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Council committee green lights $15 million revitalization plan for Cleveland's Southeast Side

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Posted at 5:56 PM, May 23, 2023

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee signed off on a trio of proposals to inject much-needed capital to bolster development in the city’s Southeast Side, including the Union-Miles, Mount Pleasant and Lee-Harvard neighborhoods, which have suffered from historic disinvestment in recent decades.

The Bibb Administration’s three-pronged proposal to revitalize the area, which resulted from months of planning with stakeholders and city council members, is aimed at beginning to reverse the disastrous effects of redlining and other discriminatory banking practices throughout the mid-1900s.

The revitalization plan sets aside $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to create and manage a revolving loan fund for home repair and rehabilitation, prepare vacant or underutilized properties for economic development and job-creation initiatives, and, lastly, stabilize and revitalize five commercial corridors by offering concentrated development incentives, in addition to property acquisition and targeted demolition.

An allocation of $5 million has been set aside for each ‘prong’ of the plan.

“First, we have to start somewhere. We talked a little bit about the diverse and complex set of things that create a cycle of disinvestment while recognizing that we can’t do it all at once,” said Bradford Davy, Mayor Justin Bibb’s chief of staff. “We really want to focus resources in smaller areas to have greater impact rather than spreading the peanut butter too thin.”

The Southeast Side revitalization plan came together through dozens of meetings with non-profit agencies, community development corporations and the city council members representing multiple East Side wards.

“I think what’s important here is that the residents of the southeast side see a focused effort [from the city],” said City Councilman Kevin Bishop (Ward 2). “I’ve been in the Southeast Side. I was born in the Southeast Side, but I can never remember a concentrated effort that got any kind of momentum. I think this is important here today to stress that speed is important.”

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As part of the site development initiative, city leaders have identified nearly a dozen currently vacant or underutilized CMSD sites that have the potential for redevelopment. The $5 million in funding would help support predevelopment activities at those sites and others, including conducting environmental assessments and preparing for the issuance of requests for proposals. Ultimately, the goal is to get the sites primed and ready for development while also lowering the costs for developers interested in the properties.

The commercial corridor improvements initiative seeks to acquire, renovate or raze commercial properties in five specific areas where public investment could lead to private investment, city officials said. The plans also call for the "white-boxing" of specific commercial properties, which includes the complete emptying of the property before putting it on the market as a "blank canvas" for potential developers.

Whether it be the home repair revolving loan fund, the commercial corridor revitalization initiative or the site preparation component, city officials said the goal is to make selective, highly-concentrated investments instead of small investments over a broad area.

"I think for far too long in our community, we would spread a million dollars 17 different ways, and we're wondering 30 years later why nothing happened," said Councilwoman Stephanie Howse (Ward 7).

At East 94th Street and Miles Avenue, just a couple of blocks away from one of the targeted commercial corridors, homeowner Theo Hunter said he was encouraged by the revitalization plan.

"It's a ghost town now: no houses, no people," Hunter said. "A lot of people don't want to live over here. It's just a ghost town. You barely see people walking up and down the street. It used to be busy when there were a lot more houses out here."

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Hunter moved into his home more than two decades ago and has slowly seen families move out — never to return. Homes that were once meticulously maintained and passed from one generation to the other have slowly died on the vine, spiraling down a path of abandonment, foreclosure, blight and then, ultimately, demolition. The number of empty lots outpaces the number of occupied homes near Hunter's property.

"I'm thinking that it's going to be something fantastic if [the revitalization plan works]," Hunter said. "If it can happen, you're gonna make a lot of people happy that are discouraged and didn't think it will ever happen. This area used to be really, really, really nice. You can do it again."