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Makeshift 'man cave' in Cleveland built on city-owned lot across from local school may finally come down

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 19:02:07-04

CLEVELAND — A Cleveland man's makeshift 'man cave' built on a city-owned lot directly across from Glenville High School, which has long been a source of frustration for Councilman Kevin Conwell (Ward 8), may soon be finally taken down.

Located in the back of the city landbank-owned lot at 647 East 113th Street, the makeshift structure, which features tarps, t-shirts and tattered screen doors, appears to have been built in late 2018 or 2019, according to satellite maps. Despite reportedly notifying the city several times over the past two years, Councilman Conwell's frustrations came to a head when he visited the site Friday afternoon.

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"I've been trying to get this cleaned up for three years," Conwell said. "The children [at Glenville High School], they deserve to see success every single day. But when they come out, they see these horrible, horrible conditions."

According to property records, the city land bank took ownership of the property in May 2020. Prior to that, the lot was owned by the county land bank, which currently owns the two vacant lots next to it. The vacant lot sits along one of the city's designated Safe Routes to School routes, a city initiative to clear blighted and abandoned properties near schools. According to the Mayor's Office, the city has razed more than 12,000 structures since 2006. More than 2000 of those structures were demolished as part of the Safe Routes to School program.

As of March 15, 133 vacant properties have been razed this year, more than half of which have been torn down as part of Safe Routes. The city estimates 750 structures will be torn down in 2021.

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Until the properties can be redeveloped or sold to neighboring property owners, the lots remain vacant, as is the case with 647 East 113th St. Outside the structure are piles of trash, empty liquor bottles, more than a half dozen bicycles and rusted grills. A 'keep out' sign remains affixed to a tree stump.

"The city owns the lot. They could come out and ticket whoever is on the lot and clean this garbage up. The city can do it," Conwell said. "For the students at the high school, it's like you're teaching me to go to college and get a college degree or go to trade school and do better, but when I go outside, I see this. That's not good."

News 5 accompanied Conwell as he walked up the front porch of the home next door to the structure where the structure's architect, Darnell, greeted him.

"Let's calm down here. I requested a dumpster, Kevin, so I could clean it up," Darnell said.

Darnell did not provide his last name.

The conversation, which simmered down dramatically after the first 15 seconds, eventually led to Darnell explaining the origins of the structure and why he built it on the publicly owned property.

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"I was staying with my brother, you know? He had asthma. I smoke cigarettes and stuff and there was no smoking or drinking in the house," Darnell told Conwell. "I built me a little hut so I could smoke and drink. Now that he's gone, I've got the house. I requested from the guy a dumpster and they told me they'd bring me a dumpster. When they bring me a dumpster out here, I guarantee you, man, it will get cleaned up. I've already asked for the dumpster."

It is unclear who exactly Darnell was referring to and whether they were an employee of the city. However, because he no longer needs the outdoor structure, Darnell guaranteed Conwell that he would clean up the property if he had access to a dumpster.

"When I get that dumpster, I guarantee you it will not look the same," Darnell said.

At the end of the 10 minute conversation, Darnell and Conwell ended up shaking hands with Darnell promising a cleaner property in the future and Conwell promising to provide a dumpster.

"Darnell says he'll clean it up. I'll provide [him] a dumpster. I'm still going to turn it into the city because they need to do their job too," Conwell said. "It's [the city's] lot. They need to come out here and clean it up so the children at Glenville High School, when they come out, they see that it looks nice."