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Cleveland Neighborhood Progress announces finalists for Vibrant City Awards

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) has announced 21 finalists for its 2016 Vibrant City Awards. Winners will be revealed on May 2 at the second annual Vibrant City Awards Lunch, hosted by CNP and presented by Key Bank and Community Blight Solutions.
“We are proud to convene community partners and stakeholders to celebrate city neighborhoods. These leading efforts in neighborhood revitalization are what help us all create a vibrant city,” says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of CNP. “The organizations and individuals being honored have displayed tremendous passion, dedication and collaboration. We’re excited to recognize them for their successful efforts in community development.”
CNP received more than 70 nominations for this year's awards.
“The complete list of nominations tells an inspiring story of neighborhood transformation that is taking place in Cleveland," says Jeff Kipp, CNP's director of neighborhood marketing for the organization. "From community development corporations to corporate partners and everyone in between, there are amazing people performing incredible work in our neighborhoods.”
Additionally, CNP will present the Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award and the first ever Vibrant City Impact Award at the May 2 luncheon. During the event, civic leaders, community development professionals, local developers, investors, realtors and passionate Clevelanders will gather to celebrate neighborhoods at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium, 3615 Euclid Ave., an iconic structure located in Midtown on the RTA Healthline. A locally sourced meal catered by chef Chris Hodgson of Driftwood Catering will be served. This event is open to the public. More information and registration details are available online.
The 2016 Vibrant City Awards finalists include:
• CDC Community Collaboration Award
Ohio City Inc. – Station Hope
Held in May 2015, Station Hope, a collaboration of Ohio City, Inc., Cleveland Public Theatre, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Councilman Joe Cimperman, was a free multi-arts event that celebrated the history of St. John’s Church, the triumphs of the Underground Railroad, and contemporary struggles for freedom and justice. Station Hope featured a diverse selection of theatre and performance ensembles, including more than 30 companies and 150 individual artists.

Slavic Village Development – Cleveland Orchestra at Home in Slavic Village
In spring 2015, The Cleveland Orchestra At Home in Slavic Village residency brought a world-class orchestra to the Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood. Partners included Slavic Village Development, the Cleveland Orchestra, Broadway School of Music and the Arts, the Broadway Boys and Girls Club, cultural organizations, and area churches and schools. In April, the orchestra performed a free public concert for an audience of 1,000 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The residency continued throughout the year with a host of events.
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
In 2015, the Stockyard, Clark Fulton and Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office partnered with the Hispanic Business Center and local businesses and entrepreneurs to launch La Placita, an open air market near the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street that featured 24 local vendors and cultural offerings for five Saturday events that attracted thousands. The events also served as an effective venue to showcase “La Villa Hispana,” which is home to a growing ethnic population in the City of Cleveland.
• CDC Placemaking Award
MidTown Cleveland – East 55th Street railroad bridge mural
The railroad bridge above the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 55th Street has been transformed into a symbol of the innovation and emerging economy embodied in the MidTown neighborhood and the Health-Tech Corridor. The mural, designed by Twist Creative, Inc., includes a graphic of DNA molecules, and logos of MidTown Cleveland, the City of Cleveland, BioEnterprise and the Cleveland Foundation.

Slavic Village Development – Cycle of Arches
The Cycle of Arches installation evokes allusions to nature such as trees or grasses bending in the wind, while nodding to the industrial heritage of the community by representing the neighborhood's "steel roots" with its steel tube construction. Part of the $8 million Broadway Streetscape and Road Improvement Project, the installation is located at the intersection of E.49th Street and Broadway Avenue. Jonathan Kurtz, AIA, designed Cycle of Arches. Partners included Slavic Village Development, Land Studio and the City of Cleveland.
University Circle Inc. – Wade Oval improvements
University Circle Inc. recently invested in several improvements to Wade Oval including a permanent musical park that offers four large-scale instruments, benches, Adirondack chairs and a chalkboard with the “This is CLE to Me…” tagline emblazoned across the top. Visitors are encouraged to creatively express themselves in this eclectic area.

