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Unique staff at Ranger Cafe prepares for October opening

On October 27th, the Ranger Café will open its doors to the public. The 50-seat venue will offer a smart selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees. The hours, however, are a bit limited; the eatery is only open three hours a week: on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from noon to 1:30 p.m.
 
Why such tight time slots? The Ranger Café is housed inside Lakewood High School (LHS), 14100 Franklin Boulevard, and is run completely by students.
 
"The juniors are here from 8 to 11 a.m. They really help prepare and setup the restaurant," says culinary arts instructor Devan Corti. The seniors take the reins from noon to 2:15 pm. "They also prep and help setup, but then they are the ones who are here during hours of operation. They are cooking, serving, hosting, dishwashing.  Any real positions out there in an actual restaurant, that's what they're doing here."
 
"It's a self-contained little business," adds culinary arts instructor Rob McGorray.
 
The 6,000-square-foot café is housed in what was once LHS's East Cafeteria. The space includes a demonstration classroom, dining room and a gleaming kitchen loaded with professional equipment including six ovens, three industrial ranges, two convection ovens, a freezer, walk-in cooler and a smoker for processing turkey and homemade pastrami.
 
"We've been brining it, curing it and smoking it," says Corti. The savory meat then gets piled onto sandwiches with cheese, pickled onions, and various other toppings. The menu also includes soup of the day, quiche of the day, a smoked cheddar burger, fish 'n chips and filet mignon among other offerings. The group is still working out the dessert menu.
 
The program is under the aegis of the West Shore Career-Technical District, which offers a host of vocational programs and caters to students from Lakewood, Rocky River, Bay Village and Westlake. Currently, the culinary arts program serves 20 juniors and 11 seniors, all of whom are hard at work preparing for next month's opening.
 
In addition to running the café, students perform any number of food labs that center on skills such as cooking techniques, making homemade stocks as well as some standards.
 
"They always love making pizza," says Corti. Other favorites include soup lab and ice cream lab. Homemade breads (focaccia, Asiago, sandwich buns) are also house specialties.
 
Students can eat food they prepare and take home lab leftovers. As for the café, which is marking its sixth year in the former cafeteria space, customers include regular janes and joes, teachers, staff members and community groups. During school hours, however, the café cannot sell food to students on account of regulations surrounding public school lunch programs.
 
Culinary arts students also complete a formal food safety curriculum, and learn about aspects of the industry the laymen takes for granted such as the proper labeling for items in the "Grab and Go" cooler. As in any kitchen, unpredictability always looms. When it strikes, McGorray teaches kids to tackle it with an "adapt and overcome" methodology.
 
"How do you restart the fryer or lift the heavy thing without hurting your back? How do you fix a vinaigrette?" poses McGorray. "What do you do if the chef forgot to order the chicken? What if there's a power outage? What do we do?" He recalls when a snow day wiped out 30 reservations. The solution? A staff lunch for the teachers the next day.
 
"We’ve had it all," adds Corti of life's little surprises. 
 
In addition to instruction, hands-on learning and running the café, students round out their experience with culinary competitions, bake sales and field trips to serve families at the Ronald McDonald House. But the real the icing in this kitchen isn't on the cake.
 
"We're not just teaching you how to sauté," says Corti. "We're teaching life skills. We're teaching you how to function in the real world and how to make money at it."
 
"It's thinking on your feet—problem solving," adds McGorray. "That will get you farther than just a degree."
 
The public is welcome at Ranger Café, although reservations are strongly recommended. Call 216-529-4165 and select "1."

Metro Home rekindles heyday of downtown shopping

The street level view on the corner of East 9th and Walnut Avenue has bloomed in a way few might have predicted not so long ago. In 2009, the former East Ohio Building at 1717 East 9th Street was vacant. Now, 223 apartments populate the 21 floors and a gorgeous new home furniture and décor retail venture, Metro Home, occupies the space where Clevelanders used to go to pay their utility bills.
 
"I'd flip the lights on and there would be seven or eight different people just peering in the windows," recalls store manager Robb Ernsberger of the store's soft opening in late July. "We let them in when there wasn't price tags on this stuff just to let people get acclimated to us."
 
No wonder that. Metro offers up retail eye candy the likes of which downtown hasn't seen since the heyday of the department store era, when window dressing was an art form and the Home departments at May's or Halle's or Higbee's housed divans and love seats worthy of the stately mansions in Ambler Heights or on Edgewater Drive.
 
Metro clinched the lease deal earlier this year. The City of Cleveland did minor build-out work in order to accommodate the spacious 4,500-square-foot store. Now the space is teeming with color and forward thinking pieces designed with the new downtown apartment dweller in mind, although Ernsberger reports that plenty of suburbanites and business owners peruse the merchandise as well.
 
