitan pie, which will be baked in an Italian Stefano Ferrara oven.
 
"It is a beautiful thing," says Young of the imported wood-fired oven. "It's like a living breathing animal." And its use requires a certain finesse. To wit, the slow curing process of bringing the oven up to its 900 degree Fahrenheit operating temperature started last week.
 
"This is the pizza of Naples," says Young. "For us, it's the only kind of pizza we want to eat, the only kind of pizza we want to do."
 
The rest of the menu is still tentative, but will include calzones, specials, beer, wine, Tartufo (an Italian ice cream desert) and ricotta cheesecake, the recipe for which Young has been laboring over for months.
 
While hours for Citizen Pie have not yet been set, Young says the shop will be open for lunch and dinner. The space seats 22 amid a window counter, community table and pizza bar. Including the kitchen, it's just a scant 875 square feet.
 
"The place is freaking tiny," says Young, adding the Citizen Pie will employ three, including chef Sasnauskas. Scalish Construction is the contractor on the project.
 
The components of the new pizzeria have been a long time in the making. Young and Nasvytis, a couple, have been friends with Sasnauskas and his wife for years. Both Nasvytis and Sasnauskas are Lithuanian. Lastly, Nasvytis grew up in Collinwood.
 
"We love that neighborhood," says Young. "We have put in that beautiful oven, which is definitely making a commitment in Waterloo."
 
The project was kindled in earnest earlier this year when Young had a conversation with area restaurateur Alan Glazen, who suggested the venture.
 
"I looked at Paulius and said, 'Do you want to open up a pizza shop with Vytauras in Waterloo?'" recalls Young, "And he said, 'Sure. Why not?' and we just did."
 
So began the fire, fueled by a passion for exceptional food.
 
"What we're bringing is a vey high-end product. We care insanely about every ingredient," says Young, "We take it so seriously, but in the same breath: it's pizza. Pizza is flour, water, salt, a tiny bit of starter or yeast (we use starter), sauce, mozzarella and toppings."

"We're not topping pizzas with anything so high-end that it's inaccessible to people in the neighborhood. It's pizza for the people," she says, noting that Citizen Pie's iconic logo evokes solidarity. To that end, Young has filled the interior with images of people she considers to be revolutionary. Try: Gandhi, Hitchcock, Jesus, the Beatles, Picasso and Steve Jobs.
 
"A lot of thought and consideration has gone into the whole vibe and the whole feeling," says Young—and a whole lot of mutual respect.
 
"Vytauras is like a food savant," she says. "I would never have done anything like this unless I thought we could do it at highest level imaginable and that's what we got when we partnered with Vytauras.
 
"He has no ego. It's not about any of that," says Young. "He's just all about the food."

Millions in upgrades planned for historic Euclid WWII bomber plant, former GM Fisher Auto Body

Last week, HGR Industrial Surplus invited the community to celebrate the christening of its sprawling 12-acre building as the Nickel Plate Station. The company also unveiled a display showcasing the fascinating history of the property and kicked off a $10 to $12 million campaign to improve the facility.
 
HGR, purveyors of used and surplus equipment, purchased the property last year in a collaborative effort with the city and the Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB) after it had been orphaned by its owner.
 
"One day the landlord just got up and left," recalls Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik.
 
HGR, a tenant since 1998, wanted to stay in the 20001 Euclid Avenue building. Per CLB director of acquisitions, dispositions and development, Cheryl Stephens, the property was in foreclosure and had more than $1 million in outstanding back taxes and some other liens. 
 
"It would have taken more than a year for this company to get access to this property," says Stephens. "What we did on behalf of the city of Euclid was cut through the time, energy and money of having to pay back taxes. We wiped the slate clean. We cleaned up the title issues and sold the property to HGR."
 
That was in 2014. HGR, which employs 120, has since upgraded the fire system and driveway. While future plans are still unfurling, they will include renovations to the façade, lighting and parking lot. The company also intends to improve and lease two large spaces, 160,000 and 50,000 square feet respectively.
 
Within the next few weeks, HGR will also install a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) resource center in its customer lounge. The display will feature literature from area colleges and technical programs, books, magazines and periodicals. The effort is a partnership between HGR, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) and Ingenuity Cleveland.
 
"They're helping to put the 'A' in STEAM," says Matt Williams, HGR's chief marketing officer, regarding Ingenuity's involvement. "You hear a lot about STEM, but the arts are so important."
 
