Church and State come together in Hingetown

The project adds to a growing list of new, higher-end developments in Ohio City. While some say there’s more room to grow, others fear that gentrification will push out middle- and lower-income residents.

Church and State building. Photo by Lee Chilcote.

Church and State building. Photo by Lee Chilcote.

There’s an eye-catching new addition to the area some call “Hingetown” that’s hard to miss: two buildings of irregularly stacked blue and gray blocks that make up the 158-unit apartment complex that is Church and State. The architecturally striking structures on Detroit Avenue between West 28th and West 29th Street were developed by the husband and wife team of Graham Veysey and Marika Shoiri-Clark, and their partner Michael Panzica.

Church and State is the latest Hingetown project for Veysey and Shioiri-Clark. In 2011, they purchased the vacant Ohio City Firehouse on West 29th Street, developing it into living and work spaces, as well as home to several retail businesses including Urban Orchid, Rising Star Coffee and Larder Delicatessen. They have also renovated the Striebinger Block Building, in addition to the Schaefer Printing Company. 

Ohio City is a neighborhood that once was 40,000 people and is down to 10,000 today. We have room for people to move back.
— Tom McNair, Ohio City Inc.

Church and State joins a growing list of higher-end apartments including the Lumen in Playhouse Square and The Beacon on Euclid Avenue offering higher-end apartments. Although some say demand has softened since a year ago, Tom McNair, executive director of the community development corporation Ohio City Inc., said that downturn hadn’t made its way to Ohio City, where demand for housing of all kinds remains strong and can be easily absorbed.

“Ohio City is a neighborhood that once was 40,000 people and is down to 10,000 today,” McNair said. “We have room for people to move back.”

A look inside

The two separate buildings – the 11-story State building and the six-story Church building – share the same L-Shape, with a 10,000 square foot public area between the structures. The base material for the building is slate imported from Spain, which catches the sun beautifully on a clear day.

Shioiri-Clark led the design of the buildings, in collaboration with the local architectural firm LDA. Veysey said they wanted the textured facades of the buildings to have a distinct personality that demonstrated the width of Detroit between 28th and 29th, reflecting the legacy of the streetcar ramp that was there until 1954. The buildings are also oriented to create a sightline from Detroit Avenue to the Firehouse which was constructed in 1854.

Each building has distinct features, with the State lobby offering a large communal area decorated with Moroccan rugs, leather chairs, fireplace, and a lot of decorative pieces including a vintage motorcycle hanging on the wall. 

The 6th floor of Church building is home to the Lantern Room, an indoor/outdoor roof space with views of Lake Erie, downtown Cleveland, and Ohio City. The indoor lobby features shelves filled with lanterns and a neon sign displaying the space’s name. The wraparound outdoor deck includes a three-season soaking pool with hexagonal porcelain tiles in a lantern starburst design and a Cor-ten, or weathering steel, fire pit.

The apartments, 40 percent of which are filled, vary in cost from a studio space going for $1,345 per month to a three-bedroom apartment that rents for $4,650.

The units are spacious and uncluttered with oversized windows in every room. The open concept design has a separate kitchen and dining room. The island kitchens’ walls are straight-stacked ceramic tiles and are equipped with granite countertops, pendant lights and Moen faucets.

Parking in the neighborhood can be tough to come by, so Church and State has over 200 below ground spaces. There are also two stories of elevated parking in the State Building, one of which is open to the public.

Model unit at Church + State. Photo courtesy Graham Veysey.

Model unit at Church + State. Photo courtesy Graham Veysey.

Church and State offers residents a convenient way to make biking part of their lives.

“The whole notion of intentionally bike-able design is meeting the resident or neighbor at that level,” Veysey said. “We have a very large bike garage for the residents. It’s all on the first floor. It’s designed for easy access, so no one is worried about lugging a bike into an elevator and then down the hall. Our hope is that easy access increases the likeliness of people to use their bikes.”

A community gathering space

Veysey wants Church and State to be for more than just the residents, so between the two buildings is the public space Church and State Way. The 10,000 square foot plaza will feature retail establishments as well as a splash pool, lighted seesaw, seating steps and a 17-and-a-half foot custom-made bright red slide. Wrapped around the outside of the second and third floors of the State is artist Dinara Mirtalipova’s whimsical large-scale piece featuring mermaids and birds. Veysey’s hope is that they will soon be able to open a climbing wall inside the Church Building.

Alex Nosse, owner of Joy Machine Bike Shop on Detroit Avenue has been taking advantage of the new space.

“I walk through the courtyards between the two buildings almost daily, and to be honest, it is very pleasant,” he wrote on Facebook. “A little shady at times in there, but the designers have made a significant effort to create a comfortable environment for pedestrians.”

Over the last decade, Hingetown has seen a major transformation. In addition to projects piloted by Veysey and Shioiri-Clark, Fred and Laura Bidwell opened the Transformer Station art gallery in a substation formerly used to convert electrical power for streetcars. The Transformer Station plays host to the popular “City Stages” summer concert series presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Spaces Art Gallery also relocated into the neighborhood. The Bop Stop jazz club re-opened as part of the Music School Settlement. A number of restaurants and other establishments call the area home, including the Mediterranean-inspired dining spot Alea, Saucy Brew Works brewpub and the juice bar Beet Jar.

Veysey feels fulfilled at the growing sense of community in Hingetown. He credits much of it to the people who have called the area home before he and the other entrepreneurs arrived.

The 10,000 sq. ft. courtyard includes a slide, seesaw and outdoor seating.

The 10,000 sq. ft. courtyard includes a slide, seesaw and outdoor seating.