• CDC Economic Opportunity Award
Famicos Foundation – Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program management
Famicos Foundation weaves together a diverse portfolio of economic opportunity programming to aid family financial stability in the Glenville neighborhood. In 2015, the organization helped complete 1,917 tax returns with a total refund of $2.3 million for residents. 549 of those returns were for EITC clients and those individuals received $869,000 in refunds. Also in 2015, while participating in a pilot program, Famicos referred 90 tax preparation clients interested in receiving one-on-one financial counseling to the Community Financial Centers.
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
The Stockyard, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office was instrumental in the planning and implementation of "La Placita," which served as a catalyst project encouraging collaboration between the local CDC and stakeholders in the community. This initiative served as a business incubator for new businesses with free business training and as an accelerator for established businesses. Situated in an economically challenged food dessert, "La Placita" also served as an access point for fresh, affordable produce and culturally relevant prepared foods and ingredients.
University Circle, Inc. – Business outreach and development efforts
In 2015, University Circle Inc's business outreach and development efforts included three key components: the Uptown Business Association (UBA), NextStep: Strategies for Business Growth and a financial literacy and QuickBooks bookkeeping program, all of which fostered networking amid business owners in the greater University Circle area. UCI consistently convenes the 17 NextStep alumni, a current class of nine business owners, 65 UBA members, and seven bookkeeping program participants at UBA meetings to network, enhance their skills and find new opportunities. 
• CDC Neighborhood Branding & Marketing Award
Northeast Shores Development Corp. – Welcome to Collinwood website
With the help of the CDC, the neighborhood has taken its brand as Cleveland's premiere artists’ neighborhood to a new level with the Welcome to Collinwood website. The homepage offers an artistic display of images and designs, and visitors are met with compelling copy that boasts the compelling opportunities available to artists in Collinwood. 
Slavic Village Development – Rooms to Let
St. Rooms To Let, a temporary art installation in vacant homes created by Slavic Village Development, was a successful marketing event that changed perceptions about the surrounding neighborhood. In May 2015, more than 1,000 visitors toured St. Rooms to Let, which included installations by 30 artists, live music performances and activities for children.