With its massive stock of vintage machinery and a factory structure essentially unchanged since its 1943 opening, Williams also sees HGR as a place where middle and high school students can deconstruct manufacturing historically and literally.
 
"If you think about it, our facility is really an archeological site. All the different facets of manufacturing are represented when you look at the equipment," says Williams. "We want to be able to take young people through and give them a glimpse of what manufacturing is," he adds, citing the components of design, engineering, building, installation, operation and maintenance.
 
Most Clevelanders associate the giant Euclid Avenue structure with GM's Euclid Fisher Body Plant. Among other things, bodies for iconic cars such as the El Camino, Toronado, Riviera and Cadillac Eldorado were manufactured here from 1948 to 1993, but the site's history goes back to the late 1800s. What was once farmland became the subject of a long and contentious legal battle over zoning that ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
 
On November 22, 1926, the SCOTUS ruled on Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., in favor of the Village. The landmark case made headlines across the country as a definitive decision that enabled fledgling zoning laws. In 1942, however, Uncle Sam had a different vision for the 65-acre plot and usurped control of the site, announcing plans for a $20 million war plant despite protestations from residents and village officials.
 
Cleveland Pneumatic Aerol leased the plant, manufacturing landing gear and rocket shells for about two years until Victory over Japan Day marked the end of the War on September 2, 1945.
 
20001 Euclid Avenue essentially lay fallow until General Motors purchased it in 1947.
 
The new name is a nod to the Nickel Plate Road (also known as the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad). Built in 1881, the rail sliced through the Village of Euclid just to the north of the property. The building still connects to the famous rail line via a short spur that ends in an interior loading bay -- just as it did on the day this former WWII bomber plant opened more than seven decades ago. 
 
"Everything we do is about recycling, upcycling and reclaiming," says Williams. "We're reclaiming a building that would otherwise might have been knocked down and turned into a parking lot."
 
HGR stands for Hit the Ground Running and was inspired by Van Halen's 1981 rock anthem, "Unchained."

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."

Six Shooter Coffee coming to Waterloo

Peter Brown, proprietor of Six Shooter Coffee will move his bean-roasting operation from Miles Road in Cleveland to the corner of East 161st Street and Waterloo Road in the Collinwood neighborhood. Like so many proprietors of days gone by, he'll be living above the 900-square-foot shop, which will also house a storefront café.
 
"It's very old school and it's very efficient," says Brown, adding that the arrangement will allow him to focus solely on his fledgling venture. "I feel like that's the safest way to make the business work."
 
Scalish Construction is the contractor on the job and Cindy Wan is the architect. Northeast Shores Development Corporation is also assisting with the build out. The budget is confidential, although Brown did receive a grant, also confidential, from the Small Business Association.
 
Brown plans to have two hourly employees and a store manager, with tentative hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. The café will have bar seating along the front windows facing Waterloo and a few tables, accommodating between 26 to 36 customers. Six Shooter will be open as early as September and, Brown vows, no later than October.
 
The shop will offer an array of coffee options including pour overs, lattes, cappuccinos and espressos, with classic drip coffee for those in a rush. But however his customers prefer it, Brown takes his brew seriously.
 
"If you can think about coffee like some people think about wine, where different regions provide different flavor profiles," he says, "that's the approach that we're taking to coffee and I roast it to accentuate where it comes from." He describes one of his current batches from Bali as having notes of dark chocolate, pear and wafer.
 
With joe that lofty, it will come as no surprise that flavored syrups will be limited to chocolate, vanilla and honey.
 
"Personally, I am a purist," says Brown, "but I recognize that people like what they like."
 
A small menu will include items baked strictly off site, as the kitchen area at Six Shooter will be dedicated to bean roasting. Poison Berry Bakery, a purveyor of vegan treats, will be one of the food suppliers, although Brown may add others.
 
Six Shooter Coffee is also available The Grocery in Ohio City and Brown has a tentative agreement with Whole Foods to offer his beans in their forthcoming Rocky River store.
 
So, what's the story behind the name?
 
"I'm a little bit of a history buff," says Brown. "LBJ had a ranch where he served coffee and he called it 'six shooter coffee.'" Also, Brown's friends have been known to call him Pistol Pete.
 
"So it's a little bit of a nod to history and a little bit of a play on my name."
 
Brown is putting out a call to local artists interested in displaying their work at Six Shooter to contact him at for a possible commission/sale arrangement. He is available at 614-361-2437 or sixshootercoffee@gmail.com.
 

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."
 
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