The eclectic stock includes seating options such as the funky Flirt Sofa ($2,199) and EQ3 Tub Chair ($699) as well as quirky kitchen items. Try Stonewall’s Maple Bacon Onion Jam (about $8), or THAT! heated butter spreader (about $20), which uses the heat of your hand to ease the pesky task of making chilled butter submit to a slice of toast.
 
"It basically makes spreading butter ridiculously easy," says Ernsberger. "The thing can cut an ice cube in half."
 
Alternative cutting devices notwithstanding, Ernsberger notes that the new venture bodes well for downtown, much in the way Heinen's Grocery Store and the forthcoming Geiger's clothing and sporting goods shop are changing the area's landscape in both a literal and symbolic sense.
 
"It goes to show that another type of retail location can come down here and have an impact," says Ernsberger of Metro's new location, adding that downtown retail success is no longer just for the restaurant entrepreneur.
 
Metro owner Michael Rogoff started in the business in 1971 selling waterbeds in Cleveland Heights. While stores have opened and closed over the years, he's been selling homewares continually since then with at least one or two stores open at any given time. Currently, he's got the downtown Metro and one at 7835 Mentor Avenue in Mentor, which opened about three years ago. Rogoff also operates Sleep Source, a furniture and mattress warehouse at 5100 Pearl Road in Cleveland.
 
As for the latest venture, Ernsberger concedes that during the first month, the floor saw more lookers than buyers, but that's changing.
 
"We are definitely trending upwards," he says. "We are definitely starting to heat up."

Edwins begins expansion into Buckeye with its Second Chance Life Skills Center

Brandon Chrostowski, the founder and CEO of Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute at Shaker Square, is moving ahead with his vision of revitalizing the nearby Buckeye neighborhood and providing housing for his restaurant workers.

Construction began in late July on the Edwins Second Chance Life Skills Center – three buildings on 20,000 square feet of property located at South Moreland Boulevard and Buckeye Road. The campus includes a 22-bed dorm, an eight bedroom alumni house, fitness center, library and basketball court, as well as a test kitchen. Edwins students will also have the opportunity to take life skills classes.
 
Edwins students will live in the dorms, rent-free, but $100 a month will be taken out of their paychecks. When they graduate, that money will be given back to them for a deposit on their own apartments. Graduates of the program who can’t find housing can live in the alumni house for $150 a month.
 
The point of the campus is to give Edwins students, who get a second chance at a productive life after being incarcerated through learning the art of working at a French restaurant, a free or affordable place to stay while they get back on their feet.

Edwins Restaurant has graduated 89 students since opening in November 2013 and has a current class of 30. Additionally, Chrostowski teaches classes at Grafton Correctional Institution, where 37 students have graduated.

Chrostowski has lived in some shabby neighborhoods around the globe while working in the finest restaurants. “The way to bridge that is teaching,” he says. “If you can teach those skills, you can work your way out of anything. I’ve hit bottom twice in my life and I got back through good, hard work. Every human being, regardless of the past, has a right to a future.”

Even though construction on the buildings will not be done until November, some of the Edwins students are already living on the property. “Five guys are living there right now, as construction is going on, because they don’t currently have a home,” says Chrostowski. “We have gotten a warm reception there.”

Chrostowski held a fundraiser in February for the $1.6 million project and raised $152,000 on top of two anonymous donations totaling $1 million. Additionally, a slew of community business leaders donated their time and services to Chrostowski to make the idea a reality. Jones Day helped the center to gain nonprofit status, structured the purchase agreements and guided the diligence for the three real estate deals.

“Edwins is a brilliant and unique concept to change the face of re-entry in the United States, and it's consistent with our commitment to doing the right thing," says Chris Kelly, partner-in-charge of Jones Day's Cleveland office. "We take tremendous pride in the civic-minded efforts of our people. The lawyers in our office here were -- and remain -- overjoyed at the prospect of helping Brandon with his bold ambitions. We are extraordinarily proud to be part of his endeavor." 

Other companies include Lightning Demolition, which has done everything at cost, and RDS Construction, which provided its services at below market costs and helped with the planning. “RDS Construction has been guiding and attending meeting after meeting throughout the process,” Chrostowski says.

St. Luke’s Foundation has contributed financially each year toward Chrostowski’s mission. Bialosky and Partners Architects also provided design services.

The Second Chance Center is just a small part of Chrostowski’s vision for the Buckeye neighborhood. He has been working with a team of partners on the area’s revitalization, including housing projects, bringing retail to Buckeye and revitalizing the old Moreland Theater.

