Innovation Square set to bring jobs, housing, and a bright future to Fairfax

Vienna Distributing has been a mainstay of Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood for 20 years, offering kosher meat products to the local Black Muslim population and anyone else walking in the doors of its Carnegie Avenue location.

Vienna Distributing. a mainstay of Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood for 20 yearsSurrounded by the anchor medical and educational institutions upon which Cleveland hangs its economic hat, owner Regin Schlachet can’t help but have optimism for his company’s future as well.

Upcoming strategic investment in Fairfax has Schlachet equally bullish about his neighborhood’s prospects. A new project called Innovation Square is set to bring a mixed-use, mixed-income area along the Opportunity Corridor on Cleveland’s southeast side. The centerpiece is a 40,000-square-foot grocery store to be used by existing residents and the projected influx of people expected to use the forthcoming businesses, workforce, and market-rate housing.

Ideally, these amenities will draw students and medical workers, say city officials. While new construction like a Dunkin’ Donuts next to Schlachet’s business brings jobs and traffic to Fairfax, the community needs more than pastries to flourish.

“Projects like Innovation Square are good for us,” says Schlachet. “It makes us more diverse and brings in a new customer base that never had a reason to be in the neighborhood.”

Innovation Square is bounded by Cedar Avenue to the north, Quincy Avenue to the south, East 105th Street to the east, and includes both sides of East 97th Street.

Last November, Cleveland City Council approved an estimated $2.36 million in tax incentives for Fairmount Properties to build a Meijer grocery store and 192 new market-rate apartments at East 105th Street and Cedar Avenue.

Fairfax Renaissance Development Corp. (FRDC) is working with Fairmount and the City of Cleveland on the $52.8 million project, set for completion in summer or Fall 2023. FRDC executive director Denise VanLeer says Meijer alone will provide 50 to 60 new jobs for the community, representing the beginning of a larger revitalization plan for the East Side neighborhood.

Eventually, the Innovation Square footprint will include 700 to 800 new housing units—a tally encompassing apartments and a host of new single-family housing located between East 95th and East 100th Streets. Eight homes listed at about $300,000 have sold already, with another six currently under construction.

Taken together, these developments can reposition underutilized land and connect Fairfax with the “eds and meds” organizations driving jobs and income in the broader community.

“On the workforce side, this is bigger than Fairfax, it’s people who need jobs now,” says VanLeer. “These are people who are unemployed or underemployed, don’t have access to the Internet, or have a felony in their past. These are problems not just in Fairfax, but in low-income neighborhoods, period.”

Ward 6 Cleveland City Councilman and Council president Blaine GriffinA job-creating game-changer
Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor incorporates nearly 1,000 acres anchored by University Circle and the Cleveland Clinic. The corridor passes through Fairfax, which is also home to the Clinic main campus. Restaurants, clothing stores, and a minority-owned veterinary practice bring further job diversity to the neighborhood.

Innovation Square aligns with a master plan around sustainable development and economic growth. Launched by FRDC in the mid-1990s, the effort brings together residents, city officials and local stakeholders around shifting neighborhood needs.

Ward 6 Cleveland City Councilman and Council president Blaine Griffin, whose purview includes Fairfax, points to Meijer’s first urban store in Ohio as a force multiplier able to spur company attraction and even more new housing. Should Innovation Square reach its potential, the project will fill demand for walkable living options for long-time residents and Clinic employees alike.

Although Innovation Square is a potential job creator for Fairfax, the entirety of Greater Cleveland can benefit from these improvementsProject backers forecast a $250 million economic impact upon completion of all phases—a list that entails mixed-use developments, single-family housing and new greenspaces like Playwright Park.

“You have thousands of jobs being created in the eds and meds corridor,” Griffin says. “Fairfax is right in the shadow of the Clinic, the Cleveland Institute of Art and all the other institutions we have here. There’s tremendous opportunity for folks to work in the service industry, construction, healthcare, and manufacturing.”

Building a thriving neighborhood
Progress does not mean leaving behind long-term residents, notes Griffin. With education and skill-set development lacking in Fairfax and surrounding environs, the councilman wants his constituents to receive training they can then harness for careers in healthcare and high-tech manufacturing. Locals also need soft-skills training, whether around interviewing, the application process, or how to dress for a job.

Established partnerships with big-ticket employers like the Cleveland Clinic must be expanded to give residents opportunities for family-sustaining careers. In the meantime, endeavors like Innovation Square can draw the types of advanced manufacturing companies the city currently lacks.

“It will always be a priority to help our residents first, because they’re the ones who’ve shown a commitment to live in an urban neighborhood,” says Griffin. “It’s important to look after those who live here while finding ways to attract more people. I want to see more folks get certifications, and manufacturers that might not need a four-year degree to bring someone on.”

Building relationships with workforce supporters such as Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland’s Manufacturing Growth Advocacy Network (MAGNET) can do double duty, in terms of shoring up the job base and, in turn, the community’s quality of life.

 Griffin says he imagines a future conversation between a multi-generation denizen of Fairfax and someone new to the community. In this theoretical discussion, the older resident waxes nostalgic about a flourishing cityscape bursting with storefronts and foot traffic.

“The new person would say, ‘You mean like it is now,’” Griffin says. “I want everyone to value Fairfax as an emerging, thriving neighborhood able to compete not just in Cleveland, but throughout Northeast Ohio.”

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 Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.