Clair Superior Development Corp. & Campus District, Inc. – Night Market Cleveland
St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and Campus District Inc. teamed up last summer to spark awareness, foster a creative economy, and bring attention to the hidden gems of AsiaTown and the Superior Arts District with Night Market Cleveland - a series of four summer events with local art vendors, Asian food and cultural entertainment. The inaugural season attracted a staggering 50,000 attendees and garnered coverage in 22 media publications.
• Corporate Partner Award
Community Blight Solutions
Community Blight Solutions focuses on understanding, solving, and eliminating blight. Prominent solutions currently include promotion of the organization's SecureView product and the Slavic Village Recovery Project, which aims to align demolition and rehabilitation to eradicate blight one block at a time and fosters corporate volunteerism amid the area's for-profit partners. The project is also focused on gaining access to a critical mass of real estate owned properties and those that are abandoned with the intention of either demolition or rehabilitation.
Dave’s Supermarkets
Dave’s Supermarkets' portfolio of stores sells products that match the profile of the communities they serve while their employees and customer base reflect Cleveland’s diverse population. Asian, Hispanic, African American and Caucasian residents all feel at home at Dave’s Supermarket. Dave’s has provided significant financial support in the form of food donations to community organizations, churches, and neighborhood groups. The local chain employs over 1,000 people in 14 stores, providing health care and retirement benefits to hard-working Cleveland residents.
PNC Bank
PNC was the lead sponsor of UCI’s summer concert series, Wade Oval Wednesdays – WOW! - a free weekly concert that draws up to 5,000 attendees. In addition, PNC supported UCI’s Clean and Safe Ambassador program expansion from seasonal to year-round with twice as many staff.  Additionally, PNC supported the creation and development of a children’s map and activity book to complement UCI’s newest education initiative, Circle Walk, a 40-point interpretive program set to launch in May 2016.
• Urban Developer Award:
Case Development – Mike DeCesare
Mike DeCesare of Case Development has been a pioneer in residential development in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, which he also calls home. He successfully finished the Waverly Station community in 2015 and completed the Harborview development at Herman Avenue and West 54th Street.
Geis Companies – Fred Geis
Fred Geis instigated the MidTown Tech Park, which boasts nearly 250,000 square feet of office and laboratory space leased to health and technology firms, and is part of the growing Health-Tech corridor. One of Geis’s most transformational projects is The 9, into which Geis moved its headquarters from Streetsboro. This spring, Geis will break ground on an Ohio City project converting the industrial Storer Meat Co. facility into 67 market-rate apartments. Fred Geis was also recently appointed to the Cleveland Planning Commission and will donate his stipend to the Dream Neighborhood refugee housing initiative.
Vintage Development Group – Chip Marous
Vintage Development Group provides well-built multi-family residential properties in Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City, thereby helping to support the associated commercial districts with residential opportunities and financial support. Not to be content with the footprint of his Battery Park project, Marous has executed plans for expanding it. His passion for complete, walkable urban development is made possible through established relationships in Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods.
• Civic Champion Award:
Joseph Black – Central neighborhood
Joe Black is committed to Central neighborhood youth. He is currently the Neighborhood Engagement Manager for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. As the leader of the engagement team, he is responsible for fostering a seamless experience for youth and families to progress through their education from cradle to career. Black’s passion was sparked by personal experiences with the inequities linked to men of color, and has since matured into a responsibility to serve “at risk” communities. He is a tireless, dedicated community volunteer, mentoring youth at his day job as well as during his free time.
Charles Gliha – Slavic Village neighborhood
Lifelong Slavic Village resident Charles Gliha strives to improve the neighborhood with art, civic engagement and business development. As founder of Broadway Public Art, he has championed the Warszawa Music Festival, is the founder of Street Repair Music Festival, organizes the Polish Constitution Day Parade, and volunteers at Rooms to Let. Gliha is an active member of the Slavic Village Neighborhood Summit planning committee and hosts cash mobs and live music events in area retail establishments. He also created a printed business directory and garnered $25,000 in grants for the neighborhood.

Alison Lukacsy – Collinwood neighborhood
A Cleveland transplant turned North Collinwood artist, advocate and promoter, Alison Lukacsy sees opportunities where others see problems. She has secured over $20,000 in grants, resulting in projects such as Storefront Activation utilizing debris from Adopt-a-Beach cleanups, Phone Gallery - Cleveland's smallest curated art gallery, a Collinwood Vibrancy Project, Yarn n’ Yoga on Euclid Beach Pier, Euclid Beach Book Box, and Bus Stop Moves RTA shelter exercises.

Cleveland Education Compact aims to improve relations between charter and district schools

While organizations such as the Transformation Alliance are working to make sure Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools ensures every child in Cleveland receives a quality education with access to a selection of schools, the Cleveland Education Compact is doing their part by helping the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the city’s 65 charter schools work together to bring excellence throughout.

The Compact is a collaboration between CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation and Breakthrough Schools, which is a network of public charter schools. The group came together last year after the associated schools received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014.
The Compact’s goal with the planning grant is to unite all those partners via a common goal that includes cooperation between the CMSD and Cleveland’s publicly funded charter schools and improve the educational options in Cleveland.
“Essentially, the district and Breakthrough Schools were doing some collaboration already,” explains Lindsey Blackburn, project manager for the Compact. “We applied for the $100,000 grant to get things going.” Blackburn adds that the term “compact” refers to both the group and the document they wrote.
Now the planning is underway and a group of 40 people from a dozen schools and organizations met in February for a brainstorming session and to form subcommittees. The executive committee meets monthly to discuss the subcommittee topics, which include record sharing; professional development; special education; facilities; funding; and policy/advocacy.
The Compact’s executive committee, which consists of five direct representatives and five charter representatives, meets once a month to ensure the planning phase is carried out before the grant runs out later this year.