“Buckeye’s got the energy, it’s got soul,” he says. “I believe if we rally up the right people for the right projects, we can get ourselves a revitalized street and go from there.”

Robusto & Briar offers quality cigars in an eco-friendly shop

Patrick Siegel has lived all over the country, the last 10 years in Minneapolis honing his trade as a tobacconist – hand-blending pipe tobacco.

Although he is originally from Chicago, when Siegel visited Lakewood on a recent visit to his fiance’s home town of Rocky River, he knew it was the place to open his own shop.

“It just seemed to click,” he recalls. “I love Lakewood, it’s just fun. I love the fact that it’s a walking community.”

So in May, Siegel opened Robusto & Briar, what he describes as the “perfect cigar shop and lounge,” The shop sells premium cigars, house blends of pipe tobacco and accessories in a refurbished 3,000 square-foot storefront at 1388 Riverside Drive.
 
Before Siegel could open for business, however, he had to rehab the former software company space all the way down to the floor. “We had to cut the whole place down to the studs and re-do it,” he says. “It was a hazard to the public.”
 
Siegel rebuilt the space using locally-sourced reclaimed and recycled wood, including the floors; barn doors made of alder; and an 1880 back bar made of wormy chestnut that he scored from one of the oldest cigar distributors in Ohio.
 
Rather than use smoke eaters, which cause air pollution while clearing the room of tobacco smoke, Siegel opted for an environmentally-friendly air-to-air heat exchanger to clear the smoke inside.
 
The walls are adorned with pipe and cigar art “We have the obligatory picture of Winston Churchill, French impressionists and plenty of guys smoking cigars,” Siegel says. Two lounges feature high definition televisions and customers can relax in plenty of leather chairs and couches while enjoying their purchases. Siegel is in the midst of building some private meeting spaces in the lounge.  
 
The biggest feature is a 360 square-foot walk in humidor made of Spanish cedar – one of the largest humidors in the state.  “It’s the elephant in the room,” Siegel jokes. “We built the whole thing around it.”
 
Siegel has found backing for his shop from some unlikely people. “Even the non-cigar smokers have been supportive,” he says. “They say, ‘oh, I’m going to go find my friend who does smoke cigars.’ The decision to be here in this town was good.”
 
Right now Siegel has one employee and his fiancé, Nicole, helps out at Robusto & Briar.

Luxury high rise in University Circle set to break ground in January

Construction is slated to begin in January on a 20-floor luxury apartment building at Euclid Avenue and Stokes Boulevard in University Circle. The new high rise would add another high-end residential option in this booming, popular community.

One University Circle, at 10730 Euclid Ave., should be ready for occupancy by January 2018. The 280-unit building will include 268 units averaging about 1,000 square feet, 12 additional penthouses, a four-story parking garage, outdoor grilling area, fitness room and yoga studio. The building also will have a café and market, business center and residents’ lounge.

Dimit Architects designed the building, which includes a window wall and terracotta panel system for the exterior of the building. All of the units will have floor-to-ceiling glass, and some of them will have balconies or patios.

University Circle Inc. president Chris Ronayne, who likens the project to similar apartment projects in New York’s Central Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park, envisions a diverse group of tenants, from academics and millennials to empty nesters. “You’re going to see a pretty diverse cross-section of people in One University Circle,” he predicts. “People who appreciate the amenities.” The building will offer easy access to the RTA HealthLine.

Ronayne adds that the rising demand for city living in Cleveland will contribute to One University Circle’s appeal.

It’s all about density when it comes to revitalizing any neighborhood, he comments. The residential component is just one factor. Retailers and public transportation are the other components that contribute to a thriving city.

“When you’re looking at 280 units on 1.3 acres, you’re looking at the density of a major city,” he explains. “You need that kind of density to create foot traffic, retailers, for public transportation. We want a complete neighborhood where in a 20-minute walk you can find everything you need. The Circle has become a complete neighborhood.”

A portion of the land at 10730 Euclid Ave. currently houses the Children’s Museum, which will be moving to the Stager-Beckwith mansion in Midtown.
 
First Interstate Properties and Petros Development are partnering with University Circle Inc. on the project. Panzica Construction will be the general contractor.

Guide To Kulchur set to expand to larger digs in Gordon Square

Next week, Guide to Kulchur (GTK), the quirky bookstore and self-described "incubator for emerging and marginalized voices," will move from its tiny storefront at 1386 West 65th Street to roomier digs at 5900 Detroit Avenue.

"It's part of our 20 job initiative," says GTK founder RA Washington. "We're adding 20 jobs over the course of 18 months. We're going to target the youth first and set aside jobs for kids with juvenile records." He plans to start by hiring six people, with some future slots slated for recently released prison inmates.

