The Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) hosted a Zoom meeting March 11 to discuss the release of its 2020 annual report, which DCA leaders say shows a resilient, growing neighborhood poised to bounce back from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Businesses and rentals
Amidst a spate of restaurant and retail closures like Geiger’s and Lola, 13 new restaurants and shops opened, including Haymarket Pet Co., 27 Club Coffee and Unruly Jamaican Cuisine. Meanwhile, the city saw a decrease in rental occupancy from 90% in 2019 to 84.1% in 2020. Hotels in the downtown area also saw a drop in occupancy in 2020 with a 39.2% decrease from the previous year.
Despite office closures and the increase of working from home, overall occupancy of office spaces increased between 2019 and 2020 by 1.1% with over 740,000 square feet of office space being leased last year.
To try to boost apartment occupancy numbers, the DCA created the Live Downtown Now campaign to “highlight our diverse array of housing options and resident amenities,” according to the DCA annual report.
The DCA also partnered with Destination Cleveland to promote the Clean Committed campaign which aimed at “connecting downtown businesses with the resources to pledge a clean and safe experience for customers,” according to the DCA annual report.
Addressing racial injustice
One of the biggest achievements from DCA, leaders said, was their response to the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Part of DCA’s response to the civil unrest last summer was the creation of a Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee to focus “on equity in business attraction and advocacy,” according to the DCA annual report.
In addition, DCA worked with previous partners to create a Cleveland Pledge as part of their continuous response.
“That is a commitment from organizations like DCA, institutions and foundations and corporations throughout the city, who pledged their commitment to figure out ways that organizations can internally make some adjustments, make some investments and change some policies to do their part in dismantling institutional racism,” said Heather Holmes, vice president of marketing and public relations for DCA.
After the protests in Downtown Cleveland left businesses boarded up, the organization created #VoicesofCLE, “a public art initiative really allowing artists of color, the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions around everything that happened with George Floyd, using art as a medium to express emotions and create a platform for dialogue and healing,” Holmes said.
Clevelanders helping Clevelanders
Last year, the Clean and Safe ambassadors were working to plan a safe St. Patrick’s Day Parade for Downtown Cleveland, but once the pandemic placed everyone under stay-at-home orders they became essential workers.
“They pivoted from that role to now keeping our stakeholders, our residents, employees and visitors safe downtown,” said Ed Eckart Jr., vice president of operations at DCA. “Our clean and safe [ambassadors] truly represents the spirit and heart of Cleveland.”
To help the ambassadors when the pandemic first hit, the DCA hired a full-time outreach specialist to “address the needs of our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” according to the DCA report. A second full-time outreach worker was hired this year to assist with evening hours.
Due to social distancing practices, homeless shelters had to make capacity adjustments in regard to the number of people able to be in the shelter each night.
“We worked hard in a partnership with those social service agencies to assist those people that were displaced from the shelters,” Eckart said. “We developed a collaborative approach to assist the homeless community to find both short and long term shelter.”
The Clean and Safe ambassadors weren’t the only ones to receive help during the pandemic. After protests damaged some of the buildings downtown, several small businesses were left reeling from both revenue loss and property damage.
To help these small businesses, the Downtown Recovery Response Fund was created and provided a total of $1.3 million in grants to 88 businesses in Downtown Cleveland. Additionally, DCA created two restaurant weeks and a “carry-out crawl” for local restaurants.
“It took an entire community to really band together to get through a really challenging set of circumstances,” Deemer said. “I think we’re as well-positioned as any downtown community to forge ahead.”