Neighborhood renaissance: Partners break ground on next wave of renewal projects in Fairfax

Five community partners broke ground on a new project in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood on Tuesday, Dec. 16 in the ongoing effort to revitalize the area and address the social determinants to health—like access to fresh food, quality housing, and job opportunities—and spur economic development.

The $52.8 million project on the corners of East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue will bring to the neighborhood a 40,000-square-foot, small-format Meijer grocery market and 196 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments on the floors above the market.

Rendering of Innovation Square in the Fairfax Neighborhood The Meijer Fairfax Market project is a collaborative effort between Cleveland Clinic, the City of Cleveland, developer Fairmount Properties, Meijer, and Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC). It is part of the $500 million Cleveland Innovation District, which also includes the recently opened Opportunity Corridor.

“It truly is a team effort,” says Denise VanLeer, executive director of FRDC. “Once it gets going, this project is going to be one catalyst for other projects.”

VanLeer says she sees the Meijer store and apartments as serving as a gateway to the Fairfax neighborhood—creating jobs and spurring additional development on Cedar Avenue and in the rest of the neighborhood.

Bringing a grocery market to the Fairfax neighborhood was an idea that was born in 2018 when Cleveland Clinic CEO and president Tom Mihaljevic and Cleveland City Council President-elect and Ward 6 councilperson Blaine A. Griffin hosted a community conversation with residents and leaders to better understand their needs and how Cleveland Clinic could contribute. 
 
It soon became clear that food insecurity was one of the biggest issues facing area residents. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fairfax has been identified as an urban food desert for its lack of accessible supermarkets. 

VanLeer agrees that access to fresh food is critical to Fairfax residents, noting that the closest grocery stores are not within a walkable distance. “If you don’t have a car, you have to take the bus,” she says, adding that there are plenty of RTA bus stops and a Rapid Transit stop in the neighborhood.

Rendering of Innovation Square in the Fairfax Neighborhood She says having a grocery store within walking distance is a feature that will be imperative as Fairfax makes its comeback.

Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Meijer quickly became the grocer partner for the project based on the offerings of its new small-format market design, which has been launched in four Michigan cities.

Cleveland community leaders visited the retailer’s Grand Rapids store to see the community impact and determined it would fit perfectly in Fairfax.

Fairfax Market will feature an assortment of fresh food, artisan groceries, and Meijer and national brand products at low prices. Meijer will create approximately 50 jobs, offering competitive wages, access to health benefits, as well as a 401(k) program with a company match.

Fairfax Market will be the first Meijer small-format market outside of Michigan.

“Meijer is committed to our communities, which is why we are so excited to continue our investment in the City of Cleveland with the addition of Fairfax Market,” Meijer president and CEO Rick Keyes said in a statement. “After the success of our four other neighborhood markets, we look forward to providing this great new store to residents of the Fairfax and surrounding neighborhoods.”  

Directly above the Fairfax Market, the residential component of the new project will have 196 market-rate apartments and a parking structure. The development is walkable to both the Cleveland Clinic campus and the Cleveland Innovation District.

VanLeer says both the project and the location align with FRDC’s vision for Fairfax’s Innovation Square Neighborhood Plan—a vision created in 2017 to create an economic hub along the Opportunity Corridor. VanLeer says the plan aims to boost jobs, cultural opportunities, housing opportunities, and small business development.

“The vision for Innovation Square is to create a mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable neighborhood,” VanLeer explains.

The plan has been in the works for a while and continues to evolve, she says, as officials work toward improving Fairfax.

“This is huge,” says VanLeer. “The Innovation Square Plan is the largest redevelopment project that we have undertaken with mixed-income housing including single family, multifamily and townhomes, both market rate and affordable. It also includes mixed use buildings, greenspace development and new streets to shorten the long blocks in Fairfax to make the neighborhood more walkable.”  

Playwright Park shipping containers by artist Augustus Turner The first phase of the plan—Playwright Park on East 103rd Street—is complete and was designed to celebrate the neighborhood’s rich cultural history and neighborhood asset, Karamu House. Adding to the culture, the park features a public art project by the late artist Augustus Turner, who died unexpectedly in October at the age of 50.

Turner used shipping containers as canvases for paintings. “We had community meetings and the neighborhood described what they liked about Fairfax and what was important to them,” recalls VanLeer. “Augustus then used those comments to create images. He drew the images on parachute cloth and the neighborhood was invited to paint the cloth according to number.” Turner than sealed the parachutes and attached them to the shipping containers.

Another component of the plan calls for additional housing projects—with an 82-unit apartment building and more than 60 single mixed-income family townhomes built by Knez Homes.

VanLeer says many of the homes, which are currently under construction, have already been sold. She says the groundbreaking for the apartments are scheduled for January, with additional affordable housing planned in the next five years.

Additionally, VanLeer says the city has plans to cut two new streets—making Wayne Court a full street that runs through to East 100th Street, and Hudson Avenue that opens on the east side of East 105th but doesn’t open to the west side.

Right now, you can do it [cut through] because of natural pathways, but [soon] it will be a real street,” she says. “We will use vacant lots on Wayne Court as pathways, because our streets are so long.”

VanLeer says two long-term East 103rd Street residents, both in their 60s, will have to be relocated because their homes will have to be demolished with the new neighborhood layouts and construction.

“Both have lived in their homes for more than 50 years,” she says. “We’ve been working with them for over a year to design what they want in their houses because we didn’t want them to leave the neighborhood, and they didn’t want to leave either.”

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.
 

Read more articles by 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.