The new 1,800-square foot space will feature more of what Gordon Square loves about GTK and then some, with a large stock of new books, a performance space, outside seating and even a coffee spot that will offer snacks made off site. And there's more to come.

"In the next 18 months, we'll take over the second floor and that will be an artist in residence space," says Washington, adding that the additional 1,800 square feet will also house a community/meeting area.

GTK's old home on 65th Street will transform into a regional warehouse for the Cleveland Books 2 Prisoners operation, which furnishes books to prisoners in Ohio, although Washington notes, "we get letters all the way from Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania." He also supplies books to the homeless and invites community organizations and social justice advocates to take books free of charge for distribution from the warehouse. Regular janes and joes are free to peruse the stacks as well.

"People can also buy books at a pay-what-you-want rate," says Washington.

Amid all this development, Washington has recently launched GTK Press, which he also plans to expand at the new location in the 500-square-foot garage with more advanced equipment for printing and binding. Once established, he aims to bring in more youth employees to learn about publishing and the associated skills, from on-screen design to binding.

He estimates the total cost of the endeavor at $23,000. Although he is still $7,000 short of his goal, an Indiegogo campaign helped raise nearly $7,000. GTK's pitch performance at last month's Startup Scaleup event garnered an additional $5,000. Washington has also worked with Kent State to get funding via the Common Wealth Revolving Loan Fund, which helps sole proprietorships such as GTK to transform into cooperatives.

"The final step of the expansion is to transform Guide to Kulchur from a sole prop. to a worker owned co-op," says Washington.

The grand opening of the new space is slated for September 4th.

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."

PizzaFire opens downtown, aims to kindle expansive franchise

While PizzaFire opened rather quietly yesterday at 236 Euclid Avenue on Public Square, Engage! Cleveland is hosting an event tonight at 5:30 to formally kick off the new fast-casual pizza venture (see details below).
 
The 2,500-square-foot downtown location, which seats 70, marks the second venture in what company officials hope to grow into a thriving franchise. The other PizzaFire location opened last October at 22 East Exchange Street in Akron. A third is slated to open next month in Cuyahoga Falls. Sean Brauser is the founder of PizzaFire and of the established Romeo's Pizza, which boasts 34 locations throughout Ohio.
 
"He really is a pizza genius," says Ryan Rao, the company's director of franchise sales. "He's very well recognized for his pizza creativity," he adds, citing a host of awards and accolades that Brauser has garnered for his pies and a 2005 appearance on the Food Network's $10,000 Pizza Challenge.
 
In the spirit of fast casual, PizzaFire customers can watch staff build their pie as they choose from six sauces (think spicy marina to ranch bacon) and a host of toppings. The 12 meat options include chorizo, free-range chicken and Tuscan pepperoni among others and the 17 veggie toppings range from standards such as black olives and green pepper to arugula and sundried tomato. After they're topped, pies are ready in just three minutes courtesy of an 800-degree domed brick pizza oven, the deck of which rotates.
 
"No one else in the fast casual pizza industry has this oven," says Rao, adding that he feels it gives PizzaFire's pies a superior result and an edge over the competition.
 
The company sees these first efforts as kindling for a project they hope catches fire across the Midwest and beyond.
 
"It's very wide open regarding who can truly become the Chipotle of pizza,'" says Rao, adding that there are just a handful of players on the fast casual pizza scene such as Pieology, 800 Degrees and Blaze Pizza. They are largely focused on the West Coast.
 
The company has plans in the works for up to seven more PizzaFire openings this year and is actively seeking franchise partners. For the bigger picture, however, Rao is courting venture capital dollars.
 
"We want to build out the Midwest with 100 units in six years," he says, adding of the timeframe, "it sometimes takes a while for these sexy new concepts from the West Coast to come to the Midwest."
 
Rao says the proven longevity and track record of Romeo's, which did $22 million in sales last year and employs 700 across Ohio, along with Brauser's reputation, will fuel the ambitious concept. Organic and non-GMO ingredients further define the brand, as do live hydroponic vegetables grown via Indoor Gardens' systems at the sites.
 
"When you walk into PizzaFire, you'll see lettuce growing in our cooler," he says, noting that leaves are harvested just minutes before a customer's salad is tossed. Servers also pluck leaves from a live basil plant to dress a pizza right before serving. "You can't get any fresher."
 
Rao describes the experience as visual and fun and is anxious to introduce it to the area, which the team has called home ever since Brauser opened the first Romeo's in 2001 in Medina, where the corporate headquarters are today.
 