“The last two areas have a lot of overlaps so it may make more sense to combine them,” says Blackburn. “Each subcommittee has co-chairs: one representative from the district and one representative from the charters.”
The group will meet again on April 5 for additional planning and outlining. “This is an exciting time because this is actual real work,” Blackburn says, adding that they will look for the areas that are easiest to tackle first, then address the more complex issues.
"We will look at the ones we can win first, like sharing professional development resources – if a speaker comes in, opening it up to all compact members,” she says. “There will be topics that will prove to be more complex and may not be solved in this round of collaboration.”
While the Cleveland Education Compact is not affiliated with the Cleveland Plan, the two groups still share common missions. “The Compact is similar [to the Cleveland Plan] in the sense that it is all about finding areas where district and charter schools can work together.,” says Piet van Lier, executive director of the Transformation Alliance, the organization charged with making sure the Cleveland Plan is executed. “But it wasn’t written into the Cleveland Plan.”
However, van Lier does see the two groups complementing each other. “Since the Cleveland Plan envisions a portfolio district with good schools, both district and charter, and allows the district to share levy money with partner charter schools, the two really are different sides of the same coin.”
Blackburn says future fundraising options will be considered to keep the Compact going once the planning grant expires. 

Transformation Alliance is a Fresh Water sponsor.

LAND studio launches international search for artists on RTA project

After receiving a $150,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation in September to create public art in 15 locations along RTA lines, LAND Studio has launched an international search for artists to celebrate diversity through their works.
“Right now we are looking for any and all artists who are qualified and have portfolios in the realms of large-scale murals and photography,” explains Joe Lanzilotta, LAND studio project manager. “We don’t want to dissuade anyone from applying for this, because this is something that will last for many years into the future.”
Dubbed the INTER|URBAN project, in honor of Ohio’s history of having the largest interurban rail system in the country in the early 20th century, the task is a citywide initiative to create an experience that connects public transit riders physically, socially, and culturally through the installation of public art along Cleveland's transit railways.
The work should be inspired by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, celebrating authors of literary works dealing with social justice and the celebration of diversity and the people of all cultures and backgrounds. “We want this to be something accessible, but we don’t want to be restrictive,” says Lanzilotta. “We want to make sure this project is highly visible to RTA riders, who will enjoy it and it will be a positive experience.”
The installations will take place in June, to be completed in the time for the Republican National Convention in July. “We want artists who can get it done,” says Lanzilotta. “In this first phase it’s pretty critical in finding people who we feel can get this work done in a short period of time.”
The LAND studio curatorial team will review all submissions before choosing the final group of artists. The curatorial team will then work with the artists on executing their projects. Artists will be paid for their work, Lanzilotta says, but the fees will not be pre-determined.
In addition to the Cleveland Foundation, LAND studio partnered with the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, North East Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards to bring INTER|URBAN to Cleveland. 
Submissions are due by Friday, Jan. 29. For more information, artists and teams should review the requirements or contact Lanzilotta.

PRE4CLE makes strides toward goal, looks at the work ahead

PRE4CLE, a public-private partnership that aims to provide more high-quality preschool seats for Cleveland children, is more than halfway to its initial goal.

In December the group published its first annual report, announcing that high-quality preschool enrollment grew by 10 percent in the initiative’s inaugural year of implementation.

That percentage represents 1,215 additional children enrolling in high-quality early education between March 2014 and June 2015 in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and at private and home-based providers.

