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County grant paves the way for Lee Road facelift

3581 Lee Rd, after storefront improvements

3581 Lee Rd - before

State Farm Insuarnce - before storefront improvments

State Farm Insuarnce - after

Discount Dry Cleaners - before storefront improvments

Discount Dry Cleaners - after

3535 Lee Rd - before storefront improvments

3535 Lee Rd - after

In an effort to spruce up Lee Road between Scottsdale Road and Chagrin Boulevard and make it a more attractive business district, the Shaker Heights Economic Development Department helped four property owners in the neighborhood update their exterior facades, thanks to a grant from Cuyahoga County.
 
For us, it’s all about making slow, incremental changes,” says Shaker economic development specialist Katharyne Starinsky. “We’re trying to do this in a progressive fashion so it lasts.”
 
The city applied for a grant through the Cuyahoga County Competitive Storefront Renovation program in November 2015, and was awarded $50,000 for full façade improvements on three buildings and new signage on a fourth.
 
The 2016 project marked the first time Shaker Heights had applied for the County grant, and was among four approved cities.
 
The store renovations are a new addition to Shaker’s business incentives portfolio, designed to help small businesses thrive.
 
Shaker tapped six businesses in its application. Last April, three were ultimately chosen for the grant money: Discount Cleaners at 3601 Lee Road State Farm Insurance at 3605 Lee Road, and a vacant 1,600-square-foot office building at 3581 Lee Road.
 
“There are a number of different businesses involved in doing upgrades to their properties,” explains Starinsky. “We have a relationship with all of the business owners so we knew what businesses might be interested.”
 
The city was able to include a fourth property, Protem Homecare at 3558 Lee Road, with new signage for its recently-renovated building.
 
The business owners were required to pay for 50 percent of the renovation costs, up to $16,000, while the city matched the other 50 percent with the grant money.
 
"These are small, locally owned businesses and this is a lot of money for them,” says Starinsky. “Out of the three properties, only one used the full $16,000. Because of that, we were also able to do the signage for Protem.”
 
Shaker hired a design specialist to work with the business owners on cost estimates and envisioning their needs. “They came up with the design together,” says Starinsky of the cooperative work.
 
The businesses then evaluated contractor bids on the work. “The toughest part was going through the contractors’ bids,” recalls Starinsky. “It was very time consuming, but we wanted them to choose someone they felt connected with.”
 
Ultimately, Starinsky says two of the contractors chosen for two projects were minority owned enterprises.
 
The projects are mostly complete. State Farm renovated the existing façade details, including installing exterior lighting, signage and replacing the door and windows. Discount Cleaners replaced windows and installed a new sign and canopy and is completing finishing touches this week.
 
The owner of the office building, which once housed credit union, tuck-pointed the front steps, installed new awnings and windows and other façade work. “This was a leap of faith for him, because he [the owner] doesn’t have a tenant yet, it he wants to rent it out,” explains Starinsky. “It’s caddy-corner to [co-working and office hub] The Dealership, so it’s a really great location for someone who doesn’t need a big space all the time.”  
 
Shaker’s Lee Road district is capped off with a sculpture, Cloud Monoliths, by local public artist Steve Manka – part of the city’s 2015 Lee-Lomond intersection project.
 
Overall, the renovation projects totaled $113,699, which includes the storefront grant, $48,427 in private investments, $18,550 by the city for the design specialist and architectural fees, and $4,500 in grants from Shaker Heights Development Corporation made possible through Citizens Bank.
 
The city is so satisfied with the work done in 2016 that officials applied for a similar county grant for 2017.
 
“It’s a real nail biter,” Starinsky says of the recent application, “because we’d like to try it again. We’re supporting our [new] businesses and those who have been here a while too.”

Shaker has a number of available commercial properties for lease.

The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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