"We look forward to sharing it with our local community because we're Northeastern Ohio people just like our customers."
 
Tonight from 5:30 to 8 p.m., Engage! Cleveland will host a business panel, tour of the new Downtown PizzaFire and a pizza tasting. The panel discussion will focus on entrepreneurship, market research and (of course) pizza. In addition, each attendee will receive a PizzaFire voucher valued at $8.50 for redemption at a later date. Tickets are $10. Registration and event details are available here. If any tickets remain, they will be for sale at the door.

Cleveland School of the Arts offers a cutting edge professional setting

This week, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) welcomes more than 600 students to the new Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA), located at 2064 Stearns Road.
 
"This facility will really allow the students to experience being an artist," says head of school John LePelley of the gleaming professional venue. The CSA is a grade or two above a traditional school building "where we're in a classroom with desks and were trying to sing," adds Pelley. New to CSA, he was formerly principal of William Cullen Bryant Elementary School and assistant principal of St. Martin de Porres High School.
 
Amenities in the new CSA include a kiln, a dark room, photography studio, four individual sound-proof practice booths for singers and musicians, two band rooms (each approximately 1,700 square feet) that are acoustically isolated via vestibules, a fully outfitted recording studio, a 2119-square-foot choral room, two 1,800-square-foot dance rooms worthy of Princess Odette and Prince Siegfried, and a hip 3,124-square-foot Black Box theater, in which students can immerse themselves in delivering the total performance experience.
 
"Our goal here is to teach students and prepare them for all aspects of the arts," says LePelley from the elevated catwalk surrounding the Black Box Theater and adjacent to the techie control room, "so with drama, it's not just acting. It's behind the scenes: set design, lighting, sound, all of it."
 
Likewise, two sleek gallery spaces (752- and 514-square feet) will allow students of the visual arts to engage in the professional practice of displaying their work.
 
"Throughout the year, we will operate these just as art galleries in the real world. There will be openings and events," says LePelley, adding that students will be obliged to prepare their work and plan for shows just like a working artist.
 
Visual art studio/classrooms will have prep/storage rooms and are designed with an eye on future curriculum expansions.
 
"We're really going to be able to expand the visual arts programming," says LePelley, noting that the previous CSA could accommodate traditional visual arts such as drawing, painting and photography. "But now we can bring in a loom for a textile course. We can have industrial design here."
 
Other traditional features include a 6,579-square-foot gymnasium with a portable stage and classrooms that will accommodate standards such as math, social science, chemistry, English and the like.
 
"The same way we want to prepare students of the arts for competitive programs," says LePelley, "we really want all of our students to be able to be to apply for competitive academic colleges and universities as well."
 
Groundbreaking for on the $36.5 million project was in July 2013. Moody Nolan was the lead architect and Ozanne-Hammond-Gilbane-Regency was the contractor. The building is certified LEED Silver and includes design features such as a white roof, a retention/detention system that diverts storm water into ponds and a chilled beam HVAC system that construction administrator for Moody Nolan, Anne Hartman, describes as significantly more efficient than forced air systems and virtually dust-free.
 
A replica of Mark Howard's mural, which graced the exterior of the previous CSA, which was demolished to make room for the new school, will be installed in the main stairwell overlooking the intersection of Carnegie Avenue and Stearns Road.
 
The 126,000-square-foot space can accommodate up to 775 students. The CSA will be transitioning over the next years from a grade six through 12 school to a high school, housing grades nine through 12. Last year's sixth graders are grandfathered in. Hence the 2015/2016 school year will include grades seven through twelve and the following year will accommodate grades eight through twelve.
 
While CSA is a public school within the CMSD, students must audition in order to be considered for inclusion. Notable alumni include rhythm and blues performer Avant and Ohio State Representative Stephanie Howse.
 
While the school is made of steel, glass and plasterboard, LePelley does not see it as containing his students, but offering them a portal to creativity instead.
 
"In a traditional school, it's chaotic, but here people have their outlet. You can go to the ceramics room and make something. You can play the piano and tune the world out. You can connect with yourself."

For additional insight, read a profile of Daniel Gray-Kontar, CSA's director of the literary arts department as well as an instructor of poetry, play writing and a senior writing lab.

Cleveland's next boom: Office space

Fourteen cents doesn't sound like much, but one thin dime and four copper Lincolns amount to what might be the most significant number in Cleveland right now.
 
"It is absolutely huge," says Gar Heintzelman, a research analyst for the global commercial real estate brokerage firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank (NGKF). The figure represents the growth of area office rental rates over the last year, which now average $17.52 per square foot.
 
"Cleveland hasn't seen a lot of rental growth," he adds, "because there's been so much product."
 
