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

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

$12 million makeover for West Side hotel

Cleveland’s newest hotel is designed to highlight all the city has to offer while also providing the amenities that appeal to the young business traveler.

The first Four Points Sheraton Cleveland Airport—the first of Marriott International’s Four Points brand in Cleveland—opened on the site of the former Holiday Inn Cleveland airport, 4181 West 150th St., last month. Marriott bought the building in January 2016.

“It was a $12 million-plus renovation,” says Sandra Keneven, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. “They gutted the building. There’s nothing old left,” she adds of the year-long renovation.
 
The Four Points concept is a more affordable version of a traditional Sheraton hotel, says Keneven, and is the result of a five-year rebranding initiative. “Our target audience is the younger generation,” she says, adding that the hotel’s 147 rooms offer a comfortable bed with its signature mattresses, complimentary bottled water and free internet.
 
Furthermore, guests can use their smart phones for mobile check-ins before arriving at the hotel, and then use their phones for keyless entry into their rooms.
 
In addition to a 24-hour fitness room, business center and heated pool, the Four Points serves up Great Lakes Brewing drafts in its Hub Bar and Grill. On Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m., the hotel offers its Best Brews reception with a Great Lakes beer tasting and free appetizers.

“The plan is to rotate different local brewers,” says Keneven, adding that the brewers will be invited to come and talk about their beers. She says they are also considering bringing live music into the bar.
 
The hotel has 6,500 square feet of meeting space, with two ballrooms, one of which is on the sixth floor and has windows on all sides. Keneven says they have built a good relationship with Destination Cleveland for upcoming conferences and events. Staff is also starting to book weddings.
 
Location is yet another amenity. Popular Cleveland destinations, such as like Kamms Corners, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and FirstEnergy Stadium, are a short distance from the hotel, which offers free round-the-clock shuttle service to and from the airport and any destination within two miles. In addition, the hotel is adjacent to I-71 and the Puritas West 150th Street RTA Rapid station.
 
Through March, Four Points is offering an introductory rate averaging $99 a night, says Keneven, and average rates during peak times will be about $159 a night.
 
The renovated hotel has already gotten local praise. “We have people stopping in off the street,” says Keneven. “It’s beautiful. It just looks beautiful.”

MetroHealth transforms the medical arts with cultural arts

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

MetroHealth Arts in Medicine from MetroHealth on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

Historic century building in Old Brooklyn soon to house artisanal cheese shop

After spending 16 years in London as a chef, Michael Januska decided it was time to come home. He grew up in Avon Lake, and his family still lives in the area, so he settled in Old Brooklyn.

“The cost of living in Central London is one of the highest in the world,” he says of his overseas home. “My two younger sisters are having kids and I decided it was the rat race or quality of life.”
 
Januska discovered the art of making cheese while living abroad and decided Old Brooklyn would embrace a quality cheese shop. By the end of October, Januska will open the doors to Old Brooklyn Cheese Company, 4138 Pearl Road.
 
“Cheese is simple, but it’s still complex,” Januska says. “I love using only milk and one or two other ingredients and making something quite exquisite and unique.”
 
Januska turned to the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) for assistance in finding the perfect space for making his cheese and serving his customers. Eventually, he secured a 1,200-square-foot storefront in the historic 1895 Krather building in Old Brooklyn’s Design Review District.
 
Januska was particularly attracted to the glass front and 15-foot ceilings. He got a loan to help with financing the shop and started plans to open. “The support from the City of Cleveland and Old Brooklyn has been amazing,” he says.
 
The feeling is mutual from OBCDC. “For us, Old Brooklyn Cheese Company is the kind of business we know residents want to see in the neighborhood, so it is important to us that [local businesses] feel well-supported and connected to the assistance they need so that they can focus on running a thriving business,” says Rosemary Mudry, OBCDC director of economic development, adding that they were able to connect Januska with small business support services and low-interest financing to establish the company.
 