With partners like CMSD, Cuyahoga County, the George Gund Foundation and PNC Bank, PRE4CLE is now 62 percent to its goal of placing 2,000 more three- and four-year-olds in high-quality seats, as defined by ratings in the state’s Step Up to Quality system.
“We feel really great about the progress we’ve been able to make in year one in getting more than halfway to our goal,” PRE4CLE director Katie Kelly says. “We know that that’s due to the great partnership that PRE4CLE has forged among the providers and the community and the school district. It’s been a really strong first year with a lot of commitment to reach our initial goal.”
In comparing itself to the first-year results of similar early education expansions around the country, PRE4CLE officials say it beat out San Antonio and Boston, which achieved six and nine percent, respectively.
Additionally, 80 percent of children in PRE4CLE classrooms are on the right track to kindergarten, according to Bracken Kindergarten Readiness Assessment data analyzed by Case Western Reserve University researchers.
Still, PRE4CLE’s report doesn’t mask the work that still needs to be done. As of June 2015, just one-third of the city’s 12,400 preschool-aged children were enrolled in high-quality preschool programs.
The report also includes a map of Cleveland neighborhoods – color coded by the percentage of children who are enrolled in high-quality preschools. Mount Pleasant, Jefferson and Old Brooklyn are among the neighborhoods with less than 10 percent.
“It feels like a classic case of ‘we’ve come a long way and have a long way to go,’” says Marcia Egbert, senior program officer for human services at the Gund Foundation and co-chair of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “It’s nothing but encouraging – the long way to go isn’t a sign of being discouraged in the slightest. It’s just to say that this was always going to be a long path, and we are now well down it, which is very exciting.”
The report closes with a look at ways the PRE4CLE partnership will attempt to raise those numbers in struggling neighborhoods. One example will be developing a mobile app with Invest in Children, the county’s own early childhood initiative. The app will help families find high-quality preschool options, as well as health, social, and cultural resources.
“For us, we know that 2,000 [additional children] is just the initial goal and it will be replaced by a new benchmark to get us even further towards the goal of every child in Cleveland having the opportunity to go to full-day preschool,” Kelly says. “What we’ve been able to build, along with expansion, is also a strong, quality infrastructure and a lot of momentum among educators and providers to improve their quality so that we can serve even more children.
“There’s such a strong commitment from the provider community to get on board with the plan to reach those higher levels of quality,” Kelly continues. “I think that’s really what’s going to make that opportunity available to every child in Cleveland.”

Urban Kutz welcomes all, already benefitting from the upcoming RNC

Growing up in East Cleveland and a graduate of Shaw High School, Waverly “Big Wave” Willis has been cutting hair since he was a kid. After high school, Willis was tempted by a life of trouble. “I was a street guy,” he recalls. “But I wanted to leave that lifestyle alone. I thought about leaving town.”

Instead Willis moved to Cleveland’s west side and went the business route. He opened Urban Kutz Barbershop at W. 111th Street and Detroit in 2008. Willis did so well, he opened a second location on Pearl Road in 2014 and the shop was voted best barber shop on the 2015 Cleveland Hot List.
Urban Kutz caters to all types of customers. The only caveat is you must have a good time when you’re in the shop. “We’re a diverse barber shop,” Willis says. “We get a myriad of Clevelanders, people of all races. During your time in the barber shop, be it 15 minutes or an hour, we do have a good time.”
Willis cites a recent day when he had a customer from Vietnam, a customer from London and two customers from the United States sitting in his chairs. Urban Kutz is also well respected in the LGBT community. “You can’t be homophobic or racist,” says Willis. “Everybody is welcome. Our clientele and diversity is really what set us apart. When people come through here we have a good time, we just talk about stuff.”
When Willis learned Cleveland would host the Republican National Convention in 2016, he started to notice an uptick in customers. He estimates each location began seeing an increase of two to 10 people a week, all with some affiliation to the RNC. So he promptly signed Urban Kutz up for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee supplier list. Almost instantly, Willis began to see an even more diverse customer base emerge.
“We have seen a significant amount of people doing some type of work with the RNC,” Willis explains. “I didn’t expect to see anything until next summer. We had a North Carolina guy here who was in Cleveland specifically to wash windows. We had another guy doing security detail. We’ve been getting a lot of business from people from the RNC already. I’m really looking forward to the RNC when they get here next year.”
When Willis isn’t busy with running his two shops, training staff as a licensed barber instructor and meeting people affiliated with the RNC, he spends his time doing charity work. Most recently, he participated in a winter coat drive with 93.1 radio personality Sam Silk. The huge cardboard box he put out overflowed quickly with donations. Willis is active with The Urban Barber Association (TUBA) and The Barbershop Literacy Project and works with several area shelters.
It all fits with Willis’ mission. “I try to do my best,” he says. “I feel so fortunate. From the moment we opened our doors we were received so well.”

