In the past seven years, the stately, three-story building at 13000 Buckeye Road has been scarred by fire, neglected by its owners, and left in limbo by city officials. During that time, it has continued to fall apart brick by brick. In February 2019, when masonry began falling from the building and landing on the sidewalk, a fence was put up to protect people.
The building was condemned by city officials in 2013 and cited for falling masonry in February 2019. During that time, 113 complaints were logged with the city, according to a statement to Cleveland Housing Court from the community group Shaker Square Alliance. Yet owner Green Apple Supply Inc., after paying just $20,000 for the building in 2016 and making no investments, sold it in 2019 for $285,000.
Now, after years of inattention, the building is finally being fixed up. Last year, Cleveland Housing Court judge Mona Scott cracked down on the latest owners, an Israel consortium of investors by the name of Gig6 LLC, after being presented with a petition organized by the Alliance and signed by 563 individuals demanding action.
The owner has fixed the falling-down masonry, put in new windows, and repaired a hole in the roof caused by the fire. More recently, they’ve begun interior work to restore the apartments. Scott has placed them under community sanction, meaning that the court must approve the sale of the building to another entity.
“Commercial properties [like 13000 Buckeye] are the billboard for the neighborhood,” said Chip Bromley, executive director of Shaker Square Alliance and longtime housing advocate, explaining the group’s focus on multi-family buildings. “As the billboard starts to fade, the residential neighborhood starts to fade.”
Shaker Square Alliance started when a group of neighbors banded together to keep the Ohio Savings building at East 130th and Larchmere Boulevard from closing. Although they lost that fight, they’ve won others since then, pressuring the city to tear down neglected buildings on East 128th Street and advocating for redevelopment of buildings on Larchmere, the creation of a historic district, and community involvement in planning there.
“It’s advocacy work,” said Jay Westbrook, a former Cleveland city councilperson now involved with the Alliance. “Part of what needs to be done is straight up get in the face of politicians and tell them what we need.”
For years, the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood was left without an effective advocacy voice after the decline of Shaker Square Area Development Corporation due to lack of funding and the failure of Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC), which was stripped of funding by the city and foundations after being unable to produce a clean audit. Shaker Square Alliance, along with other grassroots community groups including Larchmere Merchants Association and Larchmere Community Association, stepped in to fill the void.
“The neighborhood benefited from so much volunteerism, yet suffers from so much poor, anemic leadership,” said Westbrook.
Additionally, the area has a troubled history with the local councilperson, as Ward 4 Councilperson Ken Johnson is now under investigation by the FBI.
Nonetheless, Buckeye-Shaker Square has always been a neighborhood with strong community assets, and the Alliance has been able to build on that and work with other groups to make improvements. “There’s a lot of energy in the community,” said Westbrook. “The Alliance has given a home to that and it’s been effective.”
“We’re the advocacy wing to the development groups,” said Bromley. “We’re the punch in the punch bowl.”
Bob Render, a longtime residents of East 128th Street off of Buckeye Road, said Shaker Square Alliance helped neighbors get three derelict properties on his street torn down and another one fixed up. The neighbors had been complaining for years about the property conditions, problem tenants and drug activity. Working with the Alliance, they pressured the city to tear down three buildings at an expense of $600,000. Now, the street is safer and quieter.
Now, with several initiatives underway to invest in the area, Render feels more hopeful about the future of Buckeye. The nonprofit restaurant Edwins, which provides training and employment to ex-offenders, opened a bakery and butcher shop in the building next door to 13000 Buckeye Road. The city and the nonprofit Burten, Bell, Carr Inc. have purchased vacant buildings on Buckeye Road with the aim of fixing them up as part of the mayor’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, and a streetscape plan called Buckeye Refresh is underway.
“We were voices in the wilderness,” said Render, who says his street has become safer and quieter. “We teamed up and got attention from the city.”
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