“By building great relationships with entrepreneurs in the community, we are excited to continue to attract new business to the neighborhood that meets the needs of residents and provide additional amenities so that Old Brooklyn continues to be a neighborhood of choice in the City of Cleveland.”
 
As one of only two licensed artisanal cheese makers in Cuyahoga County, Januska will offer an assortment of his cheeses after they have been aged properly for at least 60 days –sometime in December – as well as from Ohio cheesemakers and artisanal cheeses from around the country and world. His first cheese will be an aged Gouda, available in December.
 
In the basement, Januska is building a 14- by 12-foot aging cave, where he will age his hard and alpine cheeses. He has room to build up to five caves, each for different types of cheeses requiring different humidity levels for aging.
 
“When I’m done with that one, I will build another one for stinky and soft cheeses,” he says.
 
Furthermore, Januska is one of only a handful of cheesemakers in the country who ages cheese for other cheesemakers. “It gives them control because the quality is still there,” he explains. “Once it’s vacuum packed and sealed for distribution, the flavor is choked out. I’ve got commitments from other cheesemakers in Ohio, Maine and San Francisco to age their cheese.”
 
Januska is perhaps most excited about his twist on cloth-banded cheddar – an English technique in which the cheese is wrapped in a cloth dipped in butter or lard before aging. His cloth-banded cheddar will be aged with bacon fat.
 
“I call it the Old Brooklyn version,” he quips. The cloth-banded cheddar will be aged for 12 months before it’s ready for sampling.
 
The shop will feature deli-style glass display cases for the cheeses, which will include an assortment of Januska’s cheeses organized by type – washed, or “stinky;” fresh;  soft; semi-hard to hard; alpines; and blues.
 
At the front of the shop will be two big commercial tables where customers can sit down and sample cheeses, as well as Ohio honeys, bread from Blackbird Baking Company, almonds, dried fruit and locally cured meats.
 
Patrons can choose three to five cheeses from a selection of 15. The experience will serve as a chance to try some new varieties before buying while also socializing with friends.
 
“It’s a happy place to go in because no one goes in angry to a cheese shop,” Januska says. “If they’ve never heard of this and taste it and say ‘hey, I like that,’ or if they say ‘I don’t like it, it’s too funky or salty,’ they can try something else.”
 
Januska says he's thinking of installing a back patio next spring.
 
Even if customers know exactly what they want, Januska wants Old Brooklyn Cheese Company to be a welcoming place. “It’s a nice, relaxed place to enjoy your cheese with a friend and just relax,” he says. “The tables are casual where everyone can have their cheese and gets to talk and share.”

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

Tiger Passage aims to inspire, connect people with animals

Last week, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo opened the highly anticipated Rosebrough Tiger Passage.

First announced last September, the $4.1 million installation occupies a staggering 48,000 square feet, which includes the space designated for the cats as well as their adoring fans. The new habitat includes climbing poles, meadows, shallow streams, soaking pools and outdoor overnight access. Visitors can enjoy highly interactive viewing as the animals have access to overhead catwalks. Large viewing windows and paths that traverse the environment round out the experience, which encourages visitors to explore and seek out the Zoo's two resident Amur tigers, Klechka, a 12-year old male, and Dasha, a 15-year-old female.
 
Per Andi Kornak, the Zoo's director of animal and veterinary programs, the two cats wintered at the Zoo's Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine while Panzica Construction Company of Mayfield Village completed the build-out of the new habitat. The Cleveland based firm Van Auken Akin Architects and WDM Architects out of Wichita, Kansas; which specializes in creating sustainable, authentic environments that immerse and inspire zoo visitors; designed the sprawling space.
 
The two cats were understandably shy during the grand opening, said Kornak.
 
"It will take them a few weeks to acclimate to their new exhibit," she noted during the event. "It's five times the size of the old one so there's lot of space to explore and become comfortable with."
 
The Zoo's executive director Christopher Kuhar said the space is designed to allow the animals to prowl, climb and saunter around in a way that they've never had the opportunity to do before.
 