The "product" Heintzelman's referring to is office space, which heretofore along the north coast was all but taboo to developers, but that's rapidly changing and the swift rise in downtown residential growth is a significant contributing factor. As largely vacant office buildings get snapped up for residential and mixed-use projects, they displace whatever professional tenants they have.
 
Heintzelman cites the former East Ohio Gas building on East 9th Street, which is now the Residences at 1717, as one of the first harbingers of the trend.
 
"Obviously that tower was largely empty," he says, adding that about 40,000 square feet of the space developed by K&D Management was actively occupied before the transition. "Those tenants had to go elsewhere. We're seeing more and more of that," he says. "The product is shrinking, but demand for office space has been the same for 10 or 15 years."
 
Hence, prices are up and murmurs of new construction are bubbling among the development set, particularly in the wake of the success of the 480,000-square-foot Ernst & Young Tower, 950 Main Avenue in the Flats, which is enjoying a 90 percent occupancy rate.
 
While talk is long on Cleveland's comeback, Heintzelman is all about the numbers. Every quarter, he authors a Cleveland Office Market Report, which is largely a tool for NGKF brokers and clients. His data comes mainly from data analytic giant CoStar and a proprietary database populated by NGKF's insider information.
 
Key takeaways from the current report include:
 
--The much-ballyhooed sale of the 1.4 million-square-foot 925 Building (formerly the Huntington Building) at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, which is slated for nearly $300 million in redevelopment. Heintzelman calls the project simply, "giant."
 
--The sale of the former Fifth Third Building at 600 Superior Avenue for more than $50 million. "That's over $100 a square foot," notes Heintzelman. "That's a high number. That's a pre-recession high number."
 
--The law firm Benesch opting into the ambitious and yet-to-be realized nuCLEus project in the Gateway District with a lease agreement on 66,500 square feet. "It shows there is a demand for new high class A office space," says Heintzelman. "It kind of proves that the Ernst & Young Building was not an anomaly."
 
--The Republican National Convention temporarily leasing 40,000 square feet in the Halle Building. "It's not going to be a negative when they leave; it's going to be a net positive while they're here," says Heintzelman, noting that the space is already slated for mixed-use redevelopment. "It's not going to get pushed back onto the market."
 
Heintzelman, a lifelong Clevelander, speaks from personal experience on this unprecedented turn around and the residential boom. He's in the market for a Downtown apartment.
 
"I'm on four waiting lists and can't find a single place," he laments. "The vacancy rate for apartments in the city of Cleveland is lower than Chicago, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. That's not a joke. It's harder to get an apartment in Cleveland than those three places." He did, however, manage to put a down payment on a unit in the Guernsey, 2836 Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City.
 
As Heintzelman and droves of educated millenials elbow one another out of the way to move Downtown, it's creating a gravity, which is also a boon for office development. "That talent is going to attract more business into the city," he notes, adding that the trend is here to stay.
 
"I don't see this as a bubble."
 

Esperanza Threads offers organic handmade goods in Detroit Shoreway

Last month, a small business with a big heart opened a storefront in the Gordon Square Arts District. Founded in 2000 by Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, Esperanza Threads sells 100 percent organic cotton clothing, baby items, towels and blankets that are handcrafted right across the street. Esperanza had heretofore offered their goods online and at local craft and fair trade events.
 
"We use the funding we get from that to fund our real mission," says Lucretia Bohnsack, Esperanza's executive director, "which is to train people in the art of industrial sewing and help them get jobs."
 
Stepping into Esperanza's retail shop at 6515 Detroit (formerly Retropolitan) is like stepping back in time. The superlative quality of the fabrics and handcrafted composition is unlike anything lining the shelves of Target or Macy's. The lush cotton begs to be touched. Pricing is surprisingly reasonable. Washcloths are just $5.50. An adult tee shirt featuring a design by Cleveland artist Kevin Fernandez or Chuck Wimmer (among others) goes for $24. Considering the irresistible hooded baby bath blanket will last long enough to swaddle three generations (or more) of clean wet babies, the $28 price tag is a bargain. Other offerings include a catnip cat toy, scarves, robes and a few items made by different suppliers such as socks.
 
Shop hours are 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, although Bohnsack is happy to accommodate other time slots by appointment (call 216-961-9009 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday). The storefront venture, which is a collaborative effort between Esperanza and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation, will be open through October, after which plans are tentative.
 
"We'll see what happens," says Bohnsack. "We'll see if we're able to stay."
 
