Cleveland's oldest arts district is about to go 2.0 as the Superior Arts District

For decades, an eight-block section around Superior Avenue in the Campus District has served as one of Cleveland’s first live-work districts for artists and their studios. In just a few weeks, this area will become known as the Cleveland Superior Arts Business Improvement District, or for short, Superior Arts District.

“What this neighborhood has always had authentically is artists that are producing work,” says Bobbi Reichtell, Campus District executive director. “Between the Tower Press building, the ArtCraft Building, and a couple of smaller buildings, we probably have 90 to 100 artists’ studios or live-work spaces here.”

Proponents of the district have been working since February 2016 to establish the area from Payne Avenue to St. Clair Avenue (between E. 18th Street and E. 26th Street) as a Business Improvement District (BID). Advocates believe the BID will help continue the thriving artist culture, as well as create a cleaner, safer neighborhood for increased business and foot traffic—enabling the Superior Arts District to rise up to the level of other popular city arts centers like Gordon Square.

Once finalized by Cleveland City Council on Monday, Nov. 13, the Superior Arts BID will require property owners in the neighborhood to contribute to a fund—based on linear footage and market value—for Downtown Cleveland Alliance Clean and Safe Ambassadors to watch the streets and offer assistance, as well as for off-duty Cleveland police patrols.

“It will really elevate the cleanliness of the whole street, and the ambiance is going to improve,” says Karen Perkowski, who, along with her husband Dave, owns the live/work Tower Press Building and Cleveland State University student-geared apartments at 2320 Lofts through Tower Press Development. “As residential and commercial owners, we have spent quite a bit on safety, cleanliness, and maintenance. And not every owner on [Superior] has the same objective that we do. It will be nice that we’re not the only ones doing some of these things anymore.”

Of the approximately 60 property owners in the proposed district, Reichtell says only four objected to the plan. Those complaints were heard by a three-person panel, which ultimately decided to give the district the green light.

Dan LaGuardia, who owns Lake Affect Studios at 1615 E. 25th Street with his wife Amanda, supports the notion of paying into the fund. “On the front side, it costs money, but on the back end, I think it will end up making us money,” says LaGuardia, who serves on the BID steering committee. “It will increase property values and we’ll get more foot traffic. I think a lot of the development that is going to happen in this area is waiting for this to go down so that they can take that next big step.”

The Superior Arts District has a colorful history—having served as Cleveland’s garment district in the late 19th and early 20th century, second only to New York. As Cleveland’s garment industry faded, many buildings along Superior and the surrounding area became vacant space or warehouses.

According to Reichtell, developers Bruce Madorsky and Dan “Daffy Dan” Gray began buying the properties almost three decades ago. “They started buying up property in this district 25 to 30 years ago dirt cheap when it was the garment district, when Cleveland was losing manufacturing jobs and a lot of buildings went dark or were just used for storage,” explains Reichtell. “You could get 1,500 square feet for $600. It was just amazing. They’re really, in some ways, the reason why the arts district formed because they rented to people dirt cheap.”

Eventually, Madorsky and Gray decided to sell their investments, and in 2012, global X (a development firm specializing in historic renovation and preservation) began buying the properties they were selling in the district. Using historic tax credits, the firm has already completed Superior Sound at 2230 Superior Ave., converting the space to recording studios and an assortment of recording industry-related businesses.

Right now, global X is converting the old Daffy Dan’s building at 2101 Superior Ave. into its headquarters. The building, designed by Vocon, will be complete by February 2018. Antonin Robert, global X’s chief production and compliance officer, sits on the Superior Arts BID steering committee, as well as on the board for the Downtown Cleveland Improvement Corporation. He says he wants to preserve the historic integrity of the district, while also boosting the economic status of the neighborhood.

“Clearly, as we achieve greater critical mass with people living and working in the area, we’re going to attract more people,” Robert says, citing Night Market Cleveland as one event already attracting visitors to the area. “But you have to have more lights on.”

Robert says he is working with both local and out-of-town developers, as well as the Cleveland Foundation, the city, and CSU on capitalizing on the district’s draw, while keeping rents affordable.

“We want to keep the focus on the arts district that was created,” Robert explains, “We are working to find a way to find the capital to support the arts component.” He envisions creating shared spaces and incubation space as one possible solution; another possibility is parceling up some of the larger loft spaces that may be too much space for one artist.

Reichtell says she looks forward to seeing the progress as it unfolds. “In five years, this is going to be a much more dynamic neighborhood,” she says. “But that clean and safe aspect needs to happen first.”

The Campus District will hold its annual meeting and celebration, String Theory: Connections Made Visible on Tuesday, Nov. 28 at Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave. The Superior Arts Special Improvement District steering committee will be honored with the Leadership Award. Julie Beers, principal of Campus International School, will be the keynote speaker. Tickets are $60 to $75.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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 20 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.