As the new economic development director for Cleveland Heights
, Greg Zucca’s job is to attract new businesses to the city and provide established merchants with resources and help them secure loans so that they succeed.
Recent news that three businesses along Lee Road were closing sparked concern that the Cedar-Lee district may be in trouble, especially in light of the tragic murder of Jim Brennan, who owned Brennan’s Colony, and the arson at The Katz Club Diner.
Closings are unfortunately part of the business cycle and aren't always related to crime in an area, said Kelley Robinson, director of the Cedar Lee Special Improvement District. One business that shuttered in October, The Cedar Lee Pub & Grill, reopened a month later under new management.
A handful of new companies are moving to the Cedar-Lee business district, including Xcel Healthcare, a home healthcare agency, Zucca said. Verne & Ellsworth Hann, a heating and cooling company, is moving and expanding from their present location to 2026 Lee Road. Sun Putty, a skincare company, doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar presence yet, but is eyeing the district.
A new restaurant that will serve wraps, salads and sandwiches will open in the next month, Robinson said, and there is interest in the former Petland space that has long sat vacant.
One of the district’s biggest challenges is that many of the properties are outdated and need to be refreshed, Zucca said. City loans have helped places like Atma Center yoga studio and Joey’s Bistro update their buildings, and a $25,000 loan allowed The Cedar Lee Theatre to renovate its marquee. The city also has active loans with Lopez and Elgin Furniture, totaling $835,000 for all five businesses.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to finance retailers and restaurants. We’re working with those building owners to provide tenants with improvement funds so they can make the improvements they need and not dump a whole bunch of cash of their own to build,” Zucca said. “That way, they have money to operate the business.”
The city is also continuing to try to find a developer for the lot at the corner of Meadowbrook and Lee. The city issued a request for proposals, or RFP, in April 2013 after a development deal with The Orlean Company for a mixed-use apartment and commercial building fell through, but only informal conversations have resulted so far, said Mayor Dennis Wilcox.
“I like the mixed use concept. Ideally what I’d love to see are some offices there, but it’s a hard market to target,” Wilcox says. “For the top floors, residential units make a lot of sense. I’m willing to listen to anybody about a concept or an idea they may have.”