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Wrecking ball kicks off celebration, clears way for new downtown Shaker

Van Aken center will be demolished this month to make way for other phase one improvements


RTA & Van Aken Center

After years of planning and infrastructure improvements, all that remains of the Van Aken Center will come down this weekend to make way for the new Van Aken District.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, the city, RMS Investment Corporation, representatives of Cuyahoga County, ODOT and the merchants in the new district will host the New Starts Now Demolition Celebration.
 
“We will look back a little and then look forward,” says Shaker Heights economic development director Tania Menesse. “Van Aken Center basically looks like it did in the 50s when it was built. It took a long time to get to this point, and then it happens really quickly.”
 
The whole redevelopment was first initiated with the city’s strategic investment plan in 2000 and is on schedule to be completed by June 2018.
 
The celebration begins with a wrecking ball taking the first swing at the shopping center on the north side of Van Aken. When the demolition is complete, the only remaining structure at Van Aken Center will be the former Fresh Market, which will become the food hall in the new Van Aken District.
 
The rest of the space will be reborn as 100,000 square feet of retail on the first floor, 60,000 square feet of office space on the second floor and 100 apartments. The current parking lot at Van Aken Center will be a public park. A 325-car parking garage will be erected to supplement a 70-car lot and street parking.
 
Additionally, much attention has been trained on the public transportation hubs in the area as well as creating a cycling and pedestrian friendly infrastructure.
 
After the wrecking ball takes its swing, the New Starts Now party continues with a celebration and welcome from tenants of Shaker Plaza on the south side of Van Aken and in the Shops of Chagrin on Chagrin Boulevard.
 
“This is an event to thank the community for their patience and let them know the best is really yet to come,” says Menesse.
 
The event includes shopping, food and drink from vendors such as Pearl Asian Kitchen, J. Pistone, Rising Star Coffee, Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream, Nina Lau'rens Cakepops, and Restore Cold Pressed Juice. Goldhorn Brewery will provide adult beverages and music will be provided by By Light We Loom. Proceeds from the sale of Goldhorn Brewery beer will benefit the local non-profit organization, Christ Episcopal Church.
 
Many of the previous tenants of Van Aken Center, including Pearl, Donato’s Pizza, Subway, MoroPhoto and Frames Unlimited, have already moved over to Van Aken Plaza, while established tenants like QDoba, Walgreens and Juma Gallery continue to operate during the construction.
 
“We encourage the community and all of Cleveland to come see this,” says Menesse, adding that construction will not interfere with access to the existing businesses. “We want to make sure the larger community knows all of these are open for business.”
 
Many future tenants will host pop-up shops, including Tremont-based clothing retailer Evie Lou, which will open its first east side location at Van Aken District. Other newcomers to the district include men’s clothing stores Whiskey Grade and Brigade, Mark Anthony Salon and Day Spa and New Balance.
 
Families are invited to explore the new and pop-up stores via the “Be an Original” treasure hunt, which takes seekers on a quest for prizes through District stores. “People can go into every store to get something fun,” explains Menesse. “It’s a fun way to get people to explore the businesses in Shaker Plaza.”
 
The will be other family friendly activities, such as Face Painting by Suzanne, sponsored by Le Chaperon Rouge childcare, which will be opening a Shaker location in September 2017.
 
Cleveland Heights public artist Debbie Presser is organizing a community art project at the event. Attendees are invited to come draw, decorate and paint on a 16-foot long canvas. The work will ultimately be incorporated into a permanent public art piece in the Van Aken District.
 
In the meantime, Andrea Wedren, marketing and event coordinator with Boom, says the public work will be displayed along the construction site fencing. “People can just come and doodle and create, then we will take what is created and use it in the construction site,” she says. “It will be included in the [permanent] piece and be inspiration for the permanent piece.”
 
The demolition ceremony begins at 12 p.m. For best viewing of the wrecking ball’s impact, gather in the former Starbucks site at the corner of Chagrin Boulevard and Warrensville Center Road. The festivities then move inside at 12:30 p.m. - next to Pearl Asian Kitchen at 20156 Van Aken Blvd - and continue until 5 p.m.
 
Juma Gallery, 20100 Chagrin Blvd., will host an after party from 6 to 8 p.m. with wine, beer, small plates and music by Jim Carr.
 
The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available at Shaker Plaza or in the lot on Farnsleigh Road.
 
"This whole effort is to create a true downtown for the community,” says Menesse. “I really think this is going to be a great addition to the neighborhood.”

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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