County approves $10 million for quality preschools

The expansion of early education in greater Cleveland received a $10 million boost last week when Cuyahoga County Council and executive Armond Budish reached a biennial budget agreement for 2016 and 2017.
The two-year investment creates the Cuyahoga Early Childhood Trust, a public-private partnership meant to attract private funds to continue the push for universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten education to children across the county.

It’s the kind of support partners of the PRE4CLE initiative say is necessary to achieve and surpass the original goal of enrolling 2,000 additional children into high-quality preschool seats at public and private schools in Greater Cleveland by 2016.
“We are so grateful to the county leadership for this new investment,” PRE4CLE director Katie Kelly says. “It’s going to make a big difference in the amount of kids served across the county. The impact on Cleveland will be significant in not just number of students served, but the quality of our early learning program.”
The investment will fund teacher education and retention programs, as well as social, emotional and behavioral support for low-income students. According to the council presentation supporting the investment, there are 20,800 preschool-aged children in the county, but only 4,700 are in high-quality programs.
“We know it’s one of the most important factors in providing high quality outcomes for students,” Kelly says of teacher education. “Those additional supports in staff coaching and training on how to help students experiencing those challenges is a big part of quality as well. It can make our already good programs even better.”

New app to help users find waterfront access points, appreciate Lake Erie

The West Creek Conservancy, a group focused on preserving natural habitats and expanding opportunities to experience nature, is developing a new mobile app that will allow users to locate a watershed, map water-related public access points and learn more about that river or stream.
Developers hope the app will help people get out and explore Ohio’s Lake Erie basin. The app will serve as a mobile version of ODNR’s Coastal and River Access guide. It will use the phone’s GPS to direct users to the nearest water access points.
“The real idea here is we have such a great asset at our back door and people don’t know how to get to it,” says Derek Schafer, West Creek’s executive director. “When you get access to it, you care about it. If you’re recreating on it, you love it and want to keep it healthy.”
Schafer is hesitant to use the term “watershed” when talking about the yet-to-be-named app. “It sounds like a regulatory term,” he explains. “This is to hook, line and sinker get people to the water – whether it’s a boat launch, a canoe put-in, marina, whatever it is. Get them to know where to get to the water – all of the rivers and all lake access points in all of Lake Erie.”
But the app isn’t just about waterfront fun. It’s also designed to get users involved in conservation and advocacy groups. “It’s about getting people engaged in advocacy, to action,” Schafer says. “It’s how to get people to the Lake Erie coastline, watersheds and all the rivers. It’s about how to get people to them, enjoy then and then once you get there, you get them to respect them and enjoy them.”
The app, which is scheduled to be completed in beta version for IOS by the end of the year and Android sometime next year, will feature Lake Erie and watershed protection tips, a photo gallery, Lake Erie and watershed FAQs, newsletter and links to advocacy groups.
West Creek Conservancy is still trying to decide on a catchy name for the app. Anyone with a good name idea can email Schafer with it. 

Unique urban cycling event returns for a second year

Thousands of cyclists and bike enthusiasts will descend on Cleveland from September 11th-13th for the second annual NEOCycle, an urban cycling festival that offers races, rides, concerts and other events.

The event is the first and only urban cycling festival in the country, according to the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the organizer behind the event. “We wanted to create a cycling festival that brought different races and rides together,” explains communications manager Nick VanDemark.  “It was incredibly successful in our first year – we went way past the goals we set. There’s a lot of positive momentum around the cycling community and infrastructure in town.”
Last year almost 2,700 people registered for five different race events and 10,000 came to Edgewater Park for the live music. This year, organizers are hoping to register 4,000 cyclists.
The center of activity takes place at the event's Hub at Edgewater Park. Two stages will feature 25 bands over the course of the weekend and there will be food trucks, vendors, activities and a beer garden with four craft breweries. Admission to the Hub is free.
This year, VanDemark says organizers hope to grow the event even more. Competitive races include the Velodrome – high speed track racing -- on Friday, September 11th at the Cleveland Velodrome, and the Cyclocross, in which riders will navigate the crowds and other obstacles in a race around Edgewater Park, on Saturday, September 12th.

