city tours aim to lure suburbanites, repopulate classic urban neighborhoods

Riding high on the success of the 2014 program, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) will kick off the 2015 City Life Tours in less than two weeks with six scheduled tours starting on Monday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. Other dates include Thursday, March 19 at 1 p.m. and a quartet of 10 a.m. Saturday slots: Feb. 28, March 21 and April 11 and 25.
 
Jeff Kipp, director of neighborhood marketing for CNP, is tour master both on and off the bus. In chatting with him, it's clear he's not simply aiming to entertain riders, but connect them to the city in a more profound—and permanent—way.
 
"We're looking at 50 years of sprawl," says Kipp of Cuyahoga County at large. "There's a lot of people that fully disengaged from our urban neighborhoods over the past few decades. We're looking to reel them back in and reintroduce them to the city that they call home." And maybe even get them to move back into Cleveland proper. After all, sixty percent of the more than 300 City Life Tour attendees in 2014 said they live in Cleveland, even though they hailed from the suburbs.
 
"Our ultimate goal in all of this," says Kipp, "is to repopulate Cleveland's urban neighborhoods." To that end, nine percent of his 2014 riders said they intended to do just that. In an interesting side note, 25 percent of the 2014 attendees were young professionals and 25 percent were empty nesters. Hence the call of the city harkens to all ages.
 
The 14-mile tour loop begins and ends in Ohio City and includes Downtown, Uptown and Midtown among other neighborhoods. The group also disembarks to explore a residential unit, which may be a townhome, traditional home or apartment. Offerings change with the tours and have included stops at Park Lane Villa in University Circle and the Painters Loft Condominiums in Detroit Shoreway.
 
"We're showing them things that they're reading about in the news: a resurgence that’s happening in Cleveland," says Kipp. "It's one thing to read about it or hear about it second or third hand. Its another thing to sit on a bus for two and a half hours and see it nonstop—the houses being renovated and the new construction."
 
All of the upcoming tours kick off at Paul Dunbar School, 2200 West 28th Street, save for the March 19 event, which will depart from the lot behind the West Side Market. While this batch of tours will roll out on a private limo/bus, in the fairer months, riders will embark on Lolly the Trolley for the adventure. The $12 price tag includes a tee shirt.
 
Future plans may include tours that spend more time in focus areas such as University Circle, the near West Side, Fairfax or Shaker Square/Larchmere.
 
"People will have almost a menu of tours to choose from," forecasts Kipp. "If we can condense our area, we can show more."
 
Kipp is not just selling historic housing stock, diverse neighborhoods and a connection to the area's urban roots; he's offering a lifestyle.
 
Of Cleveland's great museums and institutions he says, "Of course they're here, but they could be in your backyard if you live in the city. A lot of our audience is coming from a demographic for which coming Downtown is a big part of their day," he says, noting that it's an event that requires planning and travel time.  "Whereas when you live in the city, all of these assets and all of these gems are in your back yard."
 
Hence, a glittering venue such as the Art Museum's Ames Family Atrium transforms from an occasional destination to an everyday pleasure.
 
"You can just pop in and brown bag lunch it," says Kipp. "That's a lot better than an office park cafeteria."
 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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