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Local initiative aims to make properties around Opportunity Corridor 'shovel ready' for future development

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Posted at 6:28 PM, Feb 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-01 19:37:36-05

CLEVELAND — Echoing a broader effort at the state level by Gov. Mike DeWine, local leaders are pushing a multi-million program to clear, abate and prepare dozens of acres along Opportunity Corridor for future development. The "shovel ready site" initiative aims to provide increase the number of development-ready sites, which have long been hard to come by within the city limits.

The Cleveland City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee approved legislation needed to move forward with the initiative relies upon the city’s $2 million allocation of American Rescue Plan Act money. The plan is also funded with $2 million in state grant money from the Ohio Site Inventory Project. An additional $1.5 million in state money will also be provided, bringing the total funding to $5.5 million. Team NEO and JobsOhio would also be involved in the initiative.

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Under the proposal, that money will be devoted to the acquisition of real estate around the Opportunity Corridor development sites as well as complete the necessary the prep work and hazard abatement needed to make the sites development ready. Prep work could include clearing trees and utilities currently on the sites as well as demolish any existing structures.

“We’re not just trying to be deal takers; we’re trying to be deal makers in these conversations,” said Tessa Jackson, the director of economic development for the City of Cleveland. “We’re looking at creating an ideal industry mix. We’re looking at how do we create job density in these projects. It gives us the opportunity to have shovel-ready sites that we can activate in a 12 month time span.”

Given Cleveland’s long and storied history of manufacturing, many large sites in the city require some level of environmental abatement in order to make them development ready. Other sites that have already been cleaned of environmental contamination are simply too small to be used for today’s manufacturing and distribution requirements. This is part of the reason why Cleveland’s inventory of development-ready sites is so thin.

“We have no 20-acre sites in the city that are ready,” said Jeff Epstein, the city’s chief of integrated development. “Our inventory of 10-acre sites that could be shovel ready in six to 12 months — with the resources that we have — [is] zero. We’re missing out on these opportunities. This is a start to the strategy to address it.”

During his State of the State Address on Tuesday, DeWine acknowledged the lack of shovel-ready sites statewide. To address this shortcoming, Gov. DeWine announced a $2.5 billion investment to prepare the infrastructure of large economic development sites in every part of the state.

“Every region of the state has good sites. However, many of them are not yet ready for development,” DeWine said. “The truth is we simply do not have enough shovel-ready, development-ready sites for the kind of calls that we are getting from companies all over the world. We want all regions in the state to participate in Ohio’s economic revival and for all Ohioans, no matter where they live, to prosper from it.”

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Baiju Shah, the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, said both the local and state "shovel-ready" initiatives are sorely needed. When companies are weighing potential sites for future investment, the readiness of the site — and how quickly construction could begin — are top of mind.

“Companies want to meet their customers when their customers are asking for their products or services. They want to do that as quickly as possible because if they can’t serve their customers, their fear is that their competitors will be able to serve their customers,” said Shah. “In the economy — the way it has been over the last couple of years — there is this desire for immediacy. If not immediately, what’s my plan to get there in the next 12-18 months so I know I can serve my customers’ needs?”

According to a presentation provided to City Council, the availability of shovel-ready sites for heavy manufacturing that are between 100 and 500 acres is less than 10% of current demand. Demand also greatly outweighs the supply available sites needed for light manufacturing, general manufacturing, business/industrial park, research and development, as well as warehouse and distribution.

The lack of available, appropriately-sized and development-ready sites leaves Cleveland at a disadvantage. Although the sites along Opportunity Corridor wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate heavy manufacturing — much less a 1000-acre mega project — there is still plenty of potential for job creation, Shah said.

“We don’t have greenfields but that is what we are competing against. Companies are looking at Ohio and Cleveland but they are looking at states that don’t have this history [of industry] where they see a prime site… that doesn’t have a prior use. That’s the choice that they are making,” said Shah. “Even if we had everything ready and we gave a lot of incentives, if the time factor is too long, that’s a lot of lost money, lost opportunity, and potentially lost customers for the businesses that are making that decision.”

More broadly, city officials said the goal of the initiative is to bring these available parcels back to a productive and revenue-generating use.

“This is a unique opportunity for the city to get the resources to put land back into commerce,” Jackson said. “[Those properties] would otherwise be vacant, not delivering taxes, not providing job opportunities and being a drain on the city’s coffers.”