Vision for new Hitchcock Women’s Center edges closer to reality, even as major roadblocks remain

A rendering of the proposed new facility.

A $23 million plan to update the Hitchcock Women’s Center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood is $7 million from becoming a game-changing reality. 

The center, located inside the former St. Mary’s Seminary on Ansel Road, would be — with renovation — the only facility in Cuyahoga County housing women and families with substance abuse issues. 

Despite showing its age and lack of many modern amenities, the 1929 building occupied by Hitchcock since 1992 continues to provide comprehensive services to women battling addiction but who also may be homeless or unemployed. 

Hitchcock thrives on being able to take such women— 44 percent of whom are Black —and help them get back on their feet through a gradual transition to independent, self-sufficient living. 

“To continue to survive, we would need a long-term investment,” said Hitchcock executive director Jason Joyce. “The clock is ticking. 

“I believe we could continue to function as we are for the next three to five years but after that, our future would be questionable. After all, this facility was designed for priests and not to meet our present-day needs.” 

Retired director of facilities Melvin Haynes said that while Hitchcock has a state-of-the-art kitchen, “it sorely needs some capital improvements to the overall facility.”

If the hopeful project falls through, Joyce said the center would have to make short term improvements to the building “until a new building plan could be secure.” 

Joyce interacts with Clinical Director, Karen Hutchings.

On the other hand, more optimistically, construction would begin in August 2023 with occupancy occurring in November 2024. During construction, residents would be able to remain in the current building. 

Joyce said the facility also could use larger rooms for residents, upgraded technology, wider hallways, new carpeting and beds, and a new roof. He explained that a renovated Hitchcock could expand medical treatment, pharmaceutical care, and childcare services and offer private rooms for residents with children. 

Hitchcock has turned to Boca Raton-based developer Finch Group for help to secure its future. 

Founder and chairman Wesley Finch, whose investments in Cleveland have included Arbor Park in the Central neighborhood, Park Lane Villa, and Glenville Circle North, said he looks at neglected Cleveland neighborhoods the way Wayne Gretzky played hockey: “You don’t go where the puck is,” he said. “You go where it is going.”  

His group’s extensive proposal includes a sleek modern building design but also cites several potential roadblocks to the project including obsolete technology and structural stress on the building as a whole. His company has donated its time as the lead developer without compensation. Such is Finch’s passion for the project.

Funding also could be a problem, Finch said.   

“I believe we can secure the money to provide the new residential housing we would build, but funding for the treatment center is the real challenge.”

Councilwoman Conwell’s heart is in the new construction, but she says financing is elusive .

At the moment, the financial ball is in the hands of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, a strong advocate for the Hitchcock initiative, said the county does not want to contribute more funds than the city. 

“We’re hoping to get the city to up its ante,” she said. “There is a possibility we could draw funds from the federal coronavirus relief money; but some of it is already earmarked. I’m truly pushing for this new proposal. Hitchcock provides such unique services for rehabilitating women and their children.”

Councilwoman Conwell said that while there is no hard deadline to determine the fate of the Hitchcock project, she hopes to have a decision during the tenure of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

 With a hint of frustration in her voice, Councilwoman Conwell noted: “There are a lot of moving parts in the funding package, and as of now there is no concrete sources at the required levels.”

Jackson, for his part, whose term ends at the end of this year, said he supports the project and noted the longtime advocacy of Cleveland councilman Bill Patmon. However, he said, “The devil is in the details.” 

Ronald Kisner is a retired administrator from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He is the former West Coast Bureau Chief of Jet/Ebony magazines and CEO/Creative Director of TDA Group, Inc., a local public relations/advertising firm. His freelance writing has appeared in GQ, Cleveland Magazine, and the SHAD Connection.

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