All of Esperanza's items are made by a staff of four sewers in a shop adjacent to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. Three of them are graduates of Esperanza's unique training program, which gives a leg up to the most vulnerable among us: international refugees and locals in need of a helping hand. Approximately 75 percent of the trainees are refugees from other parts of the world and 25 percent are from Northeast Ohio.
 
The program gives Sister Mary Eileen and Bohnsack a different perspective on the horrors unfolding in countries such as Syria or Afghanistan or Sudan, which so many of us watch from the comfort of our living rooms.
 
"We get those people here," says Bohnsack, recalling the day one trainee learned that his entire village had been destroyed and his family killed. Sister Mary Eileen describes another woman from the West African nation of Benin.
 
"She came here on her own seeking asylum because she had been in a very abusive situation all her life," she says, adding that the woman is scheduled for an interview at National Safety Apparel this week. "Hopefully she'll get the job."
 
The program takes in six people every six weeks for a three-week training course.
 
"In 2014, we had a 72 percent hiring rate," reports Sister Mary Eileen.
 
Esperanza works with a network of organizations to identify candidates for the program, including Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, Building Hope in the City, US Together, Asian Services in Action and West Bethel Baptist Church. They also take referrals from satisfied clients.
 
It all culminates with the honorable ideologies driving Esperanza: fair wages, a safe and welcoming working environment, sustainability, hard work, products and practices that respect the earth and, most importantly, people helping people.
 
"If every one of us did something little to make a difference," says Bohnsack, "the world would be a better place."

Art, history, design define new Little Italy-University Circle Rapid Station

 
This week, the highly anticipated $17.5 million Little Italy-University Circle Station will open on Mayfield Road at East 119th Street, with a ribbon cutting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. this evening at the new station.
 
"University Circle is thriving," says Joe Calabrese, CEO and general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA). He also notes that the area's growing success has gone hand in hand with parking challenges, which has its own peril. "People don't feel comfortable going there because of parking concerns."
 
Calabrese, along with a host of area partners including the Cleveland Foundation, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), Little Italy, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University, hopes the new station will change that.
 
"The whole community is trying to do more to promote people going to University Circle--not necessarily by car, but by other means as well," he says. "So this will be a great option for them to get to that great area."
 
Construction on the $17.5 million project ($8.9 million of which came from a federal TIGER grant) began in October 2013. The contractor was McTech Corporation. Paul Volpe, founder of City Architecture and a Little Italy resident, led the design team.
 
Highlights of the new station include artistic lighting of the bridges leading to the station, a terrazzo floor designed by artist Suzy Mueller Frazier and lighting fixtures by artist Jennifer Cecere that will remind some of the handmade white doilies that festooned the side tables in Nona's parlor.
 
"This is little Italy and our design team really spent some time looking at appropriate art," says Calabrese, "to almost make you feel like you're in Italy."
 
Another fascinating design element begins with an historic oddity courtesy of the same gents who delivered unto us the Terminal Tower, the Van Sweringen brothers.
 
"They basically built the Shaker Rapid," says Calabrese, adding that the famed brothers planned other rail lines throughout the region. "When we did our investigation as to where we were going to relocate our station, we found this old foundation (we call it a vault) for a station that the Van Sweringens built but never finished." The structure dates back to the 1920s and will now serve as the entranceway and lobby for the new station. "It's an historic piece of transportation history," says Calabrese.
 
The new Little Italy-University Circle Station will replace the East 120th Street Station, which the Plain Dealer described two years ago as, "aging, outmoded, secluded and unsafe-looking." Per Calabrese, demolition plans are well under way, with a contract already in place.
 
"It was not in a good location," he says. "It needed significant upgrades. It was built in the 1950's"
 
These efforts are part of GCRTA's ongoing campaign to address and update an aging system in a changing city that is playing catch-up to other municipalities across the country.
 
"Public transit ridership is growing. It's growing nationally. It's growing here in Cleveland with a whole new wave of public transit advocates: millennials," says Calabrese, adding that the up-and-coming generation isn't nearly as concerned with car ownership as their parents. They want to live and work where walking, biking and public transit options are robust.
 
"If they can't get the lifestyle amenities they want here in Cleveland, they're going to go cities that offer those amenities like Boston, Chicago and New York City," he says, adding that the new Little Italy-University Circle Station is a stalwart step to attracting and keeping them here.
 
"Little Italy is such an important and iconic area of the city," says Calabrese. "We think this station will be a game changer."
 

Gluten-free Cafe Avalaun coming to Richmond Road

As early as next month, Brian Doyle will be opening the Avalaun Café, 4640 Richmond Road, suite 200, which will set itself apart for many reasons, including being gluten-free. Doyle is the chef at the Beachland Ballroom and owner and chef for Sowfood, a caterer and CSA-style purveyor of prepared foods specializing in gluten-free options.
 
