Leadership job a happy homecoming for new St. Clair Superior director

“Community” is a powerful word, says Jeremy Taylor, executive director of St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC). Taylor learned this home truth growing up on Harcourt Road in Cleveland Heights, then later on upon moving with his family to Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood.

Fond memories of July 4th parades, swapping toys with friends, and trick-or-treating are intermingled with overall impressions of safety and camaraderie.

St. Clair Superior has more than 600 businesses in an area surrounded by the Midtown, Hough and Glenville neighborhoods.“(Harcourt Road) is where I first saw a community,” says Taylor, who was named executive director of SCSDC in October 2021. “I knew every single house where kids lived and what their backyards looked like. We had so much understanding of everyone who lived there.”

Taylor, 35, aims to integrate those good vibes into the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, where he bought his first home in 2020. He also brings a wealth of community-building experience after six years as safety and engagement coordinator with the Detroit Shoreway CDC.

SCSDC represents the area from East 30th Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard, along with all land north of Payne Avenue up to East 55th Street and Superior Avenue.

When discussing St. Clair Superior, Taylor proudly points to a diverse population buoyed by AsiaTown and a deeply integrated Slovenian and Croatian residential base. Alongside a majority Black population, the neighborhood boasts a cultural melting pot that speaks upwards of two dozen languages and dialects.

The community also suffers from historical issues that carry a long tail on Cleveland’s East Side—redlining, segregation, and other problems that are not nearly as prevalent across the Cuyahoga River.

Solving these challenges means preparing for the long haul, with the burgeoning executive now spearheading a five-year strategic plan built around housing, lake access, safety, and business development in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.

Another key facet is supporting existing and future storefronts via small loans or grants—ideally attracting the type of fundamental services crucial to any growing neighborhood.

“There’s no dedicated coffee shop here, and we could use a high-quality grocery store with affordable options,” says Taylor. “We do have a dog training business and Recess Cleveland, which does events for youth in the area. This is where opportunity is right now, whether it’s starting a new business or buying a home. Our growth is going to speak for itself.”

Growing ‘a personal stake’
St. Clair Superior has more than 600 businesses in an area surrounded by the Midtown, Hough and Glenville neighborhoods. Proximity to downtown and University Circle, meanwhile, has Taylor thinking about additional partnerships with nearby development groups and other organizations.

Last summer, SCSDC worked with Cleveland Metroparks and Bike Cleveland on safe routes to greenspaces like Gordon ParkLast summer, SCSDC worked with Cleveland Metroparks and Bike Cleveland on safe routes to greenspaces like Gordon Park, a space also part of the organization’s lakefront service area. Taylor also wants to re-activate Kirtland Park, which boasts a playground, baseball field and concrete amphitheater.

For now, Taylor is convening with adjacent helpers as much as possible. Among these efforts is canvassing door-to-door with Midtown to foster relations between other local CDCs and their neighbors.

Karis Tzeng, director of AsiaTown initiatives for Midtown, has collaborated with Taylor’s team on cultural competency-related programming. Tzeng is happy to reconnect with a local leader intensely tied to the neighborhood after knowing Taylor from his Detroit Shoreway days.

“Jeremy has a personal stake here, and is deeply involved with a number of other organizations,” says Tzeng, pointing to Taylor’s membership on the boards of both Bike Cleveland and Neighborhood Solutions Inc. “He came [to the job] with trust and relationships already built in.”

As neighboring communities can all be part of a regional transformation, Midtown vice president of economic development Richard Barga is pleased to have Taylor on his side.

“Anytime we’re talking about businesses or potential projects, he’s been quick and responsive—that’s indicative of passion and mission,” Barga says. “Rather than competing for the same resources, I’m excited about our shared mission and how we can grow together.”

St. Vitus in the St. Clair - Superior NeighborhoodCleveland Ward 7 councilwoman Stephanie Howse, whose bailiwick includes St. Clair Superior, views Taylor as a tireless community supporter. Grassroots efforts such as block clubs, clean-up events, and neighborhood get-togethers are part of the larger tapestry that a CDC head must weave together.

“Jeremy is young and can grow roots here; we have to attract more people like him to the community,” says Howse. “As a leader, there’s a never-ending list of things that need to be done. I’d tell Jeremy he has to be focused and patient with himself and understand that all he wants to accomplish will take time.”

Changing the landscape
Taylor’s homecoming began in Cleveland Heights, where he was raised by an attorney father and a kindergarten teacher mother. His community planning chops were sharpened at a young age, as he noticed how close his new house in Hough was to I-90. Higher ed brought him to Central State University near Dayton, where he took an eye-opening class on political ideology and activism, two areas he knew little about.

“I never knew what an activist did, that they were someone who spoke up to advocate for a better quality of life,” says Taylor. “I could see myself getting into that.”

At first, Taylor believed that building a business would be his clearest path to supporting the community. Then he joined the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, gleaning the importance of a superior ground game in rallying an electorate, whether that meant door-knocking or driving voters to the polls.

Detroit Shoreway started his official community improvement journey, though even simply traveling around Cleveland was an education. Seeing abandoned properties like the Richman Brothers Company building on East 55th Street had Taylor envisioning new uses for similar assets throughout Greater Cleveland.

“I was driving by that building every day for six years and dreaming what was possible,” Taylor says. “Anybody who knows that building had an idea about it, but there wasn’t any capital for it.”

Taylor aims to change that landscape through the SCSDC and his current role as president of Hough Community Land Trust, a resident-led organization focused on real estate affordability and inclusivity.

The young executive director is also looking to the lakefront as an untapped resource for St. Clair Superior and its neighbors. Taylor is supportive of Metroparks’ plan to redevelop the eastern lakefront’s shoreline, as well as the $47 million Midway Protected Bikeway network set to link East 55th and Playhouse Square. According to a Cleveland-helmed planning study, the bike boulevard will extend north on East 55th to the lake.

Upcycle Parts Shop in the St. Clair - Superior Business DistricttUpcycle Parts Shop founder Nicole McGee is a believer in Taylor’s larger vision of neighborhood connection and growth, as he served on the founding board for the nonprofit thrift shop offering second-hand art supplies to teachers and residents.

As a board member, Taylor displayed a willingness to listen and meet others where they were, an invaluable skill he’s translated into his new leadership position. Today, McGee is on the CDC board, hoping to further champion the goals of Taylor and his staff.

“Jeremy connects people to one another and creates a common ground where all voices can be heard,” says McGee. “He’s a creative person that believes in inviting people to the table.”
Engagement and outreach is a community organization’s job, one that Taylor is thrilled to take on so close to home.

“I’ve seen how amazing this city is as a whole,” he says, “but choosing the neighborhood closest to me to work is a dream come true.”

his 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 being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, 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. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.