Editor’s note: Michelle B. Jackson is a community journalist with The Land who advocated for the legislation to rescue Shaker Square. Learn more about writing for The Land here.
Two transformative development projects in Cleveland’s long-neglected Buckeye-Shaker and Woodhill neighborhoods were greenlighted by Cleveland City Council at its meeting on Monday, April 11. The Woodhill Station West Homes and purchase of Shaker Square by two Cleveland nonprofits are aimed at boosting majority Black communities too often left out of development.
Passed and adopted under emergency ordinance, one action authorized the sale of city-owned parcels to Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority as part of Phase I of the Buckeye Woodhill Choice Neighborhood plan. The other key vote will stabilize the Shaker Square commercial center, the oldest car-oriented shopping center in Ohio and second oldest in the US.
Phase I of the six-phase project, Woodhill Station West Homes, was jump started by the award of a competitive $35 million HUD grant last year. Located in a 0.8-square-mile area bordered by Buckeye Road, MLK Jr. Drive/East 116 Street, and East 93rd Street, the overhauled neighborhood will replace the 80-year-old CMHA Woodhill Homes, the second oldest public housing property in Cleveland.
The 12 city-owned parcels (plus one additional land bank property) will complete the footprint needed to construct the first residence of 120-units. To minimize the effects of displacement, a number of these units will be subsidized and reserved for current Woodhill Homes residents. Units will also be reserved as subsequent phases are completed. Woodhill Homes has a total of 487 units.
Historically, Woodhill Homes has been an urban island unto itself, physically and psychically cut off from its more prosperous neighbors including University Circle and Shaker Square. As a transit-oriented development, the new neighborhood will be a short walk to the Woodhill RTA station. Upon completion, Woodhill Choice neighborhood will house over 600 mixed income rentals, help to spur additional revitalization, and connect residents to greater opportunities.
In a joint meeting of the Development, Planning and Sustainability and Finance Committees before yesterday’s council meeting, the plan was summarized by Ward 3 council member Kerry McCormack as an “intentional community-based project” for the benefit of a community that has long suffered from disinvestment. Monday’s vote by city council was a critical step in a long-running process to tear down and remake Woodhill Homes.
After being stalled since the end of the last council session, the public-private plan to rescue Shaker Square was also voted out of committee and subsequently passed by the full council at the meeting.
Led by a team that includes nonprofits Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the legislation paves the way for the city to make two low-interest loans of $6 million each to New Village Corporation (the real estate subsidiary of CNP) to purchase the note on the property currently held by an out-of-state bank.
During the joint committee meeting, Economic Development Director David Ebersole stressed the importance of the plan’s passage as a “pathway for the city to take control of one of the anchor assets of the east side.” Rather than a no-strings-attached bailout, he stressed, the ordinance will allow the city to take the position of first mortgage holder on a loan with a 5-year term. While the second loan is forgivable, that provision is contingent on the partners finding a long-term owner approved by the city.
Stabilization of Shaker Square was deemed an integral component to support, protect, and leverage investments already made or slated for the greater Buckeye and Larchmere neighborhoods. New Village Corporation has a real estate portfolio spanning both sides of the bridge. Among its credits are the redevelopment of St. Luke’s Hospital on Cleveland’s east side and the building of Dave’s in Ohio City.
Job one of the partnership, should it successfully acquire Shaker Square from receivership, is three-pronged, according to the legislation:
Get site control and address capital needs (roofs, windows, doors, basements, parking lots)
Stabilize tenants (currently, Dave’s Market and CVS drugstore account for the majority of leasing income)
Determine who is the best long-term developer for property over the next the years. With residents, merchants, shoppers and stakeholders at the table, the partnership will answer the questions of: What is the vision and best use of the property? How will Shaker Square interact with surrounding neighborhoods?
Reportedly the legislation was stalled because both the interim Ward 4 council person, Anita Gardner, and the newly elected councilwoman, Deborah Gray, were uncomfortable with the proposed Shaker Square deal. Councilwoman Gray expressed her frustration with the process in the joint committee meeting held Monday, April 11. “It was unfair and it was unkind,” she said. “It wasn’t my deal. It just landed in my lap…”
Gray also expressed concerns over the state of the privately owned apartments surrounding Shaker Square and implored city council to do better at making sure building codes are enforced.
Passage of the ordinance can’t come soon enough for Shaker Square merchants. Since the first of the year, the center lost two more businesses, Balton and Senor Tequila restaurants.
One veteran merchant, Akin Affrica, spoke in support of the public-private stabilization plan during the public comment period of the meeting. He and his wife own and operate two restaurant concepts and a women’s fashion boutique.
Affrica is among the healthy concentration of Black- and women-owned businesses at Shaker Square and in the Larchmere commercial area, a fact that has gone unobserved during the many months of deliberation leading up to last night’s favorable vote.
“The personal experience I’ve had with local ownership has been really good,” Affrica said during the public comment period of the meeting. “Over the past year and a half, with the change in ownership, I’ve seen the difference. I definitely support the purchase of Shaker Square. It’s needed, it was needed yesterday, and it’s needed now.”
Read all of The Land’s Shaker Square coverage here: https://www.thelandcle.org/stories/tag/shaker+square. Get updates from city council at http://www.clevelandcitycouncil.org.
Michelle B. Jackson is a community ACTivator and voting advocate who lives in Cleveland’s Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood. She supported the Shaker Square legislation. Reach her at [email protected].