With the recent groundbreaking of the Allen Estates, Cleveland Foundation set to break ground on their new Midtown headquarters next month, and other projects coming down the pipe, development along Cleveland’s E. 66th Street is well underway.
The Allen Estates, located at the corner of E. 66th and Linwood Avenue, is the first project of Frontline Development, a company headed by Sheila Wright and Angela Bennett. The project is named after Carolyn Watts Allen and Robert Allen, who built homes in Hough in the 1990s and advocated for the neighborhood.
“The Phase 1 design has been approved by the city and is in review with the builder. Phase 1 is shovel ready,” says Wright, who anticipates construction will begin before the end of the year, first quarter at the latest.
Wright, having been mentored by some of Cleveland’s most successful developers, got put on this path of real estate development while on a quest to build a sound stage in Cleveland. Knowing there’s a burgeoning film community here, that’s another need she’s identified. Doing a feasibility study for it gave her the footing to go into real estate development, she says.
She also participated in a Common Ground program that discussed development in the city and soon found herself asking, “Where are the minority developers?”
Since answering that call, Wright has spent her career developing community and people. “Everything I’m trying to do is purposeful and speaks to the larger community.”
A commitment to the community
Phase 1 of the Allen Estates includes six homes. Designed by architect W. Dan Bickerstaff, the homes will be modern, not the typical models seen on the east side of Cleveland, says Wright. Wright and Bennett are also committed to ensuring minority principals and/or subcontractors are selected to complete the construction.
“We want people who look like us working on this project,” says Wright.
The six homes are already committed to buyers, including one each for Wright and Bennett. “That’s how committed we are to the community,” Wright says.
Although many of the homes previously built in Hough are very traditional and even suburban in style, Frontline’s plans are radically different. With Bickerstaff’s sleek, modern designs, the homes would fit in well with new housing in areas like Ohio City, Tremont, Larchmere and downtown.
“There’s a demand for a modern product,” says Wright. She also says that fact impacts costs, which have not yet been determined due to fluctuating material prices. “We’ve been told that we have to be appraised with comparables on the west side.”
The project does not stop with the six homes. The larger vision, to be built on vacant land in the area, includes 15 homes, 46 brownstones, and two mid-rise apartment buildings with commercial space.
When asked why they chose this community for real estate development, Wright explained that she looked to buy a house for two years but couldn’t find one for the price she wanted.
“I decided I wanted to build my home,” says Wright. “I knew I wanted to come back into the community. I thought, why not create what I wanted?”
Wright also says Councilman Basheer Jones has always promoted Hough to the Black professional community and that there’s an opportunity to get in at the ground level where others are investing.
“What makes me most excited about this project is that it’s women led,” says Jones. “Our city has failed in making sure women of color have serious opportunity in achieving what their male counterparts have in regards to development.”
Building on a legacy
According to Wright, the site is ideal.
“It’s next to the Historic League Park,” says Wright. “That history, coupled with other investments and the Councilman’s support, makes it the perfect location. There’s so much land. I felt there was a need and decided to do it. Hough is a rich community. It’s a rich narrative.”
Wright says the community has been receptive to the development. “We feel a strong sense of responsibility to get this right,” she said. “We hope to bring amenities to make it a walkable area and raise the value of the surrounding properties and that it sparks other development.”
Longtime Hough resident Mansfield Frazier calls The Allen Estates “a grand opportunity.”
“It’s long overdue, a wonderful development,” says Frazier, a journalist and social entrepreneur. Frazier and his wife built a home on E. 66th Street twenty years ago. They have since built Chateau Hough, a wine vineyard, on the corner of E. 66th and Hough.
Frazier says there are no blueprints yet, but Birthing Beautiful Communities is slated to come to the corner of E. 66th and Hough. He’s also working on a winery to complement his vineyard. Additionally, plans are underway to build a new Hough branch of Cleveland Public Library at the corner of E. 66th and Lexington.
He welcomes the development along the corridor, saying it took too long to occur. “It was a hard fight. That’s a testament to systemic racism,” says Frazier, referring to how much more difficult it was for the east side to bounce back after the 2008 housing crash compared to other parts of town.
Another factor was that various forces blocked development efforts from occurring. “It should’ve taken this long and shouldn’t have been this hard. But we stayed the course,” he says.
When asked why he thinks people are ready to invest in this community, he says that the institutional investment of the Cleveland Foundation, which he says is now “coming out of its Ivory Tower” by building its headquarters in Midtown, will lead the way. “I think others will follow,” he says.
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