Gina DeJesus helps families like hers on the same square block where she was held captive for nine years.
“My thing is to help them not go through what my family went through,” said DeJesus.
Developer Rick Foran dubbed his roughly 80,000-square-foot building the “Pivot Center for Art::Dance::Expression” because he wants to help locals and their Clark-Fulton neighborhood bounce back.
The center combines creative offerings with social services, from a Cleveland Museum of Art satellite to La Mega Media to DeJesus’s Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults. Foran said his diverse clients have much in common. “So much healing has been achieved through the arts.”
Monica Torres, who leads the LatinUs Theater Co. likes sharing the Pivot Center with healers. “Sometimes people see art like a luxury,” she said. “Being combined with other important social organizations, it’s a feeling of being more reachable, more caring.”
Bill Wade, who leads Inlet Dance Theatre, likes his ground-floor studio with huge windows. “The openness of the space and the incredible natural light are amazing. I love that people walking by can see what we’re rehearsing.” He hopes that those peeks will inspire longer looks from the community.
With the pandemic starting to wane, Pivot Center leaders hope soon to host many visitors, including clubs and classes, for performances, exhibits, lessons, workshops, festivals and more.
A past and a purpose
The Pivot Center stands at 2937 W. 25th St. It backs on the lot of a Seymour Avenue house where Ariel Castro imprisoned Michelle Knight in 2002, Amanda Berry in 2003, and DeJesus in 2004. After years of abuse, Berry escaped in 2013, and police rescued the others. Soon the house was razed. Then Castro hung himself in prison.
DeJesus made a point of returning to the scene of the crimes. “Sometimes it can put me back a little bit,” said DeJesus. “I have my moments.” But she said it’s worth it to help others reunite and heal.
She leads Cleveland Missing with her cousin, activist Sylvia Colon. Colon said she knows of no other organization that offers gathering places for families of the missing. She and DeJesus are furnishing interview space, meeting space, a family room, and a kitchen area.
They coach families on how to publicize their search for loved ones without jeopardizing law enforcement’s efforts. “When I was in that house,” said DeJesus, “I would see my family on TV. It gave me hope.”
When people are found, Cleveland Missing refers them for physical and psychological services. The organizers, all volunteers, are trying to raise money to hire staff and provide those services directly.
Buildings and bonding
The Pivot Center consists of four connected buildings raised from 1911 to 1983 by the Astrup Co., the nation’s leader in awnings. The company was sold in 2007, and the buildings went vacant.
Foran is a lifelong local who helped build the Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland Marriott Downtown, South Park Row and the West 25th Street Lofts. He said that worldwide news about the kidnappings tainted the reputation of a neighborhood and a town.
“I thought there’s only one way to change the image here, and that’s to do it with people who are mobile, who are open minded, who are early adopters, and that typically is the arts and culture industry.“
In 2019, Foran bought the Astrup buildings for about $375,000. Now he’s finishing up some $13 million in renovations, including individual heating and cooling systems for each tenant and a new roof.
“There’s a crazy amount of interleafed financing,” he said, “everything from Cleveland Development Advisors and the Cleveland Foundation, tax increment financing, the Vacant Property Initiative, and historic tax credits.”
Cleveland’s tax increment is worth $1 million and its vacant property loan $180,000. The foundation and the advisors collaborated on a a low-interest loan of $3 million.
According to Foran, about 60 percent of the complex is occupied and another 25 to 30 percent committed. He hopes to have an official opening in June. Over time, he expects to break just a little better than even. He said he mainly wants to boost the community.
Many community centers offer both arts and social services, but seldom on the scale of the Pivot Center. Foran said, “I’ve tried to avoid duplication and create synergy through collaboration. If you keep talking to yourself, you don’t expand.”
Tenants include Future Ink Graphics, ICA-Art Conservation, the Rainey Institute, and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
Inlet’s Wade said, “There is a wonderful synergistic energy growing as the other tenants move in, and we’ve had numerous conversations around ‘How might we work together to elevate the community?’”
Pivoting from the past
On a wall across from the Pivot Center, DeJesus’s portrait has been painted, along with the words “Hope” and “There is no other memorial for the women’s long captivity.”
“It’s so horrendous,” said Foran, “we don’t want to memorialize it. We want to take it as a catalyst for positive action.”
Torres hopes that LatinUs Theater will boost the image and self-image of Clark-Fulton’s many Latinos. “Let’s change the narrative and make Latinos be proud of our culture and language.”
Pivot Center leaders said that the reputation and the reality of Clark-Fulton are on the rise. New homes have arisen, MetroHealth is growing, The Tremont Animal Clinic and other businesses have arrived, and the 25Connects project is spurring more growth.
Said Torres, “Everything’s coming together to improve the area.”
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