landmark fifth church likely to be razed to make way for shoppes on clifton project

Fifth Church of Christ Scientist, built in 1927 at W. 117th and Clifton, has sat vacant for over two decades with little in the way of maintenance or repairs. In that time, it has suffered from major structural deterioration that would cost millions to fix.

Giant Eagle donated the property to the City of Cleveland in 2002, but it was in severe disrepair even then. The city has been unable to find any developers willing or able to repurpose it. The building is landlocked and has no available parking.

Although a neighborhood group has formed in the hopes of saving it, Anitz Brindza of Cudell Improvement Inc., which has tried for years to find a buyer or tenant for the historic site, says it is likely a fait accomplis that the building will come down.

"A lot of people that [organizer] Jeon Francis of Save Fifth Church has whipped into a frenzy are under the impression that the church is in a salvageable condition," says Brindza. "It is not. It is so deteriorated from neglect and abuse that a $10 million price tag would probably only scratch the surface. The dome is supported by steel infrastructure that really could come down at any time."

Francis disagrees. "Preserving the building truly could be a fantastic catalyst for the economic and social revitalization of this neighborhood. We want to work with the councilperson and the CDC to champion repurposing of this historic building."

The Save Fifth Church group has initiated a petition drive to collect signatures in support of the church's preservation, is pressuring Councilman Jay Westbrook to support saving the church, and is trying to help find a donor, buyer or developer.

The City of Cleveland has not formally stated its intention to pursue demolition of the building, and Westbrook did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

Brindza says that after years of delays, the Shoppes on Clifton project at W. 117th and Clifton adjacent to the church could move forward soon. The developer, The Carnegie Companies, is in active negotiations with a major anchor tenant.

Although the developer is not at liberty to name that prospective tenant, Brindza says that the neighborhood has always expressed a desire for a grocery store at this spot, and Carnegie has pursued major grocery tenants.

Any future development plans would be presented to the community before being submitted for city approvals. Brindza hopes for a pedestrian-friendly project.

"This is one of the most highly-coveted corners in Cleveland," Brindza says. "It has tremendous traffic counts. But the beauty of it is that it's a pedestrian area too. Whatever is designed needs to be an urban center to serve both pedestrians and commuters."

Major architectural elements of Fifth Church could be repurposed into the retail project or made into public art in other areas of the community.

Source: Anita Brindza, Jeon Francis
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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