The Fundo, an un-timed ride for cyclists of all ages and ability levels, will take place on Sunday, September 13th. Proceeds from the Fundo go to Bike Cleveland, an organization dedicated to making the streets safer for biking and walking. The Criterium, also on Sunday, is a fast-paced race in partnership with Case Cycling that will travel through closed city streets in Battery Park.
“It’s a great collaborative event for a lot of people in cycling,” says VanDemark of the races.
The signature biking event is the Night Ride. The event takes place Saturday evening and offers spectacular views of the Cleveland skyline and Lake Erie as more than 2,000 cyclists ride down the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway in costume and glow lights. “It’s an eight-and-a-half mile course that anyone can do,” says VanDemark. “It’s an awesome visual scene to see thousands of bikes whizzing through downtown on the Shoreway.”
For those more inclined to hit the lake, NEOCycle has teamed up with Nalu Standup Paddle and Surf for standup paddleboard races, lessons and demos throughout the weekend. There are two mile and four mile races, plus a one mile kids’ race on Saturday, and a three-quarter mile buoy race on Sunday.
Registration is required for all of the NEOCycle races.
Even if biking is not your thing, there's plenty to do at NEOCycle, says VanDemark. “There are a couple of ways to get involved, even if you’re not a biker. There’s something there for just about anyone, whether you’re a cyclist or not.”

Tourism hits record numbers as word spreads about Cleveland

The word is out that Cleveland is a cool place to visit. According to Destination Cleveland's 2014 Convention and Leisure Tourism Metrics Report, Cleveland hit a five-year high in the number of visitors to the city, with 16.9 million visitors last year.

That number represents a 4.5 percent increase over 2013, which counted 16.2 million visitors coming to Cleveland. In 2010 there were 14 million visitors. The report is based on a combination of industry statistics and the convention and Destination Cleveland’s performance metrics.

“We’re really excited about it,” says Jennifer Kramer, Destination Cleveland’s communications manager. “The numbers continue to go up. As Cleveland is starting to revitalize, we’ve piqued people’s interest and they’re giving a second look at Cleveland.”

The record numbers show a change in attitude about Cleveland, especially among Millennials and arts and culture enthusiasts. “There’s an increasingly positive feeling about Cleveland but it wasn’t always that way,” says Kramer. ““Some folks think of Cleveland in the old days and they can't get past some things. But this has really helped drive visitors to the market and get everyone interested in visiting. The campaign has been successful in changing that attitude.”

Kramer says the increase in tourism is in part because of the investment in downtown. “There’s been $3 billion in visitor-related infrastructure,” she says. “We attribute the increase in numbers to the development going on in downtown Cleveland over the last five years.”

The report also shows that Destination Cleveland’s marketing and media efforts have paid off. The #ThisisCLE social media campaign that encouraged locals to share photos and stories about Cleveland, brought a 21 percent increase over 2013 in new page views of Destination Cleveland’s website.

“It has given us an opportunity to share what we see from a local perspective,” explains Kramer. Fifty four percent of residents who participated said they would recommend Cleveland as a destination, up from 34 percent.

Furthermore, travel and leisure writers have taken an interest in the city. Cleveland has made it on various top cities lists among travel writers, including the New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2015 and Travel and Leisure Best Places to Travel in 2015. “We’ve become one of the must-see places,” says Kramer. “When you start to see Cleveland on the same playing field as places like Las Vegas or Italy, we’re very fortunate.”

Kramer admits that the upcoming Republican National Convention and the Cavaliers in the NBA finals boosted interest in Cleveland. But the recent completion of the Cleveland Convention Center and the increase in downtown hotels has increased the city’s capacity to host both conventioneers and tourists.
And things seem to only be getting better. “Our plan is to build on this momentum,” says Kramer. “The Republican National Convention is a huge deal, but it’s a launchpad for more. We know we will continue to welcome this market as we get the word out.”

gray's auctioneers offers unique art, furniture and more from cle showroom

When Deba Gray and Serena Harragin decided to open an auction house back in 2006, they pondered several different locations. They already had an office in upstate New York and a workshop in Florida. Gray had experience with all the major auction houses, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but they knew location was key.