"While it seems that we're focusing exclusively on the animals," said Kuhar, "the reality is that the best possible guest experience is to see animals performing their natural behavioral repertoire, to see them moving around and exercising and doing all those really cool things that cats do."
 
Kuhar added that the new exhibit also focuses on education as there are only 500 Amur tigers left in the wild.
 
"We want to connect people with wildlife, to inspire personal responsibility to take conservation action," he said. "What we hope is that people are going to see these great cats and be inspired to do something in their own way to help animals in the wild."

The Cleveland Metroparks is part of Fresh Water's underwriting network.
 

Sabor Miami offers up authentic homestyle cuisine, warm atmosphere

When Mariela Paz opened the doors to Sabor Miami Cafe in Old Brooklyn on March 31, she knew she had found her calling. The restaurant, which features Latin inspired dishes amid the flair and décor of Miami, was a result of Paz’s desire to put her love of art and cooking into an entrepreneurial endeavor.

“I’m so happy because this is me,” she says of her new restaurant at 4848 Broadview Rd. “It has a full commercial kitchen, art and artwork and my paintings on the walls.”
 
Originally from Honduras, Paz came to Cleveland to be closer to family after working for 13 years as a graphic designer for a silkscreen company in Miami. She previously operated the former Café Miami just down the street while battling uterine cancer, undergoing surgery just four months before its opening. Then she began thinking about running her own restaurant.
 
“I loved my job [in Miami] but I worked at a computer all day,” she recalls. “Everything happens for a reason. For me now, it’s just enjoying the little things. I want to help with art and I want to get involved in the Cleveland community through my art.”
 
The 35-seat café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast options include the bistec a caballo, a popular Miami dish of steak topped with sautéed onions alongside eggs, home fries and Cuban toast. Lunch and dinner items feature Paz’s signature Latin favorites such as vaca frita (fried cow), ropa vieja, (the translation for which is "old clothes," but fortunately, the dish itself is one of stewed beef and vegetables) and an assortments of empanadas.
 
Good coffee and coffee drinks are a must for Paz. The drinks menu includes Cuban coffee, Mayan mocho (a blend of espresso and milk) and Coco Beach latte (iced coconut coffee con leche and whipped cream).
 
“You have to have a good cup of coffee,” says Paz, “because sometimes you go to a place and the food is the best food, but the coffee is not good.”
 
Paz renovated and redecorated the café herself. “The kitchen is good and the place is nice and homey,” she says. It's also where she does all of the cooking herself while her mom, her niece and a friend help run the café. “I am so lucky because I get paid for what I love to do,” she says. “I put my heart into my cooking. It’s a lot of work for me, but I have no complaints.” She plans to hire staff as business grows.

Ahead of opening, Paz joined the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI), which helps small businesses such as hers succeed by providing tools, technical assistance and support, and took advantage of the organization's business training classes. ECDI also gave her a $750 loan to launch the venture and build her credit. Rumor has it ECDI staff will drop in for a plate of Paz's homemade eats on occasion.
 
Customer reviews of Sabor Miami so far have been few but stellar, Paz says, adding that she’d like to eventually offer some Honduran dishes. “I want people to come and feel like you’re a family or you have a friend here,” she says.
 
Or bring your family. To that end, Paz has already started hosting “Painting with Mom” coffee, tea and canvas parties. The first two events were so popular that she will hold another one on Sunday, April 24 from 3 to 6 p.m. The cost is $45 per mother and child pair and includes all painting materials, sandwiches, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, flavored lemonade and pastries. Call (440) 714-0202 for reservations.

Paz plans to host similar events in the future and add community outreach programs, like feeding the homeless, to her repertoire. “I have many ideas in my head,” she says. “Because that makes me feel good. I don’t want material things. I’m a good person. You have to keep going when people tell you, ‘you can’t do that.’”

Sabor Miami Café is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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

Collaboration brings home sweet home to disabled Cleveland veteran

An ex-Marine has found a new home thanks to a pair of veteran-friendly groups and a Cleveland suburb willing to support disabled soldiers with affordable housing opportunities.

