old brooklyn community cafe to be developed at cleveland library branch

Despite being home to over 30,000 residents, Old Brooklyn lacks a vibrant main street full of local businesses. And while its neighbors in Tremont and Ohio City enjoy a surfeit of options when it comes to cool cafes, including Rising Star and Civilization, Old Brooklyn residents unfortunately can't say the same.

That's going to change soon thanks to a bold new project that's been initiated by the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation in partnership with Cleveland Public Library. Their plan to build a new community cafe in the South Brooklyn branch of CPL was recenty awarded $30,000 from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) as part of its Neighborhood Solutions awards.

The plan for the cafe dovetails with existing plans to leverage and redevelop the historic streetscape along Pearl Road in the heart of Old Brooklyn. The half-mile stretch of Pearl is close to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and other amenities, and there are also about 1,500 employees in the immediate area.

"This café will reimagine a community asset that has been a keystone for 35 years," Old Brooklyn CDC stated in its proposal to CNP. "Now the asset can be repurposed as a 21st century gathering space to anchor economic development and connect to the community through opportunities for programming and engagement. The café will be built not only as a public-partnership with the library but also as a physical part of the structure, creating opportunities for both entities to support the other through programming and shared customers."

Old Brooklyn CDC and CPL plan to renovate a portion of the library and create a new storefront where there's currently a blank exterior wall. This new, glass-fronted storefront will be attached to the library. It will have a separate entrance, seating area and a patio, but will also be accessible from inside the branch. Visitors will be able to grab a cup of coffee and browse the collection.

Old Brooklyn expects to select a private operator through an RFP process. The branch is located at State and Pearl Roads, a high-traffic location in the city. It will join Drink Bar and Grill and Cake Royale as new, expanding businesses within the area, and leaders expect the new cafe to create about five full-time jobs.

The CDC still must raise additional funds to turn this innovative idea into a reality. The $30,000 grant award represents only about 25 percent of the total costs to "white box" the library space so that it can be offered to a private operator.

Additionally, the following three programs or projects were chosen as Neighborhood Solutions Awards grantees, according to a release:
  • "Union-Miles Development Corporation will receive $35,000 to expand U-Mag, a program that supports entrepreneurship development specifically for the landscaping market through training, job referrals, networking opportunities and community volunteerism. 
  • Northeast Shores Development Corporation will receive $30,000 for the Collinwood Renter Equity Program which combines the rehab of low demand rental buildings into facilities that offer low-income artists both living and work space.  In addition, a component to build equity for the artist tenants is integrated into the program.  
  • St. Clair Superior Development Corporation will receive $30,000 for Hatch St Clair that will 'grow' new businesses for the neighborhood by providing a pool of funds and support available exclusively to home- based start-ups and existing businesses located in the SCSDC service area."
CNP stated in the release that it expects all of these projects to be up and running within about 12 months.

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.