A group in Euclid hopes that an old idea will inspire a new era of development and idea sharing in the lakefront city.
A steering committee is exploring the potential formation of a new community development corporation [CDC]. If it happens, the new organization will present an avenue for residents, businesses, and others to help shape their community as people in other nearby cities and Cleveland neighborhoods have been doing for years.
“There’s so much more that CDCs can do, and you’re seeing a lot of other communities get innovative with what they’re doing, making real big strides,” says Euclid city councilman Kristian Jarosz, who chairs the steering committee. “It’s a great way to add new people, new energy, and even new funding into a community to provide new services.”
Jarosz and the other council members decided it was time for CDC exploration in late 2019 when they pondered their goals for the following year. COVID-19 changed those plans and the rest of the world, but the steering committee formed, and the city contracted Cleveland-based Strategy Design Partners [SDP] to assist with planning by late 2020. Now, the committee is nearly ready to analyze the results of an exploratory community survey that hit the field in December.
People first started talking about a Euclid CDC nearly five years ago when Jarosz, council president Charlene Mancuso, and interested residents met with executives from LakewoodAlive and Northeast Shores Community Development Corporation, which merged with Collinwood and Nottingham Villages Development in 2018 to form the Greater Collinwood Development Corporation. The conversations were similar to the ones happening now, Jarosz says, and the energy was palpable. However, the concept ultimately fizzled after a few obstacles.
Now, SDP’s involvement and the survey suggest that will not happen again. Some who are already part of the CDC landscape think such an organization would be a great fit for Euclid.
“It seems to me that a CDC would work well in a place like Euclid, which has a really amazing built environment,” says Adam Stalder, executive director of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization [DSCDO]. “The fabric of the commercial streets is still pretty much intact. Having the flexibility of a private nonprofit could be extremely helpful in improving the built environment around there.”
Empowering a community
Euclid’s steering committee is not ready to say if or when a CDC will truly take form, but one of its main functions would be to relieve the city and its administration of the duties most associate a development organization. The steering committee members agree that the city’s Euclid Development Corporation [EDCOR] is limited in its capabilities when compared to a nonprofit CDC, which is the tax-exempt, charitable status of many community development organizations in Northeast Ohio.
“We can’t be as nimble as a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit could be in acquiring certain properties or going after opportunities to do public art or placemaking,” says Allison Lukacsy-Love, acting director of Euclid’s department of planning and development.
SDP is also conducting individual stakeholder interviews in tandem with the exploration survey, targeting community, business, religion leaders, and more. Early results show that respondents believe Euclid’s people are its main asset. The city and steering committee see a CDC as a way to involve more people in determining various aspects of their environment.
“A CDC can really harness that energy and enthusiasm and give people a way to get involved, and not just on an ad-hoc basis,” Lukacsy-Love says. “This is a sustainable way to give that power over to the community, I think.”
Lukacsy-Love, who was a board member of the former Northeast Shores CDC, says that organization’s role in the redevelopment of La Salle Theatre is an example of the kind of project she could envision in Euclid.Lukacsy-Love, who was a board member of the former Northeast Shores CDC, says that organization’s role in the redevelopment of La Salle Theatre is an example of the kind of project she could envision in Euclid. DSCDO’s acquisition of various Gordon Square Arts District properties has also provided inspiration, she says.
“A city can’t do it,” says DSCDO’s Stalder. “A city can’t come in and buy a bunch of storefronts and redevelop them and attract new businesses. They can provide incentives, but cities really aren’t set up to own and rehab private structures. It just doesn’t work, so [CDCs] become the vehicle by which this happens.”
The community exploration survey will help to determine the best ways to channel the steering committee’s energies and efforts. It received 455 responses after just three weeks in the field, Lukacsy-Love says. The committee originally hoped to receive 330 total.
‘Trying to figure out what is going to work best for Euclid’
While most of the survey’s respondents are current Euclid residents, some are people who have moved to other communities, but still care about the future of their former home. That provides unique data points and ideas for the new endeavor.
“Community development corporations are very well known in the City of Cleveland–there’s some really phenomenal ones there and in the inner-ring suburbs,” Lukacsy-Love says. “We are trying to figure out what is going to work best for Euclid, [while] looking at all of these ideas that are out there from our neighboring cities and their CDCs.”
