Hough health center ready for $19.5M rebuild

Closed and boarded up after a fire nearly three years ago, the Hough Health Center for Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services Inc. on Hough Avenue is finally starting to see movement toward reopening and serving the community again (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

NEON to restore Hough Health Center after 2021 fire

On May 19, 2021, shortly after the Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services Inc.’s (NEON) Hough Health Center, 8300 Hough Ave., closed for the night and employees went home, an apparent electrical fire sparked. The resulting flames spread throughout the building, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The blaze shut down the center when Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood needed it most — during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Hough was hit harder in 2020-21 by COVID-19 than any other Cleveland neighborhood, resulting in 46 deaths. But nearly three years later, there is finally movement toward rebuilding and reopening the center.

On Feb. 28, NEON’s architect, Cleveland-based Richard L. Bowen & Associates submitted a permit application to the city of Cleveland’s Building Department requesting approval to begin work to address building code violations due to the fire. Those violations were identified in a June 10, 2021 building violation notice issued to NEON which has seven other clinics in mostly low-income neighborhoods of Cleveland and East Cleveland.

The violation notice reported “dangerous conditions presented by this structure” and required their abatement. The conditions included fire-damaged walls, base plates, studs, siding, the roof, rafters, joists, roof deck, doors, door jambs, window units, electrical, plumbing and heating. The city also required the NEON to maintain the street pavement, tree lawn, sidewalks and clean the premises of all dirt, trash and debris.

Addressing those conditions is estimated to cost $19.5 million, according to the Feb. 28 application. That is far less than the $30 million that NEON officials hoped to raise so it could restore and improve the 67,272-square-foot structure that was originally built in 1973, according to a News5 Cleveland report from May 2023.

The back of NEON’s Hough Health Center as seen from Brookline Avenue in September 2022. Less of the building appears damaged from this side as opposed to the front, along Hough Avenue (Google).

That report showed that interior demolition work was well underway and had stripped the building down to the metal studs and concrete floors. NEON reportedly had been negotiating with their insurance company as well as with construction bidders. Those negotiations were complicated by rising construction costs and limited supplies of building materials.

NEON President and CEO Willie Austin and Chief Operating Officer Karen Butler didn’t respond prior to publication of this article to e-mails from NEOtrans seeking more information. NEON’s headquarters is located at 4800 Payne Ave. in Cleveland. NEON was founded in 1967. Despite NEON’s silence, the architectural firm that designed the restoration work said it was looking forward to getting started.

“Bowen is proud to be working with NEON on the renovation/upgrades of their Hough location,” said Allan Renzi, president of Richard L. Bowen and Associates. “When complete, the newly renovated facility will provide NEON with a safe, inviting and state-of-the-art environment to help meet their mission of providing quality, personalized and family-oriented comprehensive healthcare to service the Hough community.”

Additional funding for the restoration was approved by the city of Cleveland in December 2021, days before Frank Jackson would end his term as mayor and Kevin Kelly as city council president. A total of $2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds were set aside by the city for NEON to recover from the pandemic with $200,000 to go to the Hough Health Center’s restoration.

Among those voting for the funding was City Councilman Anthony Hairston who served on NEON’s board from 2019-21 but left the board before voting. But the $2 million has not been spent by the city and, according to a media report, the funding remains on hold by Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration due to its apparent concerns about NEON’s “poor financial health, unpaid bills to city utilities, staff turnover, and a CEO who was less than forthcoming with city officials and the media.”


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