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Community improvement, not displacement, is the goal of turning old blanket factory into affordable apartments

Posted at 7:53 AM, Oct 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-16 18:29:10-04

CLEVELAND — The old Blanket Mills building between Fulton Road and West 33rd Street could soon become affordable apartments with room for social service organizations, bringing new development into the rebounding community without displacing the people who have lived there for decades.

In five years of walking around Clark-Fulton, Esperellas Varillas and the rest of her Mercedarian Walkers, as they call themselves, get a close of view of what could be better.

"Too much garbage around the street," said Varillas.

At the top of the list is the abandoned Blanket Mills building.

"You don't know what's in there," said Brulinda Cotto. "A lot of people can go and kidnap kids or adults and hide in those buildings."

The buildings are dangerous and it can also drive away efforts to make the community better.

"It adds to that disinvestment and disenfranchisement that this community has seen," said Metro West Community Development Organization Executive Director Ricardo León. "You have this huge eyesore sitting in the heart of the neighborhood."

That's why León is so happy a developer has stepped in with a plan to fix up the building that has been vacant for much of his life.

León says the buildings will have affordable apartments up top with office space for social service organizations on the bottom floor. That way, the neighborhood and the people who live there now can get the benefits of the rehabbed building without the displacement of gentrification.

"This neighborhood will get developed, but it'll be developed in a way that doesn't displace the long-term residents, many of which have been here for generations," said León.

The project is coming at exactly the right time. Fulton Road is in the middle of a repaving project, fixing a main road that had plenty of potholes all over. MetroHealth is building a $1 billion new hospital nearby while other large abandoned buildings have been rehabbed for new uses.

"Whatever happens in the next 12-18 months in this community is really going to dictate what happens over the next five to seven years," said León.

The developer tells News 5 they're focused on getting all the necessary financing and tax credits in place so that the project can be built. They expect to know if the credits are secured by the end of the year.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.