“You see the decades of commitment from people who have been in the neighborhood working on strengthening that neighborhood fabric,” he said. “Seeing the ability for all types of folks to come together at something like a City Stages concert, neighbors from Lakeview Terrace Apartments and fourth generation Ohio City residents to people who have just moved here from another city or country and they are all here dancing in the streets, that’s where the magic is.”

Veysey’s goal for Church and State is to provide a place for those who want to take advantage of what living in the city has to offer, as well as to increase the density of the neighborhood which brings added support to the area’s retailers, further strengthening the community.

“Being able to know the people at Larder, like Jeremy and Allie Umansky, and Kent Scott who has been working a particular sourdough recipe or been curing a particular piece of meat for ages, they are able to share the excitement of that dish with you, that goes to the core of who we are as social beings,” he said. “Knowing the folks who are working their tails off to have these businesses survive and thrive is fulfilling.”

A Tale of Two Ohio Cities?

While many have been excited about what Church and State brings to Hingetown, there are those who wonder if gentrification benefits the whole neighborhood, or just those who can afford luxury apartments.

Bill Merriman is not only concerned with making sure longtime residents can afford to stay in their homes, he also wants to make sure that Ohio City offers affordable housing across all economic levels for those who want to move into the neighborhood.

A resident of Ohio City for 50 years, Merriman has been a tireless advocate for middle and low-income housing. In the 1970s and early 80s, he was part of the neighborhood group Near West Housing Partners that helped gain loans through the Community Reinvestment Act to build townhouses in the area just west of Franklin Circle. Merriman said they were able to obtain the loan from National City Bank with the promise that one of the units would be priced as affordable housing. Soon a series of townhouses began springing up around Ohio City.

If the developers are going to receive support from public money, then the public should benefit.
— Bill Merriman, Ohio City resident

Merriman’s concern is that the notion of social activism in advocating for affordable housing is being lost as Ohio City becomes more gentrified, and by extension, so too is a sense of a well-rounded, diverse community.

Lakeview Terrace public housing at the border of Ohio City and the Flats.

Lakeview Terrace public housing at the border of Ohio City and the Flats.

“To my horror, even though I see our neighborhood filling with young couples with children … there’s no place for minorities, the poor or middle-income people,” he said. “I would wish we could relate to the Black community along the Shoreway, where there are hundreds of houses that are a heartbeat away from the neighborhood that have no stake in what is happening here.”

Merriman said given that the city and county help underwrite these developments through mechanisms like property tax abatement, they need to follow the lead of cities like Columbus and Chicago to make sure that that developers are also supporting housing for the poor. The city of Cleveland’s recent tax abatement study examines caps on tax breaks for higher-end houses and requiring developers to incorporate affordable housing into new developments.

According to a 2018 story in Crain’s, the $60 million Church and State project was financed in part through the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (it used only union labor), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 221d4 program, tax increment financing through the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, Huntington Bank, a Cuyahoga County loan and funds from the City of Cleveland’s Neighborhood Development Program and Vacant Property Initiative. It also received 15-year, 100% tax abatement on improvements.

“If the developers are going to receive support from public money, then the public should benefit. We need to work harder to find a place for the poor in our neighborhood before it becomes re-segregated by income and race and we’re heading in that direction.”

Addressing fears of gentrification

Veysey acknowledged concerns about gentrification were valid, but noted there is a difference between gentrification and displacement. He pointed out that while developments like Church and State do bring about an increase in residents who are at higher socioeconomic levels than might have lived in the neighborhood previously, the buildings were erected on a gravel parking lot that wasn’t in use, so no one was displaced from a property.

He also emphasized it was important to keep in mind that there is housing being built around the city, not all of which is for high-end consumers.

“I look at the work Jeffrey Patterson is doing at CMHA and what Cleveland Housing Network is doing with their programs and the 20-million-dollar announcement by the University Settlement and the RNP Group (to build affordable housing in Slavic Village). Those are wonderful initiatives that show it is not a zero-sum game. Just because something is happening in one part of the city doesn’t mean it isn’t happening elsewhere.”

Even without displacement, development can cause the homes around it to increase in value, which in turn drives up property taxes, which McNair said has been the case in Ohio City.

“We’ve seen that median home value has increased by over 1,000% in over the last ten years,” Ohio City Inc.’s McNair said.

Ohio City Inc. has worked to help those residents who are eligible for the Homestead Exemption take advantage of the program to help lower their taxes, but given the tax codes, it isn’t a long-term solution. A combination of options ranging from higher priced apartments, to the recently completed Forest City Bank Building which has 36 units being offered to people at 60% or below area-wide median income is a way to allow for people of various socioeconomic levels to make Ohio City home, McNair said. 

He made the case that increasing the supply of housing has an effect on helping to lower housing costs overall. “Over 70% of the housing units in Ohio City are rentals,” McNair said, adding OCI has tracked them on Craigslist. “We have seen that anytime these new apartment buildings come online, even though the average rents increase, the median decreases. If someone is going to pay $2,000 a month in rent for an apartment, they are probably going to choose the place with the granite countertops and a Lake Erie view over a medium-quality 100-year-old place, so it helps to self-adjust existing rental prices. If we can reach the proper amount of supply and demand, even those $2,000-a-month apartments will come down in cost.”

Striking that balance between attracting new residents to Ohio City through developments like Church and State, while still being a home for those who’ve made up the community for a long time is the balancing act the neighborhood must achieve to be successful, according to McNair.

“It’s imperative that we work to maintain opportunities for people who have lived in this neighborhood a long time, so that they can enjoy the amenities that are being offered. Ohio City could easily be a tale of two cities. If we’re ever going to get this right, not just in Ohio City but the city of Cleveland, we need to make sure what is happening benefits everyone.”

Dan Polletta is veteran Northeast Ohio broadcaster and writer. He has written extensively about arts and culture, with a special interest in jazz.

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