Stalder, who has been with DSCDO for 10 years, says that having a strategic plan driven by the priorities, desires and concerns of the community’s residents, leaders, groups, businesses, and others continues to guide the organization’s work.
“We help our neighborhoods achieve their goals,” Stalder says. “We take their vision and we make it happen.”
Not long after the housing crash of the late 2000s, DSCDO, which services Detroit Shoreway, Cudell, and Edgewater, adopted its neighborhoods’ goal of providing more affordable housing. Like only a couple of other CDCs in Cleveland, the organization began purchasing, developing, and managing affordable housing units.
“We have 300-some units of affordable housing,” Stalder says. “We were filling a gap–there was nobody developing this kind of product in the area at the time, so we started doing it and kept it going.”
Stalder says the organization now owns 75% of the buildings at the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street, and they include affordable and/or public housing.
As for Euclid’s plans, Lukacsy-Love says her department and the city want to bring pocket parks, potential coworking spaces at commercial properties, and neighborhood revitalization projects to town, but the city is not able to prioritize some of those projects in the same way that a CDC can.
A CDC would work well in a place like Euclid, which has a really amazing built environment, the fabric of the commercial streets is still pretty much intact.“Some of the demolitions we’ve seen come across in the past few years are really better candidates for rehabilitation, but the city doesn’t have that rehabilitation arm in house or have the ability to control acquisitions in the same way that we see other CDCs,” Lukacsy-Love says. “I think the neighborhood stabilization or revitalization aspect that came across very strong in our master plan is also part of the impetus for us talking about this now. I’m really excited to see what residents want, both in terms of the programming aspect, but also the physical reality of what a CDC can help create here in the city.”
Part of the need for an independent Euclid CDC is to relieve the city from having to take on various housing and beautification projects, Ward 5 councilwoman Christine McIntosh says. She pointed to the Keep Euclid Beautiful group, with its murals and other public art, as one of the most active and impactful grassroots efforts in Euclid, though it is led, in part, by the city.
“If that aspect is working with just a core group, imagine what we can do when the entire community is involved,” McIntosh says. “It can make a tremendous impact and relieve that burden off the city, which I think it desperately needs.”
Similarly, Jarosz and Lukacsy-Love envision a new CDC as an umbrella for smaller groups like Keep Euclid Beautiful, events like Wednesdays on the Porch, as well as the marketing of those events and groups and responsiveness to future ideas and requests from residents.
“A lot of these grassroots efforts are great ideas and start as initiatives of just one single person, but that person may get burnt out in six months or a year and then that great idea disappears forever,” Jarosz says. “If it’s happening under the CDC, then somebody else can pick it up because you actually have an organization designed to sustain this sort of community involvement. You need the structure to continue.”
CDC dos and don’ts
There is no CDC manual that Stalder and others follow to ensure success, but there are a few things he would advise a new CDC to do and not do, especially regarding redevelopment and community engagement.
“When it comes to connecting the community and making sure voices are heard, they should focus on those without voices, those people who are often overlooked,” Stalder says of Euclid or any other community considering the launch of a CDC. “They should not spend a lot of time and resources on affluent communities–it makes no sense. They should really focus on the areas where people feel disenfranchised.”
For commercial development, Stalder cautions against spreading investment over a large area. He recommends focusing on a concentrated area, like the Gordon Square Arts District in his neighborhood. Deploying this tactic makes the changes more noticeable and appealing to others who want to be part of and invest in something new.
“That’s how change happens,” he says. “You see four buildings on a corner getting rebuilt, that means something is happening here. If you spread it out with four buildings on four different corridors, there’s no real synergy that is occurring … It’s going to take a lot of public subsidy, but once the private market takes off, it will just spread to all the other areas.”
The group in Euclid hopes its work will one day spur similar activity, along with a community development organization that can pursue grassroots ideas and initiatives for years to come.
“I’m glad Euclid is thinking about this,” Stalder says. “Euclid is like a real gem over there. It’s affordable and a great, great town. I really think a CDC could help moving forward.”
This story is part of FreshWater’s new yearlong series, Community Development Connection, in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Development Advisors and funded in-part by a Google Grant. 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.