“Part of our business plan was finding an ideal location,” recalls Harragin. “We hit upon Cleveland because the main auction house had closed back in 2000. We thought the market wasn’t being served here in an international caliber.”
So Gray and Harragin returned to Gray’s hometown and opened Gray’s Auctioneers and Appraisers. “We did a ninja visit, we didn’t even tell Deba’s family,” says Harragin. “Next thing we knew we found this building that was perfect for an auction house. It is one level, has garage doors that let in light and make it easy to bring pieces in and out, has 7,000 square feet of exhibition space, and it has a parking lot.”
Since then, Gray’s Auctioneers has steadily grown in both reputation and company size. “We started off with nothing and in the first six months we doubled,” says Harragin. “And we’ve tripled our growth every year since then. It grew from Deba and myself with one employee to seven employees and two part-time employees.”
By having multiple specialists on staff, Harragin says they are able to act quickly on some coveted items. In November, Gray’s sold Andy Warhol's “Moonwalk” at $120,000, which sold to a local buyer in the audience at Gray’s auction showrooms. Other pieces that have sold at their monthly auctions include Samia Halaby’s “Rainbow Spirals.”
“Every auction is exciting,” says Harragin. “There are so many amazing pieces that show up here.” The auctions range from modern and contemporary to post-war art. Gray’s will soon hold an auction of antique and scientific instruments. “These are pieces that have been lost to time but integral in medical history.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 18, Gray’s will hold an auction of fine art, furniture and decorative art that will include artists such as Emile Auguste Pinchart, Gaston Prunier, Edmond Hottenroth and Pablo Picasso, as well as a diverse collection of antique furniture, jewelry, tribal masks and wood-carved statues.
French artist Auguste Pinchart’s oil on canvas painting “Family Gathering by the Sea Shore,” which features four women of different generations, is a particular standout to Harragin in Wednesday’s auction. When Gray’s first opened, the owner came in for an appraisal. Now it has returned for auction. “It’s so great to see it, to welcome it back,” says Harragin.
Interested bidders can come to the auction in person, reserve a phone line or bid online. People must register to place bids online, and all online bids must be made 48 hours prior to the auction.

cleveland can grow alongside robust fiber optic network, says panel

"Think big" was the theme of an Amplify Speaker Series luncheon on making the most of Northeast Ohio's steadily developing information technology presence.

The region must continue to expand its fiber optic infrastructure alongside ongoing efforts to transform Cleveland into a bustling tech hub with worldwide reach, said a foursome of panelists during the October 1 event sponsored by Contempo Communications.

The physical network itself is burgeoning, notes Lev Gonnick of OneCommunity, a nonprofit foundation helping to grow high-speed internet in Northeast Ohio. Since its founding in 2003, the organization has laid 111 miles of fiber in Cuyahoga County alone.

An advanced fiber optic/digital base transporting data at high speeds can be a boon for the area's already robust healthcare sector, says Kevin Goodman, managing director/partner of downtown Cleveland cloud-computing provider BlueBridge Networks. Crystal clear doctor-to-patient conferencing is just one example of how robust telecommunications can aid the industry.

If a healthy digital platform can help build industry and bring jobs, it will give Northeast Ohio an advantage in the hunt for young professionals over similarly sized markets, says Ashley Basile Oeken, executive director of Engage! Cleveland, a talent attraction/retention nonprofit.

"We're falling behind cities like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in bringing in talent,"  Basile Oeken says. "Cleveland has to find ways to stand out."

Dan Young, founder of technology and design agency DXY, is looking beyond county, state and even national borders when it comes to connecting with the next wave of innovators. Young helped establish a DXY satellite office in Germany, an experience that showcased the need for Cleveland to attract immigrant brainpower.

"The city has to be bigger and bolder about the conversation it's having," he says.

Creating a regional tech epicenter here would make drawing dynamic folks of disparate backgrounds all the easier, says Joy Roller, panel facilitator and executive director of Global Cleveland.

"We need to be open to the flow of ideas and new people," she says. 
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