Positive momentum: Local CDC puts Buckeye neighborhood plan into motion

In August, Cleveland’s City Planning Commission approved a new master plan designed to lift the Buckeye neighborhood from the swamp of disinvestment, structural racism, and population loss it has dwelled within for years.

Leading the way is Burten, Bell, Carr, Development, Inc. (BBC), a community development corporation that covers a four-square-mile block of various east side communities. The recently approved neighborhood plan encompasses Buckeye-Shaker and Buckeye-Woodland, where more than half of a largely Black population lives below the federal poverty line.

<span class="content-image-text">The Buckeye-Woodhill Transformation Plan</span>The Buckeye-Woodhill Transformation PlanChanging these fortunes calls for big ideas, says BBC executive director Joy Johnson. Among other highlights, the plan will create generational wealth through local ownership of single- and two-family homes.

According to study data generated during planning work, more than 60% of Buckeye renters and 25% of homeowners spend at least 30% of their income on housing.

Residents with an actual stake in neighborhood health are far preferable to the “faceless LLCs” that have snatched up the duplexes and other buildings along Buckeye’s streets, says Johnson.

CDC officials also envision a future where a strong foundation attracts new businesses to the inner-city community.

“If you have a stable base of homeowners, they’re going to want access to business services within a walk or short drive,” says Johnson. “Having folks vested in the community can be enticing for businesses to locate here.”

A true Buckeye renaissance includes a revival of the Buckeye Road commercial district south of Shaker Square, Johnson adds. Buckeye was part of former Mayor Frank Jackson’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, while previously receiving grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Program funds supported home repair and rehab in the area south of the district.

BBC has tabbed arts and technology as anchors of Buckeye’s business revitalization. Linchpins for broader redevelopment include the Moreland Theater, across Buckeye Road from the Providence House nonprofit. The vacant movie theater is the intended cornerstone of an arts, innovation and technology district centered on Black creators and entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, community assets like Shaker Square—purchased in August by BBC and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress—will ideally secure additional investment.

“It’s about benefitting those who are coming to the community as well as people who already live here,” says Johnson. “Residents want projects that are both accessible [to themselves] and inviting for new people.”

While improvement project are underway, residents should see real movement in the next year.

Building on momentum
BBC covers the Central, Kinsman, and Buckeye neighborhoods, as well portions of Fairfax and Union Miles. The organization has implemented master plans throughout its coverage area, with Buckeye facing decimated housing wealth due to the Great Recession and late-aughts foreclosure crisis.

Development of Buckeye’s comprehensive service model took off in April 2021, when BBC issued a Request for Proposals to put Larchmere, Woodhill Estates, Shaker Square, and adjacent neighborhoods on track for affordable housing and sustainable businesses. The plan was guided by a steering committee of local stakeholders including Brandon Chrostowski, founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute.

Chrostowski runs a 45,000-square-foot butcher, bakery, and apartment and training center space in Buckeye-Shaker, putting him at the nexus of a would-be community renewal. For the Cleveland chef and restauranteur—who also ran for Cleveland mayor in 2017—the plan will breathe life into a largely forgotten neighborhood while empowering homeowners and entrepreneurs alike.

“There’s an energy behind a business that wants to choose Buckeye,” says Chrostowski. “We need people who say, ‘We’re here, let’s use our history and reputation to make this a brighter place.’”

BBC must build on this momentum to further incorporate planned transit improvements, green space and real estate development, and health and wellness programming. Rollout requires establishing hard and fast goals where local businesses and agencies are held accountable.

Chrostowski points to building owners in Buckeye slow to make repairs—activating key areas recognized by the master plan means putting lackadaisical landlords on collective notice.

“Short-term thinkers impeding progress because of their ego will slow the plan down, if not disable it,” Chrostowski says. “The folks who’ve held the neighborhood together deserve a safer, more valuable home.”

For now, Chrostowski is skeptical of the “anti-gentrification” pillar of the master plan attempting to balance wealth generation with protection of long-term residents.People desiring less crime and higher property values may have to live with some semblance of change.

“Objectively, if areas like increased safety are a byproduct of gentrification, that’s not a bad thing,” says Chrostowski. “Bad gentrification is a million hipsters moving in and pricing people out of the market. This is not what the master plan is doing.”

City stakeholders say they believe a Buckeye revival can also better connect the community to the Opportunity Corridor, a three-mile boulevard on Cleveland’s southeast side. A new and improved Buckeye can be a major artery into the corridor, part of a larger dream of robust public and private redevelopment.

“A completed master plan means fewer commercial and residential vacancies, or vacant lots being used for a park or pathway,” says Johnson of BBC. “People will come to Buckeye knowing they can find a place to live, no matter where they are in life. There’s a vibrancy that will come with a finished plan.”

This story is part of FreshWater’s series, Community Development Connection, in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Development Advisors. The series seeks to raise awareness about the work of 29 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) as well as explore the efforts of neighborhood-based organizations, leaders, and residents who are focused on moving their communities forward during a time of unprecedented challenge.

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.