CLEVELAND — At one time, abandoned and blighted structures could be found on seemingly every street in every neighborhood in every part of town. However, Cleveland city officials believe they have turned the corner in the fight against blight, allowing Mayor Frank Jackson’s Safe Routes to School program to set its sights on even bigger projects: blighted commercial and industrial properties.
Demolition on one of those abandoned commercial structures began Thursday morning as a large excavator began tearing into the windowless, dilapidated Victoreen building near Woodland and East 101st St. Victoreen Inc. moved its operations out of the facility in the early 1990s. Since then, the property has changed hands numerous times. All the while, however, the property has become a cesspool of vandalism, graffiti and scrapping activities, officials said.
The demolition of the Victoreen building is estimated to cost nearly $800,000. A quarter of the total cost went solely to asbestos remediation.
“It used to be a place of employment where people worked but now, as you can see, it is what it is. It’s a hazard,” Mayor Frank Jackson said.
Mayor Jackson’s Safe Routes to School program, which targets blighted properties within 1000 feet of schools, traditionally has not allocated funding for the demolition of commercial structures. However, city officials said at a press conference Thursday that because of the progress being made on residential properties, resources and funding are now available to target select commercial structures.
“We have the opportunity to do this,” said Ayonna Blue Donald, the city’s director of building and housing. “We’re still focused on residential. We have enough resources and dollars to continue that systematic approach but we have money also to take advantage of eliminating large structures.”
Demolishing blighted commercial structures is a far more labor-intensive and expensive process than tearing down a single family home. Oftentimes commercial or industrial buildings have a whole host of other issues, including asbestos, environmental contamination and other hazards. It is also difficult to track down the owner because the buildings are commonly owned by shell limited liability companies with out-of-state owners. Sometimes those companies have already been dissolved.
“It takes a long time, at times, to get things to the point where we can actually tear it down,” Donald said. “Buildings like this that have had a long commercial lifespan. We have to do certain environmental surveys to make sure there aren’t other chemical contaminants in the building or hazardous waste, etc.”
Since the Safe Routes program was created and funded in 2017, the city has demolished nearly 1000 homes. Another 800 to 900 homes are expected to be torn down this year. More than 100 of those homes are already under contract to be demolished, Donald said.
Mayor Jackson also touted the 10,000 homes that have been demolished since he took office in 2006. There are roughly 3,000 more homes that still need to be torn down. A majority of those homes qualify for the Safe Routes to School program. Of the initial $27 million in funding for the program’s demolitions, half remains. The funding will cover the demolitions scheduled for 2019 and part of 2020, Jackson said.
The demolition of the Victoreen, which once produced equipment for measuring x-rays and radiation in the mid-1900s, could free the property up for future development. The large swath of land is roughly a half-mile from the Opportunity Corridor.
“This is very much a rising tide lifting all boats,” said Councilman Blaine Griffin (Ward 6). “This will lift all boats because very rarely in the City of Cleveland are you able to get hundreds of acres of parcels and put them contiguous with each other on relatively clean land.”
The sight of heavy machinery and sound of crunching brick might as well have been a symphony to the ears of neighbors like Marilyn Burns. She said she would routinely call the city and Councilman Griffin to inquire as to the status of the Victoreen property.
“I’m so elated. It’s like watching your first baby come into the world,” Burns said. “This building being torn down could be one of the barriers we can get rid of. Let’s stay here, let’s raise our family here, let’s work and worship here, whatever the case may be. We need to build that in this community again.”