got to get down to hingetown: introducing ohio city's next hot block

I’ve seen the future of Ohio City, and its name is Hingetown.

Over the next few months, a series of next-gen businesses will begin to open on W. 29th Street in the renovated Striebinger Block, complementing already thriving businesses like Rising Star Coffee Roasters and adding wattage to the Transformer Station’s already powerful jolt.

These businesses, which will open this summer and fall, include Harness Cycling Studio, an indoor cycling studio; Ohio City Dog Haven, a holistic pet supply store; Beet Jar Juice Bar, a vegan and raw foods café; Cleveland Tea Company, a high-end tea cafe; and a yet-to-be-named entertainment option that will add a nightlife element to Hingetown.

The Striebinger Block, built in 1919, is a prominent building at the intersection of Detroit and W. 29th that has been underutilized for years. Built by German-born Margaret Striebinger to serve area commuters at a time when the intersection was a streetcar turnaround, it’s one part of the larger Hingetown community -- an area percolating and ready to pop.

Graham Veysey, the 30-year-old wunderkind who already has had a successful career in media, real estate development and even politics (he famously inserted himself into the 2012 Congressional race that put Dennis Kucinich out of a job), is the driving force behind the Hingetown development. But he’s not flying solo.  

Riding shotgun is Marika Shioiri-Clark, his designer girlfriend who moved from Berkeley to the sunny shores of the North Coast. In addition to designing hospitals in Rwanda and serving as Ideas Scholar in Aspen, she is a principal at the public-interest design firm Soshl Studio. She holds degrees from ivy-covered universities most of us can only dream of attending.

Rounding out the team are critical, deep-pocketed partners Fred and Laura Bidwell, whose Bidwell Foundation created the Transformer Station, as well as Christopher Celeste of Hatch, a company providing capital and coaching for startups. With their backing, the young couple is bringing new vigor to a long ignored pocket of town.

According to the team, the mission is to “transform an underutilized and under-curated part of Ohio City into a destination with a unique identity… and to leverage and connect the successes of the Market District, Gordon Square and the Warehouse District.”

Coined by Veysey, "Hingetown" is the central point linking these different, successful areas – and his goal is to connect them via high-quality, thoughtful development.

What that means in practice is that a bunch of awesome new businesses are about to launch in the Ohio City neighborhood en masse, creating a sort of insta-community.

“We’re getting people who are the poster people for Cleveland’s renaissance,” says the ever-enthusiastic Veysey. “People in their 20s and 30s starting their own businesses.”

Veysey, who renovated the Ohio City Firehouse at W. 29th and Church into office and retail space two years ago, rescued the Striebinger from imminent foreclosure in late February. He’s pumped untold amounts of money into installing new windows, gutting and renovating the old storefronts and walk-up apartments, and planning such thoughtful components as a “living wall” of greenery that clings to the building.  

There were some inevitable casualties along the way: Man’s World and The Tool Shed, two divey gay bars that once served as a hub for Cleveland’s gay community, are gone. In recent years, neighbors noted that they had deteriorated into magnets for criminal activity. Yet a pair of existing businesses, The Dean Rufus House of Fun and Blow Hair and Nails, will stay and hopefully prosper thanks to the new development.

Perhaps most remarkable about Hingetown, other than the near-simultaneous birth of five new retail businesses, is the way it links -- or acts as a hinge between -- existing Cleveland assets like Ohio City, Gordon Square, and downtown.

“We’re not creating another silo; this is all about connectivity,” says Veysey, citing other major investments in the area, including the Federal Knitting Mills apartments, and the forthcoming Mariner’s Watch and West 25th Street Lofts. “The distance from Public Square to Browns Stadium is the same as from Hingetown to the Happy Dog. If you transform what a walk feels like, then people will walk much farther than you think they will.”

To help make the area more pedestrian-friendly, Veysey and his partners are planning a series of public improvements that will include colorful crosswalks and striking public art.

That creative flair -- along with Veysey’s infectious enthusiasm -- helped to attract Anne Hartnett, who will open Harness Cycling Studio in the fall. “We want to be the activity and fitness hub for Hingetown,” she says. Harness eventually will have 35 stationary bikes, including some that convert pedal power into electricity for the building.

The presence of like-minded retailers served as a magnet for other entrepreneurs. Amber Pompeii and her boyfriend, Michael George, moved back from Seattle to launch the Cleveland Tea Company, a high-end cafe with organic, hand-blended teas. “Rising Star has raised the expectations for coffee," she says. "We want to do that for tea.”

With the rise of next-gen retailers in Ohio City and other neighborhoods, entrepreneurs are finding new ways to partner and collaborate. Stephen Szelpal of Ohio City Dog Haven, which opened this month, sells handmade dog collars and leashes fashioned from old seat belts thanks to a partnership with Forest City Portage.

Hingetown’s newest occupants also bring a unique business to the block. Joseph Joseph and Molly McKay of Beet Jar Juice Bar saw a need for a vegan juice bar and café on the near west side of town. “We’re pretty confident in its ability to work," says Joseph. "We’ll serve the neighborhood, health-conscious community and biking community.”

The Striebinger Block is being renovated with the help of funding from the Vacant Properties Initiative and Neighborhood Retail Assistance Program of the City of Cleveland. Dollar Bank is providing commercial financing for the project.

Although some might argue that Ohio City is developing too quickly -- and indeed, the change that is occurring here is fast-paced for Cleveland, which is accustomed to glacial progress -- Hingetown is nothing if not a thoughtful project. Arguably, whether or not Ohio City can avoid the pitfalls of past Cleveland redevelopment efforts, such as the Flats, hinges on strategic thinking.

During a recent Ohio City Stages concert presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art, Hingetown’s potential already was on full display. Bike racks were packed with cycles, hipsters and baby boomers shared the Transformer Station lawn with stroller-pushing parents, dogs of every possible breed dragged their owners around on leashes.

Veysey credits his inspiration to Fred and Laura Bidwell, whose Transformer Station art gallery provided the spark he needed to pilot the Hingetown project. “I started thinking beyond my four walls,” says Veysey, “to how we energize a neighborhood.”

Photos Bob Perkoski

Lee Chilcote
Lee Chilcote

About the Author: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.