While Doyle, alongside pastry chef Maggie Downey, have been running Sowfood in the 1,900-square-foot space since March, Doyle didn't finalize details on Avalaun until just last month.
 
"It's been in the planning stages for about a year," says Doyle of the project, which he is financing privately and with a microloan from the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI).
 
Avalaun will feature an array of Downey's gluten-free baked items, salads, soups and sweet and savory crepes.
 
"Anything you can put in a sandwich, you can put in a crepe," says Doyle. Menu specifics, however, haven't been nailed down yet--except for the coffee. Crooked River Coffee Company will be providing top shelf beans for an area that's badly in need of a good cup of joe.
 
"We're going to be filling a void," says Doyle, noting that coffee options between Beachwood and Miles Road on Richmond Road are essentially nonexistent save for fast food chains. Initially, Avalaun will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, although Doyle hopes to expand those hours at a later date. He plans on hiring six employees, for which he is currently soliciting applicants.
 
The space is the former site of Café Beníce. Since it previously housed an eatery, construction is minimal and Doyle is doing much of it himself with the help of some friends. Painting, decorating and minor construction are ongoing.
 
The space features a large window between the dining area and the bakery, so patrons can watch the action in the kitchen. Avalaun will seat 20. Bridget Ginley, artist and host of the Sunday evening Erie Effusion on WRUW, constructed the tables for the café from reclaimed pallets. Carole Werder is creating a unique art installation with a poignant impetus.
 
"Avalaun was my mother's name," says Doyle. "She passed away when I was eight."
 
To that end, Werder's piece will be a painting of a tree with three-dimensional elements. Doyle describes the work as, in part, characterizing his mother's soul.
 
"She was an artist and a poet."
 
And she surely would be smiling upon her son's latest venture: a gluten-free eatery with a sharp eye on healthy local food in a stylish venue that's run by a sustainably minded staff.
 
"It's not going to be this stark shopping center vibe," says Doyle. "It's going to be very unique and eclectic. It's going to have a lot of character and personality."
 

Exclusive first look: the Creswell

A new boutique apartment building with a quirky history, the Creswell, 1220 Huron Road, is set to open with 80 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments in Playhouse Square.

Move in dates will commence in September on the first six floors. Units on floor seven will be available in October. Floors eight through 11 are scheduled to start coming online in November, with all the apartments slated for completion by year's end. Thus far, 54 have been released to the market, and they are going fast.
 
"We have 44 hard reservations out of 80 units," says Jon Mavrakis, managing director of CITIROC Real Estate Company, who is representing the project partners, the Slyman Group and the Dalad Group.
 
Units will range from 773- to 1,162-square feet with rents from $1,275 to $1,920, although rents for the 11th floor two-bedrooms will top $2,000. North-facing apartments on the second floor will feature historic leaded windows.
 
Construction started in January. Vocon is the architect on the project, which was awarded a $3.55 million state historic tax credit in 2013, and Dalad Construction is the contractor. The total cost is expected to be about $16 million.
 
The 1920 Creswell was originally constructed as a garage for roadsters your great-great granddad zipped around in. Per the Aug. 15, 1920 Cleveland Plain Dealer (PD): "The south side of Huron Road at E. 12th Street is being improved with an eleven-story fireproof concrete structure with brick and terra cotta trimming that will house 800 cars." The Creswell was also built to last, with a footing of concrete piles that extended down 50 feet on account of quicksand (per the PD on Nov. 7, 1920).
 
"The subfloors are all about two-foot-thick concrete," says Mavrakis of the building's solid construction. "It's very quiet."
 
Hence, residents of the Creswell will not need to worry much about hearing the goings-on of their upstairs neighbors, which may include the four-footed variety. Two pets up to thirty pounds each will be allowed per apartment.
 
While the building has endured these 95 years, the garage went out of business in 1923, after which the structure was quickly reborn as the Carnegie Hall Building and was home to a host of businesses in the entertainment industry and local legends such as the Cleveland Recording Company and Wyse Advertising. The style back then? Just plain cool.
 
The new Creswell will have plenty of cool of its own, with a 1,000-square-foot fitness center and a rooftop deck that is scheduled to open in spring of 2016. Parking will be available at the Halle Garage for an additional charge. The first floor will have a 4,000-square-foot restaurant, a tenant for which has yet to be placed.

"We're engaging some local operators," says Mavrakis. "We have a lot of interested people"

He adds that one of the best parts of bringing these unique and modern apartments to a vintage building in Playhouse Square is the storied surroundings.
 
"We feel this is the best neighborhood in the city."
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