Elyria native Corp. Leo Robinson signed the final closing documents for his new house in South Euclid during a Feb. 18 ceremony at Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB). The organization partnered with national nonprofit Purple Heart Homes and the city of South Euclid on the project.

Robinson, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who sustained brain injuries and other ailments overseas, was set to move into his renovated home late last week, says Howard Goldberg, assistant secretary and chief real estate officer with Purple Heart Homes.

The 1,300-square-foot domicile, donated in 2012 by CLB, was rebuilt from the ground up, says Goldberg. Nearly 200 volunteers offered financial and material support for the approximately $70,000 undertaking.  

Plumbing, electrical, HVAC and insulation work was supplied gratis, while a local furniture company provided the home with a new bedroom set and other necessities. Members of the Notre Dame College football team, meanwhile, helped demolish the structure's interior prior to rebuild.

"This shows how a community can come together and make something great happen," says Goldberg.

Robinson will live in the house with his therapy dog, Kota. The finished structure has a new garage, laundry room, basement recreation space, and second-floor bath off the master bedroom. The former Marine will pay a mortgage equal to 50 percent of the home's appraised value.

Eligibility for the ownership program requires an honorable discharge and a service-connected disability, Goldberg notes. Robinson is the second veteran to receive a home in South Euclid through the venture. A third residence is planned for the inner-ring community, while two more projects are in talks for Old Brooklyn and Euclid, respectively.

"South Euclid's done a good job of sustaining their housing stock so the values go back up," says Goldberg. "The timing for us was excellent."

The collaboration also meets Purple Heart Homes' stated goal of improving veterans' lives one home at a time. The organization, launched by two disabled Iraq War vets, has found stable partners among the leadership and general population of South Euclid, Goldberg says.

"The one thing this shows is how people rally around their veterans," he says. "They're not only willing to help, but they want to make a veteran feel welcome in their community."

Further reading: East Cleveland duplex now permanent housing for veterans

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."
 

Roomy new home for zoo's tigers will bring visitors closer to animals

 "It completely changes how you look at an animal."
 
That's how Chris Kuhar, executive director for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, describes the organization's approach to building new animal habitats, which will be wholly evidenced in the forthcoming Tiger Passage.
 
The zoo broke ground this month on the $4.1 million project, which will occupy a staggering 48,000 square feet, a number that includes the space designated for the cats as well as their adoring fans. The Cleveland Zoological Society has committed $2.5 million towards the project. Taxpayers in Cuyahoga County and Hinckley Township are footing the rest of the bill courtesy of a successful 2013 levy.
 
Visitors can expect a more immersive experience when Tiger Passage opens in summer of 2016, with the ability to view the animals in a more naturalistic way.
 
"We're switching the paradigm in how we design zoo exhibits," says Kuhar. "As opposed to the window shopping approach, where you walk up to a window and see an animal, we're trying to bring the guest through a larger space. The habitat will surround you with a complexity that you don't see in exhibits designed 30 or 40 years ago. The animal can be in a number of different places. You have to look for it and explore."
 
To that end, the new tiger habitat will include climbing poles, meadows, shallow streams, soaking pools and outdoor overnight access.
 
Panzica Construction Company of Mayfield Village is the general contractor on the job. Tiger Passage was designed by the Cleveland based firm Van Auken Akin Architects and WDM Architects out of Wichita, Kansas, which specializes in zoo design and endeavors to create sustainable, authentic environments that immerse and inspire zoo visitors.
 
"That combination of zoo expert and a local architect is really nice for us," says Kuhar.
 
The Zoo's two resident Amur tigers, Klechka, a 12-year-old he-cat, and Dasha, a 14-year-old she-cat, are vacationing in a protected veterinary center within the Zoo during the construction of their new home. In their absence, Kuhar suggests saying hello to the Zoo's lions in the African Savanna or the snow leopards in the Primate, Cat and Aquatics building. All of the Zoo's traditional animals such as the elephants, bears and wolves will be up-front-and-center as well.
 
