Money turning Circle East plan to reality

Rendering of first phase of the Circle East District in East Cleveland.

Looking southerly along Woodlawn Avenue from Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland shows a proposed mix of new and renovated old structures — both commercial and residential — that are just one-eighth of a mile from University Circle. The proximity to one of Northeast Ohio’s fastest-growing job hubs is what is providing a boost to a longtime redevelopment vision that finally appears to be moving forward (RDL). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Redevelopment district may expand with county site

There have been lots of plans over the decades for stopping the decline of East Cleveland. But most were unfunded or lacked the necessary local political stability to be implemented over the long haul. A new plan has come to the fore over the past few years to rebuild the west end of the city, closest to University Circle. And now the money is finally coming, too.

The redevelopment initiative is called the Circle East District. It was originally set as a 33-acre target area but could be be expanded by another 4.25 acres with the addition of the nearby Board of Developmental Disabilities property, 13231 Euclid Ave. Although complementary, the this is not part of the Land Bank lead development.

The latter property, located near the intersection of Superior Avenue, was the subject of a request for proposals offered by the county last year but was presented again in July after the county was not satisfied with the responses it received. Deadline for submitting proposals for the Board of Developmental Disabilities property was Aug. 26.

Map of the Circle East District in East Cleveland and the the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities property.

Map of the 33-acre Circle East District in East Cleveland along with the 4.25-acre Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities property at the upper left. The area east of Farmington Road was not included in the district because there are few vacant lots and housing there (KUA).

The Circle East District is estimated to be at least a $95 million project comprised of infrastructure renewal plus residential and commercial development, both new construction and renovation. The residential development will be a mix of single- and multi-family housing offered at market and affordable rates. But that dollar amount doesn’t include redevelopment of the Board of Developmental Disabilities property, which is located between a Red Line rail station and a HealthLine bus rapid transit stop. The Cuyahoga Land Bank has also assembled multiple properties for redevelopment in the target area.

Having control over land is only part of the reason why this plan is different from other well-intentioned efforts in the past. The other reason is that there is now significant funding behind it. In the past, the city of East Cleveland could not afford to financially instigate redevelopment on a meaningful scale. But last month, the East Cleveland City Council unanimously approved the transfer of $4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the county land bank for the Circle East District effort. That commitment comprises 24 percent of the total cost of phase one for the Circle East District project.

It will add to $1.5 million from the Cleveland Water Department for new waterlines, $2.6 million from the North East Ohio Regional Sewer District for sewer work on Woodlawn, $1.5 million from JobsOhio, $950,000 from a county loan to support the redevelopment of the Mickey’s Building, 12550 Euclid, more than $2.5 million from the land bank and a mix of smaller amounts from other sources to bring the total to more than 50 percent for phase one, according to a recent land bank presentation. Most of the funding that’s still needed for phase one is for expanding the infrastructure work.

Rendering of a redeveloped Mickey's Building on Euclid Avenue at Woodlawn Avenue.

The Mickey’s Building, 12550 Euclid Ave., is due to be renovated for $3.5 million starting later this year. A biotech company is in line to occupy the second floor and a coffee shop/community room is set for the first floor. Woodlawn Avenue is at the right (RDL).

“We’ve got land, we’re the master developer by default and we’re providing leadership but that’s the only way to get this done,” said Dennis Roberts, director of real estate development at the land bank. “The site is an eighth of a mile from an economic juggernaut (University Circle). Now we have something to do that’s a positive. There’s been a lot of negative news from East Cleveland. This is a positive.”

The redevelopment of the Board of Developmental Disabilities property is a parallel effort by the county. Among the previous proposals for the site included a mix of food market, credit union, police substation, business incubator, Cuyahoga Community College, day care center and apartment buildings. The county rejected all of the proposals, saying it wants them to be consistent with the Circle East District, “to rebuild the property and income tax base, and act as the catalyst for further transformational redevelopment. The goal is to create a unique and inclusive neighborhood and a vibrant commercial mixed-use corridor on Euclid Avenue,” the RFP says.

By the end of this year, $3.5 million worth of renovations are due to start on a 23,000-square-foot building at the southeast corner of Euclid and Woodlawn Avenue that was owned by Mickey’s Enterprises and previously was a Buick car dealership. Land bank officials are working with JobsOhio to identify health sector-related businesses as tenants for the building due to the site’s proximity to University Circle. Team NEO was instrumental in finding the site for the company, he said. An operator for the retail coffee shop/community hub on the building’s ground floor also has been identified but not yet publicized.

Demolitions in East Cleveland as part of the Circle East District redevelopment.

Demolitions of buildings along Euclid Avenue west of Woodlawn Avenue were done by Cuyahoga County contractors in August (Cuyahoga County Land Bank).

On the west side of Woodlawn at Euclid, the land bank demolished a couple of older mixed-use buildings to clear land for a future market-rate apartment building with a ground-floor retail space. Roberts said the apartment building is estimated to cost $21 million to construct but is still early on. If that project is successful, a second apartment building just west of it along Euclid could be added. That site is across Euclid from the Circle East Townhomes and the Lakeview Solar Power Plant that’s owned and operated by University Hospital’s Medical Center Company.

Next year, thanks to a majority of funding already in hand, the city will install nearly $5 million worth of new infrastructure on Woodlawn, Penrose and Forest Hill avenues, including new water and sanitary sewers, street lights, signs, fiber internet, sidewalks and street pavement. That will be followed in 2024 by the construction of townhomes behind Mickey’s and single-family houses on both sides of Woodlawn.

Up to 200 homes are planned to be built on vacant lots in the district at a rough cost of $300,000 per home — or $60 million. Since it will be difficult for a developer to sell a house in the district for that much money, the homes will require construction subsidies of about $50,000 per house with a buyer subsidy from Greater Circle Living of $30,000 per house to bring the sale price down to about $220,000. There are enough existing subsidies available right now for 40 homes to be built with another $1 million being sought from charitable foundations for 33 more homes.

Another rendering of the proposed redevelopment of Euclid Avenue and the Circle East District in East Cleveland.

Conceptual rendering of developments proposed along the south side of Euclid Avenue at the west end of East Cleveland. This part of the city is only one-eighth of a mile from University Circle — Northeast Ohio’s fastest-growing job hub (RDL).

“We’re essentially creating a new neighborhood,” Roberts said. “The land bank has experience in building homes. They (the designs) will be similar to homes we’ve built in Tremont, Glenville and Fairfax in partnership with local developers.”

Master-planning for the Circle East District was done by Kronberg Urbanists + Architects of Atlanta. The land bank is also collaborating with JobsOhio, TeamNEO, BioEnterprise and University Circle Inc. to attract commercial tenants.

Existing residents aren’t forgotten, Roberts noted. The city and the McGregor Foundation have committed funding to support a home-repair program with up to $10,000 available per home. And, to protect established homeowners from higher taxes resulting from gentrification, there is a regional effort under way to secure passage of a policy called the Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP). Already enacted in Pennsylvania, it caps property taxes for qualifying homes.


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