"We have a very cute baby orangutan who's going to be visible all winter long in the Rain Forest," adds Kuhar.
 
As for Klechka and Dasha, who are ambassadors of an endangered species, Kuhar sees a bright future for them in Tiger Passage.
 
"I think it will be great for the cats—for exercise and stimulation, and I think it's going to be great for the visitors," says Kuhar.
 
"To see a cat perched up high or climbing on something up high? That's pretty cool."
 
For a preview of Tiger Passage, view this one-minute video of an animated rendering.

Former landfill to become restored green space in Old Brooklyn

Twenty-eight acres in the heart of Old Brooklyn is slated to become yet another hard-earned link in the city's growing chain of urban green spaces.
 
Courtesy of a $561,000 Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC) will acquire the former Henninger Landfill and other adjacent properties stretching along more than 1,000 linear feet of Lower Big Creek in an area immediately east of West 25th Street. The landfill was closed more than 40 years ago.

In addition to the Clean Ohio grant, WRLC also obtained a federal 2014 Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition grant in the amount of $15,000 to hire a riparian restoration expert to assess the property and develop a comprehensive restoration plan. The grantor describes this as "a critical riparian buffer corridor."

That future restoration will include erosion control; water quality improvements; reintroduction of native trees, wildflowers and grasses; and invasive plant removal. While plans for how the public will access the area are still underway, by its geographic positioning, it will become a growing part of the green corridor that includes the Metroparks Zoo, Brookside Reservation and the Towpath Trail. Officials hope it becomes a key link between those amenities.
 
Jim Rokakis, director of the Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute, said that he's confident the space will have trails to serve area residents and employees. He added that there is much work to be done before employees from the Metro Health Campus can reach for their Skechers at lunch.
 
"We've got a lot of clean up to do," he said.
 
In a less obvious benefit, the project will support the general health of the Lake Erie watershed and will help expunge an unfortunate designation.
 
Lower Big Creek is a major tributary to the Cuyahoga River, which despite the improvements made since it infamously caught fire in 1969, is still listed as one of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The 46 miles designated reach from Lake Erie to Stark County and includes all tributaries. Per the AOC organization, those waters have experienced environmental degradation, fail to meet the objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada, and are impaired in their ability to support aquatic life or beneficial uses.
 
"To de-list the Cuyahoga River as an AOC, identifying and protecting natural areas to address the loss of fish and wildlife habitat within its watershed is an essential step," said a statement from the WRLC. "In a developed urban area, this project does just that."

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."

Soda fountain expansion coming to b. a. Sweetie Candy Company

Still basking in the success of his company's move and expansion earlier this year from Brooklyn to Cleveland, Thomas Scheiman, president of b. a. Sweetie Candy Company, is looking forward to what he calls the most exciting project of his career: Sweeties Soda Shoppe, which is slated to open October 25.
 
"It will be our own recipes," says Scheiman of the future ice cream offerings. "There'll be a lot of testing going on in October."
 
With 5,100 square feet of space, the new soda fountain will be a far cry from the quaint storefront operations of yesteryear. Scheiman expects to add 16 people to his existing staff of 43 in order to man the new 150-seat establishment. Sweeties Soda Shop will be adjacent to the staggering 40,000-square-foot candy store and Golfland, a miniature golf course that is also part of the growing Sweetie campus at 6770 Brookpark Road.
 
The new space will feature a party room that will seat 50 and have a dividing wall to accommodate two concurrent parties of up to 25 attendees each. This will significantly expand the outdoor party accommodations available seasonally at Golfland. The business end of the soda shop will be an "open kitchen concept," with windows showcasing employees preparing toppings and mixing and freezing the ice cream.
 
"You'll be able to see everything," says Scheiman.
 
With the addition of the soda shop, he sees the Sweetie campus as a perfect family destination spot, with a host of fun options including a leisurely stroll through the candy store's 14 aisles, a round of miniature golf and then a stop at the soda shop for a sundae, cone or float.
 
"They can make a half a day out of this," says Scheiman.
 
Fogg is the general contractor on the job. Chroma Design is doing the interior design. Both firms are local, which is something Scheiman strives for. To that end, he notes the store's acrylic candy bins come from HP Manufacturing on Carnegie Avenue and the shelving racks are supplied by Ohio Wholesale.
 
The campus is approximately five acres. While the candy store was a new construction buildout, the soda shop will occupy a building that was built in the early 1980's and originally housed a restaurant, then a video arcade and most recently a church. Scheiman purchased the property in January 2012. The golf course was also existing, but had been shuttered. The cost of the multi-faceted and privately funded project is confidential, but Scheiman describes it as "an incredible amount of money."
 
Scheiman bought the candy company in 1982 when it was called Bag of Sweets and employed just four people in a 1,200-square-foot space that offered no retail sales. This is the company's third major move and expansion since then.
 
"Foot traffic is up 45 percent," says Scheiman, adding that Sweeties is on track to see 400,000 people come through its doors this year, up from 260,000 last year at the previous location, 7480 Brookpark Road. He credits the 40-foot lollipop beckoning travelers on Interstate 480 and the colorful sign on Brookpark for at least some of the added business. BNext Awning & Graphics of Cleveland supplied both.
 
"This already is a destination," says Scheiman of Cleveland's largest candy store, noting that the sweetest part of the job isn't necessarily sampling the stock. "It's so rewarding to see families together doing something that is really cool."

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."

New wetland to help improve Big Creek water quality

In an effort to improve one of Big Creek's influents, the city of Parma, Cleveland Metroparks, and Big Creek Connects have united to create the Fern Hill Storm Water Treatment Wetland. The one-acre natural habitat that will capture, slow and infiltrate flow from a 36-inch storm water outlet that eventually feeds Big Creek, which is the third largest tributary to to Cuyahoga River. Currently, the water drains over 50 acres of an adjacent residential neighborhood.
 
"The project is directing some storm water runoff from residences and redirecting that water into a newly created wetland," says Jennifer Grieser, the Cleveland Metropark's senior natural resource manager for urban watersheds. The new wetland, which will be in the Fern Hill picnic area in the Big Creek Reservation in Parma, will also improve water quality.
 
When storm water runs over residential areas, it is exposed to lawn chemicals, road salt and a host of automotive residuals.  Diverting that water to the wetland will eliminate that exposure, slow its flow into Big Creek and create a natural habitat for flora and fauna.
 
"The wetland will have different depths," notes Grieser. "A small area will hold water, but in other areas the water will soak in. That gives space for a wide diversity of plants, everything from flowering perennials and sedges to native shrubs and decorative smaller trees like redbuds."
 
While Grieser expects to see a larger variety of birds and butterflies in the area courtesy of the new wetland, which she welcomes, she also has concerns about another prevalent wildlife that's often destructive: deer.
 
"We're going to try to protect some of the trees and shrubs with fencing," says Grieser, "But it will be hard to protect everything in there, so I'm sure the deer will enjoy some of that plant material."
 
Funded by a $149,000 grant from the Ohio EPA’s Surface Waters Improvement Fund and a $5,000 gift obtained by Big Creek Connects from General Motors, the city of Parma is the lead on the project, but the Metroparks is managing it. Work was originally slated for 2014.
 
"We bid it out last year," says Grieser. "We only received one bid: $399,999, so we couldn't proceed with it."
 
In order keep the project within budget, Grieser and her team worked with the Metropark's in-house site construction crew to do the excavation work.
 
"Were right in the middle of the project right now," reports Grieser. "Construction started in March with primarily the excavation of the Big Creek flood plain to create the wetland. Planting will start mid-May."
 
As is so often the case when dirt and pipes are excavated, the crew unearthed a surprise. The 36-inch storm sewer at the heart of the project was identified early on as having running water when it should not: during dry periods.  
 
"We worked with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, which investigated that and discovered there was a leak in Cleveland's water supply. They will be addressing that," notes Grieser.
 
"The project has already had an impact toward better water quality before we even finished."
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